John Whitney, Sr.
(April 8, 1917 – September 22, 1995) was an American animator
, widely considered to be one of the fathers of computer animation
(December 27, 1921 – April 8, 1982), younger brother of John
, was a filmmaker regarded as one of the great masters of abstract cinema. Several of his films are classics in the genre of visual music.
John's first works in film were 8 mm movies of a lunar 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 a prize for sound at the 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, John 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 Catalog
. In 1966, IBM
awarded John Whitney, Sr. its first artist-in-residence position.
By the 1970s, John 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.
James completed a number of short films over four decades, two of which required at least five years of work. James collaborated with his brother John for some of his early film work.
Between 1950 and 1955, James laboured to construct a truly astounding masterpiece, Yantra. The film was produced entirely by hand. By punching grid patterns in 5" by 7" cards with a pin, James was able to paint through these pinholes onto other 5" x 7" cards, to create images of rich complexity and give the finished work a very dynamic and flowing motion, but the film was not completed yet. It was first released as a silent film.
A very short, manipulated fragment from an early version of Yantra was shown at one of the historic Vortex Concerts in San Francisco's Morrison planetarium in early 1959. Soon after Vortex, the film acquired its soundtrack, when Jordan Belson synchronized it to an excerpt from Henk Badings’ "Cain and Abel". This did not occur at the Morrison Planetarium Vortex Concerts, contrary to popular belief (Keefer, 2008).
Analogue computer equipment developed by brother John, allowed James to complete Lapis (1966) in two years, when it might have taken seven years otherwise. James drew dot patterns again for this film, but the camera was positioned using computer control, allowing each image to be overlaid from multiple angles. In this piece, smaller circles oscillate in and out in an array of colors resembling a kaleidoscope while being accompanied by Indian sitar music. The patterns become hypnotic and trance inducing.