Ron Thornton, an Emmy-winning visual effects designer, supervisor and producer who worked on such shows as Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Voyager, has died. He was 59.
Thornton, often credited with bringing the power of CGI to television visual effects, died Monday at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., after a short battle with liver disease, his friend, veteran VFX supervisor Emile Smith, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Thornton received his Emmy for the 1993 telefilm Babylon 5: The Gathering (the pilot for the series) and also was nominated for his work on episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and on the 2002 telefilm Superfire.
In 1991, the London native was working with innovative rock star and multimedia artist Todd Rundgren on a computer-animated short film when he was approached by the producers of the space opera Babylon 5, then in development.
His collaboration with Rundgren led Thornton to suggest using computers for the effects on the show. He created a one-minute video of proposed effects for the series, and that was instrumental in Babylon 5 selling to Warner Bros. Television in July 1992. The series aired from 1994-’98 on the Prime Time Entertainment Network and TNT.
Thornton formed Foundation Imaging to continue creating the visuals for Babylon 5 and served for four years as the series’ special effects designer. He went on to supervise the CG visual effects for such Star Trek shows as Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.
His recent work included effects work on the 2012 pilot for ABC’s Nashville and producing the web series Talking Tom and Friends in Vienna.
In 1987, Thornton began to experiment with consumer-level computer hardware to create 3D computer graphics for pre-visualizing FX shots.
Smith pointed out that Thornton, whom he considered his mentor, “pioneered the movement away from the expensive, mainframe-based CGI solutions to more affordable desktop hardware and software, offering legions of self-taught and hobbyist artists the chance to progress into professional animation and visual effects. Many were mentored by Thornton himself.”
Thornton, who studied at West Kent College, began his entertainment career at the BBC, where he created props and miniatures for the sci-fi shows Dr. Who and Blakes 7. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1984 and went on to work on films including Real Genius (1985), Commando (1985), Critters (1986), Spaceballs (1987) and Robot Jox (1989).
Survivors include his wife, Lada. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her pay for his medical expenses.