Ken Ralston’s favorite enterprise? It wasn’t ‘Star Trek’


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This is the fifth installment in our series ‘Wizards of Hollywood,’ where we shine a spotlight on the masters of movie magic, the effects specialists who can dazzle us with screen images of liquid robots, giants and goblins, ferocious dinosaurs or just a special human soul who ages in reverse. Today, guest contributor Liesl Bradner interviews Ken Ralston.


Ken Ralston, the senior visual effects supervisor at Sony Imageworks, is currently the senior visual effects supervisor on Tim Burton’sAlice in Wonderland,’ and he has extensive Starfleet experience (he worked on ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,’ ‘Star Trek III: The Search for SpockandStar Trek IV: The Voyage Home’). He has also won four Oscars (for ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ ‘Death Becomes Her,’ ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Forrest Gump’) and took home a special achievement Oscar for ‘Star Wars: Episode VI -- Return of the Jedi.’ Surprisingly, he says his favorite screen accomplishment involved neither spaceships nor the supernatural.

My most memorable moment on film is in ‘Forrest Gump,’ the Washington, D.C., crowd scene at the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial by the reflecting pool, when Forrest gives his speech and finds Jenny in the crowd. We only had two days for this scene. There was lots to do with not a lot of time. We had four or five camera systems shooting at different angles. We used live action motion control that can be repeated over and over locked in to one central computer. It was 1993, before the technology existed to duplicate crowds. Without a lot of extras to work with, we put as many as we could in period costume. We shot Tom’s element first, the scene where he’s giving his speech. We put the extras in foreground and close to camera as possible. We’d get a take we like then we’d back the camera up. When Tom’s part is done he goes into his trailer and we keep repeating the exact same movement over and over while physically moving the crowd back further and further. There were various shots within that scene, so each time we’d shoot separate elements of crowd.

There were some location problems too. We’d shoot for a while, go to lunch and, because it was so cold, the extras would leave, which made our job harder. Overall, it went very well despite half the group leaving. The next day we shot the part when Tom and Robin [Wright Penn, in the role of Jenny] meet out in reflecting pool. We augmented how the reflecting pool looked by adding a sky that made it more dramatic We were pushing limits of technology at the time, to get those interesting little pieces and nuances and blend them to make it work so the audience bought it.

-- Liesl Bradner



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