Special-Effects Supervisor and Cameraman. Born: c.1955. Career: 1971–77—Cascade Pictures, visual-effects commercial house, doing ads for the Pillsbury Doughboy and Green Giant characters, among others; 1977–81—joined George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic as cameraman on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Dragonslayer; 1982—first visual-effects supervisor on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; 1991—in addition to visual-effects supervisor title, added second-unit director on The Rocketeer for first time; 1994 "You Murderer" episode of TV series, Tales from the Crypt; 1995—left ILM to become president of Sony Pictures Imageworks. Awards: Academy Award and British Academy Award, for Return of the Jedi, 1983, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, 1988, Death Becomes Her, 1992, and Forrest Gump, 1994; Academy Award for Cocoon, 1985; British Academy Award, for Back to the Future Part II, 1989.
Films as Cameraman:
Star Wars (Lucas)
The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner)
Films as Visual-Effects Supervisor:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand) (co-effects supervisor)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Nimoy)
Cocoon (Petrie); Out of Africa (Pollock) (train at beginning of film); Back to the Future (Zemeckis)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Nimoy); The Golden Child (Ritchie)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Zemeckis)
Cocoon: The Return (Petrie); Back to the Future Part II (Zemeckis)
Back to the Future Part III (Zemeckis); Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (Dreams) (Kurosawa)
The Rocketeer (Johnston) (+ 2nd-unit d)
Death Becomes Her (Zemeckis) (+ 2nd-unit d)
Forrest Gump (Zemeckis)
Jumanji (Johnston); The American President (R. Reiner); Sabrina (Pollock)
Phenomenon (Turteltaub) (special effects); Michael (Ephron) (senior visual effects supervisor)
Contact (Zemeckis) (senior visual effects supervisor)
Films as Director:
By RALSTON: article—
"Special Effects for Star Trek II: Mama Eel and the Nebulae," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1982.
"Astonishing Effects Slate for Future," an interview with Ron Magid, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1989.
"Gump Gallops Through Time/ILM Breaks New Digital Ground for Group," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1994.
On RALSTON: articles—
On Cocoon, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1985.
On Roger Rabbit, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1988.
On Jumanji, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1996.
On Contact, in Cinefex (Riverside), September 1997.
* * *
Ken Ralston is a leading member of a generation of special-effects wizards who came of age during the seventies, swept the eighties film world and, in the nineties, sit as the designated heads of mainstream Hollywood, as cinema all but gave itself over to the otherworldly visuals available through computer-enhanced imagery.
Ralston spent his childhood "making movies in my garage, using claymation and a crummy Kodak 8mm camera." His obsession with filmic images led to an apprenticeship at a special-effects house, working on such ads as those featuring the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Green Giant.
After joining George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic as a cameraman on the original Star Wars film, Ralston made ILM his home for the next 18 years. While effects are unquestionably a team effort, it was Ralston's drive to perfect the visual techniques that quickly found him earning the title visual-effects supervisor for the first time on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Onboard for two other Star Trek feature-film voyages, Ralston brought an added magic that made the films visually intriguing and technically vastly superior to the series' television namesake. Audiences flocked to them and critics were more-often-than-not gentle to the films. But Ralston found the boundaries of imagery acceptable to Star Trek's loyal fans confining and moved on to other challenges. While he has been instrumental in taking audiences literally and figuratively to new frontiers, Ralston and his special-effects team nearly overwhelmed the unpleasant comedy, Death Becomes Her, and the misguided family film, Jumanji.
Career highlights of Ralston's would have to include the groundbreaking smash, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which merged live action with animation in a farcical plot. Equally, the visuals on Forrest Gump, which at one point allowed Gump to convincingly shake hands with the late President Kennedy, satisfied the audience of this whimsical allegory of an extremely simple man in complex times, helping to make it one of the all-time box-office hits.
After years spent challenging the cinema's visual limitations with otherworldly tales, 1995 found Ralston bringing his film magic to two down-to-earth romantic fairy tales, The American President and the less enchanting Sabrina. It was the year that also found Ralston breaking away from his career home of 18 years at ILM to become president of Sony Pictures Imageworks.
—Allen Grant Richards