Visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull who manifested the astonishing imagery of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner, has died at age 79. According to his daughter, Trumbull passed yesterday after a "major two-year battle with cancer, a brain tumor and a stroke." While best known for the unforgettably psychedelic "Star Gate" sequence in 2001, it's Trumbull's work on Close Encounters (1977) that had a massive impact on me as a youngster and is part of why that movie remains my favorite of all time. From the Hollywood Reporter:
Early on [in the filming of Close Encounters], Trumbull suggested using motion control, a process that allowed filmmakers to pan, tilt and dolly while still locking their visual effects in the frame. It marked a huge leap in technology from the B-grade sci-fi movies of the 1950s in which a model UFO flimsily floated across a locked-off camera.
In one of the film's most memorable sequences, ominous clouds begin encasing Devils Towers, warning of the alien mothership's arrival. [See video below.]
Trumbull created the effect in a huge aquarium tank filled with fresh and saltwater and by injecting white liquid tempera paint to create the strange cloud formations.
He also contributed the idea to use hand signals, invented by John Curwen in the 1800s and later adapted by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály, to communicate with the aliens.
Following his lifelong interest in UFOs, Trumbull also developed a camera system that he hoped would support the scientific study of the UFO phenomena and enable researchers to capture better images of unidentified anomalies.
More in this 2016 article from the Daily Grail about Trumbull's UFOTOG project: "Special Effects Legend Douglas Trumbull Talks About How He Has Created a System for Capturing UFOs"
top image (cropped and transformed): Julian Herzog/"Douglas Trumbull is answering questions after a talk at FMX 2012. (Haus der Wirtschaft, Stuttgart, Germany)" (CC BY 4.0)