John & James Whitney Collection

John Whitney (1917-1995) is considered one of the fathers of computer animation. His works include the opening title sequence from Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo (1958), which is a collaboration work with Saul Bass; Catalogue (1961), assembled record of visual effects using a mechanical analog computer of his own invention; and Arabesque (1975), a pinnacle of his digital films. John and his brother James were first-prize winners at the First International Experimental Film Competition, Belgium, in 1949. In the years 1947-48, John was awarded a two-year John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship permitting an in-depth study of composing music with graphics. In 1952, John founded Motion Graphics, Inc., to develop commercial productions exploiting the mechanical analog processes. 

James Whitney (1921-1982) studied painting and traveled in England before World War II. James completed seven short films over four decades and collaborated with his brother John for some of his film work. The first of the brothers' films was Twenty-Four Variations on an Original Theme. Its structure was influenced by Schoenberg's serial principles. James and John created their series of Five Film Exercises between 1943 and 1945, for which they won first prize at the 1949 Brussels Experimental Film Competition. In 1946, the brothers traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Museum Art to show their films at the first of ten annual Art in Cinema festivals. James spent three years working on the 8mm film Variations on a Circle (1942), which lasts some 20 minutes. Then, he became more involved in spiritual interests such as Jungian psychology, alchemy, yoga, Tao, and Krishnamurti. These interests heavily influenced his later work. Between 1946 and 1957, Yantra 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. Analogue computer equipment developed by brother John, allowed James to complete Lapis (1965) in seven years. He drew dot patterns again for this film, but the camera and artwork were 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, accompanied by Indian sitar music. The patterns become hypnotic and trance-inducing. The two following films Dwija (1973) and Wu Ming (1977) intended to form a quartet with the two last ones: Kang Jing Xiang and Li, which remained incomplete when James died in 1982.

Image: John and James Whitney, Pacoima Court studio, Studio City, CA, c. 1947. Photo courtesy of Whitney Editions, Los Angeles, CA.