Let’s go back to the future of my unusual career
Paying tribute to attractions and film legend, Doug Trumbull
In this edition of About Theme Parks, I’m going to share a bit of my origin story, and in doing so, honor the memory of one of the attraction industry’s most innovative and influential gurus.
People often ask me how I became a theme park journalist. Like most kids, I loved amusement parks and rides. But I took it to the next level. In grade school, one of the first “chapter” books I remember getting at the library was a biography of Walt Disney. As a tween, I wrote to The Mouse seeking more information about the upcoming Walt Disney World and got a lovely personalized note back along with a book previewing the Florida resort and the company’s annual report. I dreamed about building rides in my family’s backyard. So, yeah, I was hooked from a very early age.
I pursued a conventional career and more or less kept my deep and abiding passion for parks under wraps. But I often wondered whether I could figure out a way to combine my avocation with my vocation. By chance, my dad and I were at a magazine stand (you young’uns can search online to discover what those were), and a publication with Cinderella Castle from Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on the cover caught my eye. I purchased it, and discovered an ad inside from the publisher promoting his new magazine, “Theme Park.”
First of all, I couldn’t believe that there would be a publication devoted to parks and attractions. Second of all, having written for my schools’ newspapers and dabbled in journalism, I simply had to find a way to get involved with the magazine. I was astonished to learn that the publisher was located nearby, and began hounding him, first by letter and later by phone, until he relented and granted me a meeting.
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I somehow talked my way into writing the cover story for the debut issue of “Theme Park” and immediately knew I had found my calling. That was thirty years ago. So what was the topic of my foray into park journalism (an ultra-niche–to the point of practically non-existent–pursuit at the time)? It was about the then-new Back to the Future: The Ride at Universal Studios Florida.
For that first assignment, I landed an interview with Doug Trumbull, the director of the attraction. I drove out to his studio, Berkshire Ridefilm, in western Massachusetts, which handled the film production. Trumbull and his team salvaged the project for Universal, which had faced a great deal of difficulty during its initial development. It‘s no wonder they turned to Trumbull; he is acknowledged as the person who recognized the commercial, entertainment application of flight training simulators and is the progenitor of motion simulator attractions (also known as ridefilms) such as Star Tours.
Although he is well known and respected for his breakthrough work on attractions, Trumbull is even more revered for his pioneering contributions in the film industry, including his work on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Blade Runner.” It was a heady experience meeting and interviewing him, especially for a rookie journalist. Fortunately, we got to know each other a bit, and I continued to stay in touch with him and interview him for other projects he developed through the years.
Doug Trumbull passed away earlier this year. I absolutely adored the guy and deeply admired his work. I was especially fascinated by his relentless crusade to revolutionize filmmaking and attractions and to break the fourth wall of the screen.
We’ve lost a true pioneer and genius. But I believe that he has inspired a new generation to carry the torch. The creative folks behind The Bourne Stuntacular at Universal Studios Florida surely owe a debt of gratitude to Trumbull. Their work on the stunning show bodes well for the future that he envisioned.
If you want to read more about Doug Trumbull, check out my ode to him in my just-published Funworld column, The Art of Attractions.
Thirty years later, I’m still writing cover stories about the industry that I love. You can read my feature, “Igniting passion and creating wow!” which is also in the most recent Funworld, the trade magazine published by the attractions industry organization, IAAPA. It is about the bold and dynamic vision that the Toronto Zoo has crafted to guide it through its next 50 years.
Arthur's About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support quality journalism, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Free subscriptions are also available.
Did you get the chance to experience Back to the Future: The Ride? Were you aware of Doug Trumbull and his role in both the attraction and the parks industry in general? Join the conversation.