Butler was born in England and raised in Wales, Somalia, Kenya and Jamaica. A 1972 photo assignment for LIFE Magazine to cover the Mr. Universe Contest in Baghdad led to the publication of Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding (Simon and Schuster, 1974), a book that proved to be an unlikely bestseller.

In 1977 Butler produced and directed Pumping Iron, which launched Arnold Schwarzenegger, put bodybuilding and the gym business on the map and became a classic film. In 1985, Butler produced and directed Pumping Iron II, The Women. The film, according to Gloria Steinem, redefined the boundaries of femininity. In 1990, Butler released In the Blood. The film was shot on location in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. It played at Sundance, Leningrad, Denver, Toronto and many other film festivals. It was also a finalist in the IDA award as one of the ten best documentaries of 1990.

In 2001, Butler completed a trilogy of films based on Caroline Alexander’s bestselling book, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. The trilogy included the IMAX® Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, which won the Giant Screen Cinema Award for Best Film in 2001, a two-hour TV special and The Endurance, a 92-minute theatrical feature. The Endurance was nominated for a British Academy Award in 2000, won Best Documentary of the Year from the National Board of Review, was selected for over 30 international film festivals and was one of the most successful documentaries in the world in 2001.

In 2004 Butler completed a feature documentary about his longtime friend John Kerry, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, which premiered at The Toronto Film Festival and was distributed by TH!NK Film. It earned high praise across the country and was a selection for the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Butler’s latest IMAX® film, Roving Mars, was produced in 2006 by Frank Marshall and is now being distributed by Disney around the world. The New York Times called it “the best IMAX movie ever made”; it won Best Science Film of the year from the National Academy of Science in 2008.