By Amy Silverman
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He spent the bicentennial in a 200-year-old cell in Hartford wondering what he was going to do with the rest of his life. And if he ever reached a decision, he keeps it to himself. The next decade of his life is deliberately murky, told in no certain chronology.
He wandered to Los Angeles and became a musical and electronic jack-of-all-trades for the music and movie businesses. He came to Phoenix to design speakers for Motorola, and then was recruited into a three-man design team building the world's first digital synthesizer for a company called Micor. Until that point, all synthesizers produced sounds electronically instead of with a computer, and they weren't capable of playing as many notes simultaneously.
He bounced back to California to do contract work at Jet Propulsion Laboratories and NASA. He claims he helped design flight simulators. He may or may not have been involved in the Voyager imaging, but certainly had access to the Voyager team, because in the late 70s, he produced a Las Vegas gala that featured live Voyager pictures of Jupiter projected on a big screen. And though other former NASA employees confirm that Dilettoso did in fact work on secret projects, it's hard to say how much, which is how Dilettoso likes the story told.
@body:One of the consequences of life on the borderline is that neither side claims you as its own. One JPL scientist on the Voyager project scoffingly asked how anyone could take Dilettoso seriously if he believed in UFOs and other such New Age claptrap. Yet Dilettoso claims that JPL sent him to work on analysis of the Shroud of Turin. And it's unclear whether he became embroiled in UFO research because NASA asked him to or because the UFO underground sought him out for his JPL contacts.
In 1977, Wendelle Stevens, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, a former intelligence officer who had been looking into UFO sightings since the 1940s, came to Dilettoso to help sort out the case of a Swiss farmer who had taken photographs and home movies of flying saucers, and who claimed to have had hundreds of encounters with humanlike extraterrestrials.
Stevens, who is based in Tucson, says, "We were looking for a team of scientists--and university types are too close-minded." Dilettoso's work on the case is documented in the book Light Years, by Gary Kinder, who portrays Dilettoso as a go-between for Stevens and scientists at NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratories, and as a bit of a true believer who truly wanted the farmer's photos and movies to be real. None of the tests were conclusive, because the photo prints were not made from the original negatives, which fits well into the mystic and somewhat paranoid world of ufology.
In the mid-1980s, Dilettoso still worked for NASA, running an information center out of his own Computer Graphics Lab at ASU's downtown computer institute. He shared space with ASU because he had helped obtain a Cray Supercomputer for the ASU center, and he used it for his own work on movie special effects and medical imaging hardware and software. He was promoting and producing musical road shows and creating video special effects for acts that included the Moody Blues, Todd Rundgren, Toto and Pink Floyd.
Dr. Gary Berg is now dean of faculty at Western International University, but back then he headed the ASU computer institute. When Dilettoso would forget to pay his rent, Berg would try to convince the landlord not to evict him because of the computer spectacle he provided for the institute.
"He could make sounds come out of the computer that shouldn't have been there," Berg remembers. "One night I went to see him and he had this graphics program he had developed. All of a sudden, on a PC, he's demonstrating the ability to run interactive graphics that the rest of the world hadn't been able to do yet. I went away wondering why he could figure that out with no formal training and no one else could. He just did it." Dilettoso has no answer to the question. "About ten years ago, I came over a technology hump where it all became clear almost at a zen level. It all kind of came into focus," he says.
By 1986, Dilettoso was working on film colorization for American Film Technologies, which provided the process to Ted Turner. Until that time, most colorizing attempts required that every frame be hand-tinted. Dilettoso figured out a way to colorize digitally.
AFT now downplays his contribution, but Joseph Mintz, who was president of AFT at the time, says, "Jim definitely developed the first stages, the basic early technology required to do what ended up being American Film's coloring system. Jim is extremely bright and charismatic, just bubbling with ideas. He went forward in his quest to figure this stuff out with all the enthusiasms of the early American inventors."
Dilettoso claims he received $75,000 for his efforts, the balance paid in worthless stock. However much it was worth, he probably would have blown the money, anyway.
@body:Downtime at Dilettoso and Company. An erstwhile employee is out back fiddling with a small furnace he's rigged up to smelt an alloy of platinum and other semiprecious metals out of bags and bags of what looks like dirt. Depending on the day of the week, the story is that they're going to sell the platinum to finance other projects and/or use the smelting process to plate circuit boards.