Saturday, July 17, 2010

Permutations - John Whitney (1966)

John Whitney, Sr. (April 8, 1917 - September 22, 1995) was an American animator, composer and inventor, widely considered to be one of the fathers of computer animation.
Whitney was born in Pasadena, California and attended Pomona College. His first works in film were 8 mm movies of a solar eclipse which he made using a home-made telescope. In 1937-38 he spent a year in Paris, studying twelve-tone composition under Rene Leibowitz. In 1939 he returned to America and began to collaborate with his brother James on a series of abstract films. Their work, Five Film Exercises (1940-45) was awarded first prize First International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium in 1949. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. During the 1950s Whitney used his mechanical animation techniques to create sequences for television programs and commercials. In 1952 he directed engineering films on guided missile projects. One of his most famous works from this period was the animated title sequence from Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo, which he collaborated on with the graphic designer Saul Bass. In 1960, he founded Motion Graphics Incorporated, which used a mechanical analogue computer of his own invention to create motion picture and television title sequences and commercials. The following year, he assembled a record of the visual effects he had perfected using his device, titled simply Catalogue. In 1966, IBM awarded John Whitney, Sr. its first artist-in-residence position. By the 1970s, Whitney had abandoned his analogue computer in favour of faster, digital processes. The pinnacle of his digital films is his 1975 work Arabesque, characterized by psychedelic, blooming colour-forms. His work during the 1980s and 1990s, benefited from faster computers and his invention of an audio-visual composition program called the Whitney-Reed RDTD (Radius-Differential Theta Differential). Works from this period such as Moondrum (1989 - 1995) used self-composed music and often explored mystical or Native-American themes. The Whitney film collection is housed at the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where its preservation and restoration are ongoing. Several of the films (including James') have been preserved by and are housed at The Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles.

“In PERMUTATIONS, each point moves at a different speed and moves in a direction independent according to natural laws’ quite as valid as those of Pythagoras, while moving in their circular field. Their action produces a phenomenon more or less equivalent to the musical harmonies. When the points reach certain relationships (harmonic) numerical to other parameters of the equation, they form elementary figures.”- John Whitney


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