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Visionary filmmaker Douglas Trumbull on “Tree of Life,” “2001,” and Natalie Wood

Special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull attends AMPAS presents the making of
Special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull attends AMPAS presents the making of "2001: A Space Odyssey" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

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Iconic directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick don’t make movie magic all their own. Visual effects whiz Douglas Trumbull helped them craft the most visually stunning films of all time, and of this past year.

Trumbull worked most recently with Malick on the Oscar-nominated “Tree of Life.” It’s up for Best Picture, Directing and Cinematography. Trumbull’s blockbuster credits also include Kubrick’s ground-breaking “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and of course a director credit for “Brainstorm” starring Christopher Walken and the late Natalie Wood. It’s a tremendous roster of achievements which is why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is honoring Trumbull this weekend. He will be presented the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for a “lifetime of technical contributions and leadership in the motion picture industry.”

Even though he’s a three-time Academy Award nominee for Visual Effects and received a Sci-Tech award, Trumbull is not done yet. He wants to transform movie viewing into a “hypercinematic” experience. New screen design and film techniques can immerse the audience in film, he believes. As futuristic and sci-fi as Trumbull’s work is, for “Tree of Life” he and Malick used organic methods to help create gorgeous renditions of supernovas, meteors and nothing less than the creation of the universe.


Why did the filmmakers eschew computer-generated imagery on “Tree of Life?” How did they create those beautiful sequences? What were Trumbull’s favorite films? How will he transform movie viewing? What was his reaction to the brief blip in the Natalie Wood’s case late last year?


Douglas Trumbull, Visual Effects Consultant, “Tree of Life;” Recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for a lifetime of achievement.