Dinca: contemporary art and culture

Sunstone (1979) by Ed Emshwiller

Ed Emshwiller and Alvy Ray Scott, Sunstone, 1979, 16mm, 3m

Born in Lansing, Michigan, and a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ed Emshwiller (1925-1990) was a pioneer in the development of video technology. He was one of the first to experiment with synthesizers and computers in his quest to ‘sculpt with technology.’ Sunstone (1979) is film version of computer animation: it was made using a digital paint program at New York Institute of Technology — a collaboration between Emshwiller and Alvy Ray Smith. Sunstone exhibited at many places, including SIGGRAPH ’79 in Chicago, New York’s WNET television show video/film Review, 1979, and the Mill Valley Film Festival, Mill Valley, California, 1981. Originally released as a videotape.

Synopsis: Sunstone is a prime example of Emshwiller’s artful use of technology to create stunning images. A timeless face, carved from stone as a ‘third eye’, appears radiating color and forms that are computer generated.

Ed Emshwiller and Alvy Ray Smith work on Sunstone at NYIT in 1979

Biography (from the Video Data Bank):
Born in 1925, Ed Emshwiller studied graphic design at the University of Michigan and L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. By the late ’60s Emshwiller was working as a science fiction illustrator, and had established his place in the American avant-garde cinema with such works as Relativity (1966) and Image, Flesh and Voice (1969). His early films featured collaborations with dancers and choreographers—a theme he carried over into his videoworks. As both an artist and a teacher, Emshwiller’s pioneering efforts to develop an alternative technological language in video were enormously influential.

His early experiments with synthesizers and computers included the electronic rendering of three-dimensional space, the interplay of illusion and reality, and manipulations of time, movement, and scale that explore the relationship between “external reality and subjective feelings.” Emshwiller was among the first artists-in-residence at the TV Lab at WNET, where he produced the groundbreaking Scape-mates (1972). Sunstone (1979) was made over a period of eight months at the New York Institute of Technology. Emshwiller passed away in 1990 and an extensive collection of his work is housed by Anthology Film Archives.

Illustration by Ed Emshwiller

Alvy Ray Smith on making Sunstone with Emshwiller:
Ed was an abstract expressionist when young, then did early avant-garde 16mm filmmaking, then became one of the earliest video artists. He also made a name for himself in the 1950s illustrating the covers of early science fiction magazines (which he signed “Emsh”). I knew of him because he lived near NYIT on Long Island, in Levittown. I expected that if he were the artist I thought he was – out on the edges of the culture exploring – he would show up at our lab one day. He did, of course. His proposal to us, that he use his new Guggenheim grant, to make a 3-hour computer graphics movie, sent us into gales of laughter, much to his consternation (after all, he was trying to talk his way into our facility). We explained that he would be lucky, in his 6-month timeframe, to make a 3-minute film, considering the state of the technology. Sunstone is that piece, and it is a little more than 3 mintues long, including a live (digitally processed) video section.

This collaboration was the most important of my artistic life, Ed serving as my mentor. And I am still most pleased with this computer graphic work over all others I have been involved in with partners. We used one frame from the video as the cover of a very well-known computer graphics text by Foley and van Dam.
Created at NYIT in Old Westbury, Long Island, in 1979.


Video Data Bank: Ed Emshwiller
Expanded Cinema: Ed Emshwiller
Alvy Ray Smith on the Sunstone Collaboration
Wikipedia: Ed Emshwiller


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