In 1929, he moved to Paris, where set designer Lazare Meerson mentored him. An important component of filmmaking working with images is the visual world, so he did not fall far from painting during his work. Until 1936, he worked on 14 films as an assistant. In 1937, he started to work regularly with director Marcel Carné, and the creative group also included writer Jacques Prévert and composer Joseph Kosma. Trauner designed monumental designs for Carné’s films, which were constructed in studios near Paris. Along with Brassaï and André Kertészl, they passionately toured Paris and took plenty of photos, which, beside Trauner’s sets, suggest what the French capital looked like at the time.
He quickly received world fame, and consequently, a lot of American film directors offered him work in Paris in the 1950s. He met Billy Wilder in 1955, who invited him over to Hollywood, where he had the opportunity to work as a set and production designer with the best directors of the period: Orson Welles, Jules Dassin, Martin Ritt and Fred Zinnemann among others. In 1960, he received the Academy Award for the set and production design of the film The Apartment, while in 1962 for the film Irma la Douce.
Later Trauner moved back to France, where he continued a successful career. He was given the French Oscar, the César Award for two Losey films – Mr. Klein, Don Giovanni. In 1982, he took on the production design of the film Viaduct directed by Sándor Simó. The European Film Academy recognized his lifetime achievement with the Félix Award in 1991. The building, which he attended as a college student and now hosting the Department of Production Design of the Hungarian University of Arts bears his name.
He left behind a rich and exquisitely colourful set of artworks: he designed the sets for nearly 100 films, also making stage designs for theatre plays, his works took part in exhibitions. He finally settled in the small village of Omonville-la-Petite in Normandy, where he died in 1993. His final resting place is beside his friend’s, Jacques Prévert’s grave in the local cemetery.