Ken Perlin received a B.A. in Theoretical Mathematics from Harvard University in 1979. He completed his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from New York University in 1984 and 1986 respectively. He received the Janet Fabri Memorial Award for outstanding work on his doctoral dissertation.
2/86 Ph.D. in Computer Science at Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, Computer Science Dept. Thesis: Simulating Realistic Textures by the Composition of Perceptually Motivated Functions Advisor: David Lowe.
6/84 M.S. in Computer Science at Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University.
7/79 B.A. in Theoretical Mathematics at Harvard University.
The Beginning of Perlin Noise
From 1979-1984 Ken worked as a research scientist for Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. (MAGI) in Elmsford, NY. During this time, Ken began working on special effects for the movie TRON. The creator, Steven Lisberger, understood the technological limitations of the time and worked within those constraints. While Ken enjoyed working on the movie, he found himself frustrated with the “machine-like” look that existed due to the technologies being used. Moving forward, he believed there was a way to break free from the current look. One of the motivating factors for Perlin was MAGI’s use of mathematical models to produce shapes. Most companies at the time were using polygons to produce shapes. Instead, work at MAGI was done by adding various mathematical models such as ellipsoids, truncated cones, and cylinders to produce shapes. With this background, Ken thought of textures in terms of volumes rather than flat surfaces. Filling these volumes with controllably generated noise allowed produced realistic, interesting, and believable effects and images. He wrote a language to produce these results, essentially the first shader language and presented his work at a SIGGRAPH class in 1984 with a publication the following year. He did not patent his ideas.
Movies and Oscars
By 1990, almost every major movie studio was using Perlin noise. As computers became faster, it became more and more feasible to add these effects. Notable films of the time include James Cameron’s Abyss and Titanic, animated films such as Moses and Disney’s The Lion King, and others such as Terminator 2 and Star Wars Episode I. In 1997 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Ken’s work by presenting him with the Technical Achievement Award. The citation reads:
To Ken Perlin for the development of Perlin Noise, a technique used to produce natural appearing textures on computer generated surfaces for motion picture visual effects. The development of Perlin Noise has allowed computer graphics artists to better represent the complexity of natural phenomena in visual effects for the motion picture industry.
ACM/SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Acheivement Award.
TrapCode award for achievement in computer graphics research.
First featured Net Artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004.
New York University Sokol Faculty Award in the Sciences. New York City Mayor's Award for Excellence in Science and Technology.
Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for the development of Perlin Noise, a technique used to produce natural appearing textures on computer generated surfaces for motion picture visual effects
National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award.
Janet Fabri Memorial Award for outstanding doctoral dissertation.