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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Kenneth "Ken" Ralston (born 1954; age ~68) was the visual effects supervisor on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (as co-supervisor with Jim Veilleux, and on which he has written an article in the magazine American Cinematographer), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was also credited as being the "inventor" of the design for Ceti eel on the design patent issued for it in 1984. On Star Trek III, Ralston worked as puppeteer for the Klingon monster dog.

It should be noted that Ralston, while involved with the production of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, had made public statements that did stir up controversy at the time in, among others, fan circles. He had repeatedly and emphatically voiced his disenchantment with the refit-Enterprise model with statements like, "I hate that model. I think it's made out of lead. I don't know what's inside to make it so heavy; it took eight guys to mount it for a shot and a forklift to move it around. (...) I'll probably get attacked about his, but I'm just not crazy about the original design of the Enterprise. It's a shape that does not lend itself easily to looking good in the frame. It's hard to come up with angles that read like anything. There are only two good angles on it." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 12, issue 5/6, pp. 54-55), and, "I hate that ship. I've said it a hundred times, but it's true. I think it's ugly – the most silly looking thing. The model is murder to work with, so I'm glad it's gone," (American Cinematographer, August/September 1984, p. 61). It has solicited a rather acid response from Cinefantastique's staff writer Allen Malmquist, who stated, "The beauty of the Enterprise is the beauty of Star Trek. And a man who considers it "ugly" should find work some place else." (Cinefantastique, Vol 17 #3/4, 1987, p. 67) In Ralston's defense, Malmquist was not the one who had to work with the heavy, cumbersome model with its off-center point of gravity.

Nevertheless, it was Ken Ralston, together with Jim Veilleux, who were the ones mainly responsible for conceiving and executing the visual look of the original crew Star Trek films, from The Wrath of Khan onward, as envisioned by director Nicholas Meyer.

Career outside Star Trek

Ralston started his career by obtaining a position at the visual effects commercial house Cascade Pictures, after submitting a 45-minute film called The Bounds Of Imagination and having befriended Cascade’s Jon Berg on a visit to movie historian Forrest Ackerman. Ralston worked through the early 1970s in almost every conceivable capacity on the prototypical visual effects advertising campaigns, building sets, sculpted models, animated puppets, creating optical effects, performing stop motion animation and more on close to 200 spots. Having gained a thorough understanding in virtually all aspects of creating visual effects, Ralston brought his experience along, when he joined Berg at the recently formed Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), where he would stay for the next twenty years.

Ralston has worked on all three original Star Wars films. He began as an assistant cameraman in the miniature and optical effects unit on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. For the following film, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, he was the effects cameraman, and for Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), he worked in the visual effects department. Having also worked on the visual effects for the 1981 film Dragonslayer, Ralston became a visual effects supervisor, beginning with Star Trek II. Besides the next two Star Trek films, he was also the visual effects supervisor on Cocoon(1985), Back to the Future (1985), The Golden Child (1986), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Back to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), The Rocketeer (1991), Death Becomes Her (1992), Forrest Gump (1994), The Mask (1994), Jumanji (1995), Contact (1997), Cast Away (2000), Men in Black II (2002), and The Polar Express (2004), among other films.

Ralston won four Academy Awards for his visual effects work on Cocoon , Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, and Forrest Gump. He has also received an additional two Academy Award nominations for his work on Dragonslayer and Back to the Future Part II, and shared a Special Achievement Award from the Academy for the visual effects in Return of the Jedi. In addition, he has won four Saturn Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Return of the Jedi, Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future Part II, and Death Becomes Her, and was nominated for four more Saturns for Star Trek IV, The Rocketeer, Forrest Gump, and Contact. His other awards include five BAFTA Film Awards and one additional nomination (for the first Back to the Future) and a Golden Satellite Award for Contact.

In 1996, Ralston took on a management position as senior visual effects supervisor/creative head at Sony Pictures Imageworks, a position he currently still holds.

Saturn Award


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