Pantograph - excerpt from The Development of a Video Art Facility by Electronic Body Arts, Inc

Publication TypeMiscellaneous
AuthorsDeWitt, Tom; Edelstein, Phil
Source (1979)
Full Text: 

The Pantograph was conceived by Phil Edelstein and Tom DeWitt in 1975. Tom was a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts studying electronics, and Phil was working as an electronics specialist for the SUNYA Music Department. Their first experiment was a score reader for composers. A television camera scanned a hand drawn graph, and the information was read into a minicomputer where it was stored as a short list of numbers containing the coordinates of the graph. During the year, Tom and Phil had residencies at the WNET TV Laboratory in New York City. Both brought EBA dancers and artists into the WNET Studio 46, Tom emphasizing mime and Phil exploring modern dance. Their experiences pointed to the need for video equipment which could track body movement automatically to correlate camera recorded and synthesized spaces. Phil's residency resulted in his involvement with the TV Laboratory's computer project, an abortive effort to control a large video switcher with a PDP 8 computer. By the conclusion of his residency, Phil was very familiar with the computer and its difficulties.

In 1975 Tom DeWitt proposed to the New York State Council on the Arts Video Bureau that some of the Council funding granted to Albany area PBS station WMHT be devoted to developing a video synthesis studio. As a result $10,000 of $25,000 granted to WHMT that year was earmarked for purchase of an EAB VideoLab and a Rutt/Etra synthesizer. DeWitt then prepared a proposal, based on his NEA funded research, to construct a unique synthesizer. NYSCA granted a supplementary $10,000 to WHMT to meet the cost of hardware for this project. When WHMT failed to find funding to pay for the labor of construction, the Council grant was redefined, so that, $6000 of the supplementary grant was allowed for labor and the aim of the project was to design and build a computer controlled tracking chroma key system, dubbed the Electronic Pantograph. EBA was contracted by WHMT to realize the project by September 1, 1977.

Construction of the Pantomation system began in November 1976. The idle computer from WNET was brought to Albany where Phil Edelstein repaired some of its broken parts. An experimental interface was designed and constructed by Edelstein, Kindler and Richard Lainhart. The computer was returned to New York City in December and first demonstrated at Studio 46 of WNET on New Year's Eve. When the demonstration was evaluated a success, the Arts Council, which owned the computer, reassigned it to WMHT. For the following eight months EBA personnel tested, evaluated, redesigned and reconstructed the system. A prototype was used to control lighting for EBA's production, "Horn", in April under direction from George Kindler. A version of the system was used to create scenes for Tom DeWitt's film, "Outta Space" in June. In August Roger Meyers, a composer and computer programmer joined the project to replace Phil Edelstein who had been hired away by Digital Equipment Corporation. On September 14 th the Pantograph was demonstrated in public for the first time at a concert at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center. Included on the program were a Pantomated dance by EBA dancer, Heather Harris, and a musical performance by bassist, Bill Corzett.

In July 1977 WMHT had informed NYSCA that it would abandon its Arts Council funded programs. As a result, the video equipment upon which the Pantomation studio depended was reassigned to other locations in the state. The specialized synthesis equipment, the EPA constructed equipment and some broken equipment were reassigned by NYSCA to EBA's administration. A proposal from EBA to the Council to take WHMT's role was disallowed as EBA is not a PBS station. EBA found itself without the basic video equipment needed to operated the Pantomation studio, and the project was stalled for eight months. Fortunately, among the audience at the September 14 concert was an influential student at Rensselaer Polytechncial Institute who recognized the level of accomplishment EBA had attained. He brought other students together, and they opened a control room at WQPI to house both the Pantograph and their fledgling television production installation.

In April 1978, Tom DeWitt was granted $12,000 from the Guggenheim Foundation to continue development of the Pantograph and $6000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to demonstrate the Pantograph to other artists. Tom contracted EBA to assist in the fullfilment of the NEA grant and donated $1000 from the Guggenheim to help meet other expenses. For the past year the Media company of EBA has worked almost daily on developing the video studio. They have hosted noted artists in video, film, music and mime. The facility has been publicized in the local press and television. This month the first commissioned tape produced at the facility was completed for exhibition on April 28. EBA is in the process of seeking additional funding from private foundations, and has an invitation to exhibit its work on the Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Concourse should such work be funded.

Tool Name: 
DeWitt Pantograph
Tool Designer: 
Phil Edelstein
Other Tool Designers: