Tron’s (real) cultural legacy.

No, it’s not the concept of living computer programs zooming around circuits on motorcycles made of light. It’s the way, reveals, a rather clever designer created a way for computers to make them *look* that way:

…a process that was invented for the film’s famous light cycle scenes, and one that, once developed, would come to influence the look of textures in every video game and CGI-soaked film ever since: Perlin noise.

Executed as a function of either (x,y,z) or (x,y,z,time), the process uses interpolation between a set of pre-calculated gradient vectors to construct a value that varies pseudo-randomly over space and/or time. It’s essentially an easy technique for creating a scalable texture that imitates the controlled random appearance of natural objects.

Translation: It makes fake stuff look real.

As Ken Perlin describes it:

The first thing I did in 1983 was to create a primitive space-filling signal that would give an impression of randomness. It needed to have variation that looked random, and yet it needed to be controllable, so it could be used to design various looks. I set about designing a primitive that would be “random” but with all its visual features roughly the same size (no high or low spatial frequencies).

He earned an Academy Award for this trick… in 1997.