How VFX Icon Douglas Trumbull Saved Star Trek: The Motion Picture From VFX Embarrassment

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Written By Sedoso Feb

Trumbull recalls the time clearly, saying: 

“[W]e had 7 months. It was a real crash program. We had to do all the visual effects work. There were as many shots in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ as ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters’ combined, and it was a big problem. It took a massive effort to try to pull it off. We had visual effects crews working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the entire period.”

Trumbull famously worked himself into the hospital, having given himself ulcers from the stress. He also required a lot of help and had to call in another one of Hollywood’s better-known VFX guys, John Dykstra, to collaborate. The two had known each other through a familial connection, and some mutual work that Trumbull’s father had been doing. This, however, required a weird meshing of film formats, as Trumbull liked 70mm and Dykstra worked in 35. Trumbull said: 

“After [the Southern California branch of Industrial Light & Magic] was closed by George Lucas, John and his pals, including my father, Don Trumbull, formed a new company called Apogee, to do visual effects for films. And they had a really good track record and were doing really great work. So we collaborated with them, and we had to figure out how to do part of the visual effects in 65-millimeter negative, and part of the visual effects in 35-millimeter VistaVision, because we were both using different techniques.” 

Trumbull also revealed that he had to build a new model of the U.S.S. Enterprise with its own light-up windows. Evidently, Robert Abel’s model had little detail and no lights, and Trumbull felt he couldn’t point a camera at such a dull-looking model. 

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