So last night, I went downtown with my friend Michael Knight to meet my friend Charlie Athanas at the Gallery Provocateur, which was having their ending party for the Frank Frazetta Tribute Exhibition that kicked off during C2E2. My painting was in the show and I hadn’t seen it displayed yet. I was sorely disappointed to discover that there were only a couple of actual paintings – the rest were inkjet print-outs on canvas, er, giclees, of the digitally created art. It was completely not what I was anticipating. However, my compadre Charlie Athanas has a talent for always pulling a rabbit out of thin air.
Charlie suggested that we go meet his friend—Steve Heminover–who is world-renowned for his laser shows. We ended up about 15 minutes away from Gallery Provocateur, in this unpopulated industrial area that was frankly a little spooky and unsettling. We pulled into this gated parking lot and drove into this space where doors closed behind us – a textbook James Bond adventure, right down to the technology and innovation laboratory where we ended up.
We entered the freight elevator, still guided by a disembodied voice telling us where to go and what to do. I had flashbacks to my Keith Moon incident when I was a bodyguard at the Capitol Center in Maryland during The Who concert (it’s in the first chapter of my new book, if you’re unsure of what I’m referencing) and then we ended up getting a tour of Aura Technologies, Inc., this huge tech facility.
Charlie, ever the king of understatement, nonchalantly mentioned that when he worked there in the ‘80s, Steve used to have the computer that generated the Death Star laser animation for the first Star Wars movie. Now I was totally in my element, as was Michael, who may love Star Wars more than me, if that’s even possible. Steve took us to pay homage to the historic technology relic.
The actual computer is entirely the wall behind all three of us in the picture. Steve briefed us on the technical details, explaining the computer had 2.5 megabytes of memory and when they really pushed it, they could get it up to 10 megabytes with enough disc cartridges.Here’s a link to Larry Cuba’s YouTube video explaining how they made the sequence.
Steve was connected to Larry Cuba and the University of Chicago, which had the “Electronic Visualization Lab,” the very first place you could get a graduate degree combining art with computer science back in the ’80s. You have to remember, in those days, there was no access to computers of this magnitude unless you used a corporation’s computer after hours, or you had access to a university computer.
Charlie, a technology renaissance man in his own right, was doing music for the animations coming out of the Electronic Visualization Lab. His friends there—many early influencers in the prestigious art-meets-technology group SIGGRAPH — encouraged Charlie to explore computer graphics, and the rest is history. Charlie and Johnie Hugh Horn, plus a gaggle of friends, created the Ralph the Punk animated music video, which was selected to be part of the 1985 SIGGRAPH Art Show and the SIGGRAPH ’85 Film and Video Show world tour. The 1985 SIGGRAPH Art show also featured a piece from Larry Cuba, Calculated Movements, coincidentally enough.