’2001′ SFX Genius Douglas Trumbull Pioneering New Technology
When Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968, moviegoers didn’t know what to make of it. Most people still don’t know what to make of it, but they know somehow, in some ineffable way, that they’re experiencing a masterpiece, and they try to ascertain what it is that makes Kubrick’s film so awesome (in the Kantian sense of the word.)
The mastermind behind the special effects, Douglas Trumbell, worked with Kubrick to capture the wonders of the universe, at once ethereal and infinite, indiscernible and immediate. Kubrick wanted to engender the same sense of awe as How the West Was Won, which was shot on Cinerama 3-strip, a process of projection that utilized three 35mm projectors all throwing different images at the same curved screen, which was arced 146 degrees. The process was expensive and very far from pragmatic as only a select few theaters possessed the funds and technology to showcase films in Cinerama.
After How the West Was Won, Cinerama was usurped by the superior Super Panavision 70, a non-anamorphic 70mm format that used spherical optics and filmed in a 2.20:1 aspect ratio. Super Panavision 70 was used for such epics as Exodus, West Side Story, and Lawrence of Arabia. Kubrick, who referred in jest to his work-in-progress as How the Universe Was Won, sought that epic feeling for his film, but the technology he required didn’t exist.
There were no good photographs of Jupiter at the time, and artists couldn’t paint a convincing emulation, so Trumbell created what he called the Jupiter Machine. Here’s a brief description of the Jupiter Machine, to give you a vague sense of how complicated and intricate the many processes through which Kubrick and Trumbell went in order to achieve the singular look of 2001′s final psychedelic section: Trumbell used a slit-scan rotated slowly, over many hours, creating a spherical distortion. Multiple motors created multiple exposures on an original negative. If that sounds like a foreign language to you, it’s okay. Trumbull says his vision can’t be captured in words.