Ken Perlin: the Noise of CGI

Interview with Ken Perlin

Ken Perlin is a Featured Speaker at this year’s SIGGRAPH Asia Conference. As one of the most influential men in the world of computer graphics, especially in the motion picture industry … I jumped at the opportunity to get to know the man behind the innovative computer-generated visual effect … Perlin Noise.

Dee Marie: When you first presented your work at the 1984 SIGGRAPH Conference, what was your view of traditional art verses computer generated art?

Ken Perlin: My view is that art transcends any particular medium … one can make art with computer graphics, with pencil and paper, or with clay. Computer data is only incidental.

DM: If you feel that computer data is merely incidental in regards to art … in the first decade of the twenty-first century, what do you consider was the biggest advancement in the world of CGI?

KP: The most important advance in that decade was the rapid rise in inexpensive graphics hardware acceleration, because it brought high quality real time 3D graphics to everyone.

DM: The Future of Computer Graphics is the topic of your presentationat the 2011 SIGGRAPH Asia Conference … if you could condense your SIGGRAPH talk into one sentence, what do you perceive the future holds for computer graphics?

KP: I think computer graphics will become gradually less about looking at screens, and more about supporting face-to-face communication between people.

DM: That’s an interesting twist on the way the current generation utilizes computer graphics. But, over the years you have been known for thinking outside-the-box. Developing the first “shader” language in existence, and winning an Academy Award for Technical Achievement (for your work on the 1982, cult-classic, Sci-Fi film, Tron), must have been exceptional personal moments for you?

KP: I am proud of both of these accomplishments.

DM: As a man who has achieved many milestones in his life, I can only assume that those are small achievements in your long list of personal accomplishments. It must be nearly impossible to choose just one treasured moment?

KP: I have worked on many things through the years, and I am happy about a lot of things. So it's not something I can choose. I would say that in general I am happy to see that many of my projects, from the early shading work to the improvisational animation, to the current work in augmented reality, have helped focus the field on procedural methods in service of artistic goals.

DM: On the subject of your many projects, Autonomous Digital Actors (ADA) is an innovative and progressive field of technology. When, did you become involved in the Actor Machine™?

KP: I have worked on procedural character animation since 1989. It is not a replacement for actors, but rather is a tool that performers can use to enhance the effect of their performance.

DM: In the foreseeable future, rumor has it that an ADA will walk off with an Oscar for best actor (or actress) at an Academy Awards ceremony. Personally, I don’t see this happening, what are your views on actors being replaced by ADAs?

KP: It is important not to confuse the performer with the instrument.

DM: I agree with you completely. On a similar theme; excluding the gaming and film industry, how do you predict that the technology of Virtual Reality, and more recently Augmented Reality, will play a part in our everyday lives?

KP: It will become ubiquitous, to the point where we will no longer even think about it. We will just call it reality.

DM: Interesting concept. Each year, as we become more dependent upon technology, do you feel the computerization of the world has a positive or negative impact to our modern society?

KP: We are already completely dependent on computerized technology, and electricity, and automobiles, and sanitation, and a reliable supply of water. I don't think of any of those things as negative.

DM: Now, on to some fun stuff. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is playing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Rein-Sheep.” Every good game has a back story, what inspired you to create the rein-sheep game?

KP: It's a long story.

DM: I know our time together is limited, so, briefly, what’s the inside scoop?

KP: I can say that it came out of a very nice time at Eurographics 2006 in Vienna, when we all learned to do Viennese waltzing, and I had some great technical discussions about procedural simulation of sheep movement, and I was inspired to implement that game on the plane ride back to NY.

DM: Thank you for that condensed insight into game development. Perhaps one day we can get the full story out of you, as to the correlation between waltzing and sheep herding.

Ok then, on to the next question … if money and/or time were not a part of the equation, and you could do anything on your “Bucket List,” what would you do first?

KP: Figure out how to live forever.

DM: Oh, I look forward to interviewing you again when you make that discovery. On a more serious note, who has been the most influential person in your life?

KP: My Father.

DM: I would like to thank you Ken, for taking time out of your busy schedule to allow our readers the opportunity to explore your creative world. Before you go, what advice would you give aspiring digital artists as to education and lucrative career opportunities in the field of computer graphics?

KP: I can't speak to the word "lucrative," but I can say that you should always do what you like, and what inspires you, and don't ever let anyone talk you out of that.

Renderosity invites you to visit the following sites:

2011 SIGGRAPH Asia Conference
2011 SIGGRAPH Asia Featured Speakers
Ken Perlin’s Official Website
Ken Perlin Blog


Get to know industry leaders and professionals
as they sit down and talk candidly with
Contributing Columnist, Dee-Marie,
Author of "Sons of Avalon: Merlin's Prophecy"

Visit Dee-Marie on Twitter: Dee_Marie_SOA



December 12, 2011

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