Made In The Berkshires | Douglas Trumbull: The wizard who creates alternative universes

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NEW MARLBOROUGH — Director/special effects wizard/writer Douglas Trumbull has been creating whole universes in his Southfield studios for almost 30 years.

This is not a metaphor or a breathless smile. Trumbull has literally created alternative universes. Trumbull's Berkshire-area virtual reality creations, from his amazing Back To The Future ride, to Luxor Live, a $40 million visual, special effects roller coaster of a movie, are on a higher level.

"What we try to do here is create a whole new viewing experience," said Trumbull. "An experience where people are not just viewing the movie but being a part of it."

Trumbull came to the Berkshires in 1987. It was a combination of tragedy and, as he put it, "a look at the seamy side of the way Hollywood works."

Trumbull was working as a director for a movie called "Brainstorm," starring Natalie Wood.

During a lull in production, Wood died in a way that at least some people believe could be called"mysterious." There was some controversy as to whether the movie would go forward. In the end, to Trumbull's dissatisfaction, the movie was billed as "Natalie Wood's last movie."

Needed a change

"I decided at that point that I just didn't want to be a part of Hollywood anymore," he said."I wanted to restart my career somewhere else."

The decision to relocate to the Berkshires emerged for a number of reasons.

"I had heard from friends about how beautiful the area was," he said. "And I wanted to live in a place with clean water, good air, a beautiful countryside," he said. "And I knew there were very talented people there, writers, directors, actors, set designers, electricians, people that I'd be able to work with."

The number of employees Trumbull uses varies from project-to-project.

"Sometimes we have just a few people, and depending on the size of the project, we can hire up to 150 people," he said. A vast majority of his employees come from the Berkshires..

"There are a good number of local people working here,' he said.

Trumbull has moved away from full-length movies and toward more specialized projects (like the wildly popular Back to the Future ride) that provide those who participate with a viewing experience that is literally unrivaled in movie theaters.

That experience, he said, was intentional. When Trumbull left Hollywood, "the business was moving toward multiplex theaters and away from larger screens. I wanted to come up with visual experiences that went beyond that."

His latest project in his New Marlborough studios is called "Magi", an egg-shaped movie theater with a special curved screen and a surroundsound-type audio system that goes beyond anything that can be experienced in a "regular" theater.

"I think the only real drawback to being out here in the Berkshires is that access to Hollywood people, actors, directors, producers, is limited," he said. "Hollywood, and to a lesser extent, New York City, is the center of all of that.

"It does, at times, take a little convincing to get them out here sometimes," Trumbull said, referring to bringing Hollywood people to the Berkshires, "But once they do they usually enjoy it."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-596-6251.


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