My Inspiration: Volker Engel on the work of Douglas Trumbull
The early work of Douglas Trumbull encouraged Volker Engel to immerse himself into the world of VFX and become a master manipulator himself
The very first piece of work that I saw by Douglas Trumbull was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was about eight years old and my brother took me to see it at the movie theatre. When I was about 13, I found out Trumbull was behind the VFX work and that he was responsible for many things, including inventing the Slit-scan process for the ‘stargate’ sequence at the end of the film. And then it was through magazines like Starburst, Starlog and Cinefex that I learned more about VFX and I tried to get as much information on it as I could.
Both Silent Running and another Trumbull directorial feature, Brainstorm, left a very deep impression. When I was 16, I started a Super 8 film that took me five years to do. I had the idea that I wanted to make a whole film on my own, but after a couple of years I figured that I was never going to finish it, so it ended up as a 15-minute documentary.
While I was in the middle of doing this, I was in a slump when I wasn’t motivated anymore. I was probably around 19 and I remember a particular evening when I was pretty down. I went to see Brainstorm and came out of the movie transformed.
Perhaps it was because of the end sequence when Christopher Walken’s character almost dies: Trumbull visualised the death and what might happen, and I was so taken by this that I felt reborn when I left the theatre. It was incredibly motivating to see someone just come up with this and visualise such an incredibly difficult topic.
Trumbull’s work on films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters were instrumental in shaping Volker Engel’s career in the VFX industry. Images: 2001: A Space Odyssey © Warner Bros. Close Encounters Of A Third Kind © Columbia Pictures
Later in his career, Trumbull moved away from Hollywood to focus on developing new technology. I know him personally now and we’ve talked a lot about it. My interpretation was that he was always ten years ahead of what anyone else wanted to do and that’s why he was keen to develop his Showscan technology (film that projects 2.5 times the speed of standard cinema, giving the film a higher definition and fluidity in motion). As a result he worked on a number of attractions, and I went to the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas to see the different attractions that he supervised there.
The fascinating part about his work for me is that there are so many facets to it. I’d say his work on Blade Runner – the first cityscape shots, the flyover – was most influential to me. You forget that it’s VFX, and you’re totally immersed in this world.
And the effects work was done during a time when you had to literally reinvent the wheel. It wasn’t like now when we can try out different types of software or have code written; with Trumbull’s work, the VFX were achieved by using an amazing mix of art and technology.
It’s tough to pick specific shots – it’s more about the solutions and the look. I think that what Douglas Trumbull managed, was to show size and scale as nobody else did.
About the author
Volker Engel started his career in 1990 as a VFX supervisor on Moon 44. It was the start of a collaborative career with director Roland Emmerich, which went on to see the pair work on Independence Day, Godzilla and most recently, 2012.
This piece was first published in 3D World in June 2010
on Monday, April 16th, 2012 at 2:47 pm under Features.
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Tags: 3D inspiration, Douglas Trumbull, My inspiration, VFX, VFX masters, Volker Engel