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British-born cinematographer Ron Thornton (May 195721 November 2016; age 59)[1] was a key member and the co-founder of the digital visual effects company Foundation Imaging. He, as head of his company, worked on a number of Star Trek live-action productions in the period 1996-2002. He received an Emmy Award nomination for the Star Trek: Voyager fifth season episode "Timeless".

Ron Thornton was instrumental in the changeover of Foundation Imaging from Babylon 5 to Star Trek. He recalled, "It was only after Babylon 5 decided not to renew us that I turned around to them [meaning Star Trek: Voyager's producers] and basically begged for work. We were in such dire straits; I had to lay everybody off – and I never thought that was going to happen – but Voyager was really wonderful and started coming in with stuff." Thornton also said, "When Babylon 5 decided they were going to do it on their own, it was absolutely devastating, but it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me." Thornton was so eager to work on Star Trek that he would have liked Foundation Imaging to be given more work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine than they ultimately were. "I would love to do more work on the show," Thornton said, during the sixth season of the series, "but it's very much up to the supervisor." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 16, pp. 35, 38 & 39)

Except for the build of the Krenim weapon ship (which was designed by Steve Burg), Thornton's responsibilities and duties as managing effects supervisor prevented him from making further creative contributions to the Star Trek franchise himself, like he had done previously for Babylon 5 – most notably the titular space station itself (whose design influenced the Krenim weapon ship) – as no other specific Star Trek designs and/or builds from his hand are known, during the involvement of Foundation Imaging. Aside from his contributions to the live-action television franchise while running his company, however, Thornton also served as an executive producer for the 1998 computer game Star Trek: Starship Creator.

Upon the conclusion of their work for the Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) DVD and the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, Foundation Imaging went out of business around 2001-2002, and many of Ron Thornton's former employees moved over to Eden FX, yet to continue to work on Star Trek. Thornton, though, chose not to follow them. Later that year, he was scheduled to make one last contribution to the franchise when he was approached to turn Syd Dutton's matte painting of the Romulan capital city into a CGI model for Star Trek Nemesis, in which an extreme zoom-in was envisioned at the beginning of the movie. Now an independent contractor, Thornton assembled a team of three, which included his former Foundation employee Pierre Drolet, and completed the commission accordingly. For doing so, he received an "additional 3D matte elements" credit. (VOY Season 4 DVD, special feature: "The Art of Alien Worlds")

Career outside Star Trek[]

Much of Ron Thornton's early visual effects career was spent working with miniatures and motion control technology, on British television series such as Doctor Who, Blake's 7, and The Tripods, prior to his move to America, where he initially worked on Warner Bros. Television's Babylon 5, adopting CGI techniques that he later brought to Star Trek. He remembered, "The reason I got into CGI work in the first place is purely because the limitations of motion control suddenly disappeared." Thornton went on to say that he specifically meant the limitations of shooting models. Thornton was also attracted to animating such CG creations as Species 8472 for Star Trek: Voyager. Regarding the task of giving a performance to such a being, he noted, "That's something I love to do." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 16, pp. 36 & 37)

After Thornton moved to the United States in 1984 (but prior to founding Foundation Imaging in 1992), he worked as freelancer for a multitude of companies, including Apogee, Inc., Quick Silver FX Studio, VCE, All Effects, and Todd Rundgren's Nutopia, as visual effects staffer, usually as a prop and model maker. Productions he worked on in that period include Critters (1986), Spaceballs (1987), Robot Jox (1989), After Midnight (1989), as well as science fiction series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (1987-1988), wherein some early CGI was employed, which introduced Thornton to the new technique (as well as to the precursor of the software package LightWave 3D, the package of choice at Foundation Imaging). An uncredited contribution as model maker for David Stipes Productions proved, in hindsight, to be Thornton's earliest contribution to the Star Trek franchise; he had built a studio model of an alien ship – also designed by the same Steve Burg with whom Thornton later co-created the Krenim weapon ship – for 1986 movie Night of the Creeps, which was reused as the Cleponji in Star Trek: The Next Generation third season episode "Booby Trap".

After his experiences with CGI on Captain Power, Thornton started to entertain, in 1990, notions of creating a digital effects facility utilizing the latest advances in desktop computer technologies, together with his friend Paul Beigle-Bryant, with whom he had worked in the United Kingdom in 1983. This led, in 1992, to the founding of Foundation Imaging, with Thornton selling off all his own camera equipment and motion control systems in order to raise capital for the new computer systems. Rock musician and multimedia artist Todd Rundgren, with whom Thornton had worked on a short computer-animated film, was the one who suggested using computers for all the visual effects on Babylon 5, the company's first project. Thornton and Beigle-Bryant created a one-minute video of proposed visual effects for the series, which was instrumental in selling the show in July 1992. The pilot episode of the series won the duo an Emmy Award in 1993, complemented by an International Monitor Award the next year, for the pilot episode of television series Viper.

Thornton died on 21 November 2016, at the age of fifty-nine, after a short illness. He was comatose during his last days. [2]

Star Trek credits[]

Emmy Award[]

Thornton received the following Emmy Award nomination in the category Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series:


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