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Remembering Special Effects Pioneer Wizard Douglas Trumbull

When news was announced of the recent passing of American film director, visual effects wizard, inventor and Academy Award-winning producer Douglas Trumbull (at 79), the magic of his creativity left a legacy of unforgettable movie moments in all of us.

Trumbull’s masterful visual touch on films like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Blade Runner,” “Silent Running,” and “Brainstorm,” helped the world imagine what the future and outer space exploration could become.

It was “like father, like son,” with Trumbull following in his dad, Donald’s, footsteps. The elder Trumbull was also a movie visual effects pioneer who contributed his skills to one of the most beloved films of all time: 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” and he also worked on the original “Star Wars.”

In 1991, Doug created new cinema and simulator technology by unleashing “Back to the Future,” a thrill ride at Universal Studios, inspired by the huge popularity of the movie franchise.

“Doug was very approachable and one of my heroes. We were quite close, technically. He knew what I was doing and, of course, I admired what he was doing,” said astrophysicist, astronomer and computer scientist Jacques Vallée, the real-life model for the international French scientific UFO-Alien researcher portrayed by acclaimed director François Truffaut in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi masterpiece, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Vallée, a serious international scientific researcher of UFOs, told Un-X Blog how, in addition to movies that included the Trumbull visual effects signature, Doug was also personally interested in UFO research. To that end, the two visionaries often joined forces to examine unusual UFO stories.

“When we did work together, to my surprise, Doug was willing to travel and bring instruments and tools to work on actual UFO cases. He brought some of his experimental cameras that he had been working on for movie theaters and he designed equipment at a faster rate than the best cameras which we have now. I think Douglas and I were a good combination in research. It’s very rare to have that combination.”

Trumbull created movie visual effects decades ahead of what was thought possible. Vallée believes that was an important part of Doug’s legacy. “He had the kind of intelligence and taste that finds the appropriate technology for a revolutionary artistic concept.”

In his final decade, Trumbull partnered with astronomer and fellow visual effects designer, Marc Dantonio, to create a device that scans the heavens for UFOs and acquires scientific data on a variety of instruments. Together, they lectured on why science should look for signs that another civilization may be using advanced propulsion to visit Earth.

“Doug was a brilliant artist,” Dantonio told Un-X Blog. “He could draw in perspective, from his mind’s eye, and put something on paper in terms of how a cinematographer would do it. He wasn’t an egomaniac, not someone who would say, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ He was a collaborator, not a controller.”

Dantonio suggests how the world could offer a longtime tribute to Trumbull’s legacy.

“I have asked the International Astronomical Union to rename an asteroid in Doug’s honor because he brought more people to astronomy, physics and science than people even realize. His visionary work in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was just amazing. What he brought to the screen was not what director Stanley Kubrick had envisioned – Doug made it better.”

“Asteroid Trumbull” – now that would be a fitting memorial.

Jacques Vallée’s Website:

Marc Dantonio’s Website:

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