Noise provides a flexible, powerful, and aesthetic source of variation that often works better than using a plain random number generator.




Random values are extremely common and important in procedural generation, but in many situations they are hard to work with. Psuedo-random number generators are designed to provide independent, unpredictable, and evenly-distributed values. If we want related or repeatable random values we have to do extra work. If we want random variation that looks good we have to do extra work.

Before we continue, look at the code below. What if random() didn’t exist? How could you modify this example to get the same effect using the provided randomValues array?

Noise functions are often a better source of random values.

There are several common noise functions, each with different characteristics. The most widely known noise function is probably Perlin Noise, developed by Ken Perlin while working on visual effects for the amazing 1982 motion picture Tron. Ken later developed a similar and faster version called simplex noise. Other noise functions include Worley noise, developed by Steven Worley, and the simpler value noise.

Perlin Noise Perlin Noise

Worley Noise Worely Noise

Value Noise Value Noise

Noise functions provide a “cloud” of random values that can be used in a wide variety of ways. Noise functions are very frequently used in procedural texture generation and terrain generation. More generally, noise functions can be thought of as a lookup table of pre-generated random values that can be used in place of random() in many cases.

Noise vs. Random

blue square

Consider the code you would write to draw the blue squares above. You would need to provide several values for each square: horizontal position, vertical position, width, height, and color.

Where do those values come from? They could come from a few places.

Source Purpose
Hard Coded You always want the same, specific value.
Parameters You want to be able to control the value from a larger context.
random() You want random variation.
noise(x) You want controlled variation.

Now suppose we wanted to add variation to the size of the squares. Both random() and noise() would allow us to do that, but noise() provides much more control. With random() the sizes of the boxes won’t be related at all. With noise() we can control how quickly the size changes horizontally, vertically, and over time. If we sample a small area of the noise function the variation will be subtle and gradual. If our samples are far apart the variation will be be drastic, unpredictable and look a lot like random().



Consider the two examples above: one uses random() and one uses noise().

random() noise()
It’s easy to control the range of values provided by random(). It is also easy with noise().
The values provided by random() are independent and unrelated. The circles change size at high frequency and with no transition. The values provided by noise() are arranged spatially. The frequency of size changes can be controlled and smooth transitions are natural.
Repeatable results can be achieved with randomSeed(), but the effect is global and fragile. You have to freeze the big circle and the circle line together. Achieving repeatable results with noise() is more flexible. You can freeze the circle line without changing the behavior of the big circle.
Good Great

Benefits of Noise

Noise Looks Good

The noise(x) function returns values sampled from Perlin Noise. Perlin Noise provides random values that are aesthetically arranged. The variation in Perlin Noise is band-limited: It is even, without flat or noisy areas. The variation is also visually isotropic—it looks the same at different rotations. These characteristics make it a useful basis for many applications that require natural-feeling variation.

You can tweak the aesthetics of a noise functional by manipulating its values with a little math. The Terrain from Noise article on Red Blob Games is a good place to see some common techniques for shaping noise.

Other noise functions—like Worely and Value Noise—offer different aesthetic qualities, and it is quite possible to create your own noise function that looks the way you want.

Noise is Repeatable

Repeated variation is easy with noise(x): every time you call noise(x) with a particular argument, you get the same value back. This can be very useful. For example, in an animation you often need a value to stay the same from frame to frame.

  • random() requires no arguments and returns a different random value every time.
  • noise(x) requires an argument and returns the same random value for that argument every time.

This difference is a core reason why noise(x) is so useful. This difference takes some getting used to, and learning what to pass in for x takes some practice.

Noise is Controllable

By controlling what you pass to noise(x), you can control the frequency of the values returned. This can be used to control how quickly values vary in space and time. Like random() values, you can scale and shift the values from noise(x) to the range you need. You can also adjust the character of noise(x) using noiseDetail().

1D Noise Example

Building Noise

Building 1D Noise

How does the noise(x) function work? Explore the underlying concepts by building a simplified noise function with pencil and paper.

Part 1: Simple Noise

  • Roll 1d12 for each square on the sheet and plot the value on the graph.
  • Connect the plotted points with straight lines.
  • According to your hand-made noise function, what is the value of noise(3), noise(4), and noise(6.5)?

Part 2: Custom Noise

  • Discuss strategies for populating the values. Populate each square on the graph and plot the values.
  • Discuss strategies for interpolating the values. Connect the plotted points using your interpolation strategy.
  • According to your hand-made noise function, what is the value of noise(3), noise(4), and noise(6.5)?


1D, 2D, + 3D Noise

The Building 1D Noise activity above shows how to build a simple 1-dimensional noise function that can provide smoothly varying values based on a single input parameter. You can think of the parameter as the address of the random value to return. The noise function in most programming libraries can take 2, 3, or even more parameters. You can think of these parameters as specifying a multidimensional address in a “cloud” of values.

noise(x) noise_1d

noise(x, y) noise_2d

noise(x, y, z) noise_3d

Working with Noise

Calling the Noise Function

The noise() function takes up to three parameters: noise(x,y,z). These parameters allow you to request values arranged in a three dimensional “cloud” of pseudo-random values.

When you call noise(x) you have to pass in at least one parameter. This parameter specifies the location in the cloud of the value to return. You can think about noise(x) as a lookup table: noise(1) provides one value in the table and noise(2) provides another.

Choosing appropriate parameter values takes some getting used to. You can pass in frameCount or millis() to get values that change over time. You can pass in XYZ coordinates to get values that change over space. These are very common cases, but really you can pass values from any range into noise() and it will provide random values in return.

Controlling the Frequency

You can control the frequency of returned values by scaling the values you pass in for x, y, and z.

// get a value that changes over time
n = noise(frameCount);

// get a value that changes over time more slowly
n = noise(frameCount * 0.1);

// get a value that changes over time more quickly
n = noise(frameCount * 10);

Controlling the Amplitude and Range

The noise(x) function returns values in the range of 0 to 1. Use multiplication and addition to shift values to the range you need. Be aware that while random() provides evenly-distributed values, noise() values are biased towards the middle.

// scale values to sit between 10 and 20;
n = noise(frameCount) * 10 + 10;

You could also use map():

// get values from 0 to 1
n = noise(frameCount);
// map to 10 to 20
n = map(n, 0, 1, 10, 20);

Controlling the Detail

The noiseDetail() function allows you to control the “roughness” or “detail” of the noise returned.

Controlling the Seed

By default, every time you restart your sketch the noise pattern will be different. The noiseSeed() allows you to manually set the noise pattern seed.

Study Examples

The following study examples demonstrate different methods of using noise to get varied looks and effects. Some of these examples are similar to the examples in the Random Values chapter. Carefully study each example to understand how it works. Several of the examples offer multiple approaches which can be commented in and out to compare their results.

Mapping Noise



In-class Challenge

Explore using noise by completing the following challenges in order.
Don’t skip any.

Time Comment
< 7 in 20 Minutes You need to put in some extra work to strengthen your understanding of these topics.
7 in 20 Minutes Good.
All 9 in 20 Minutes Great.

Modify the Mapping Noise Example

  1. This example shows several ways to map noise. Comment in and out each example, and compare the results.

Modify the Grass Example

  1. Study the code and get a general idea of how it works.
  2. Line 28 has two magic constants: .01 and .001. Try changing the first constant to .1. What happens? What happens when you change it to 1?
  3. Set the first constant back to .01. Change the second constant to .01. What happens?

Modify the Skyline Example

  1. This example has two global parameters: amplitude and frequency. Change the values of these parameters to get a feel for how they affect the output. What happens when you use a very small value for frequency, such as .001?
  2. On line 23, what would happen if you changed noise(x * frequency) to noise(x * frequency, frameCount)? Make the change. Is that what you expected?
  3. Your last change should have caused the bar heights to animate very quickly. Slow down the rate of change.

Challenging Challenges

  1. Add flowers to some of the blades of grass.
  2. Add water towers to some of the buildings.

Keep Sketching!


This week, focus on using the noise() function. Use noise() in a variety of ways. Use 1D, 2D, and 3D noise. Try using high, mid, and low frequency noise. Try using noise to control different things: position, size, color, rotation, etc. Think about tile graphics, random(), and parameters while you work. Consider combining these concepts with noise().

Challenge: Treasure Map

Make a program that generates treasure maps.

Your maps should

  • Describe the geography of a fictional territory
  • Mark the location of the treasure
  • Include a path to the treasure from a reference point (optional)
  • Be expressed in a cohesive style

Things to consider

  • Where is your treasure? On a tropical island? On a farm? In a warehouse?
  • What style is your map? Is it old and beaten? Sci-fi?
  • Does your map include labels? What do they say?
  • Can you make a believable natural geography? Should you?
  • What terrain features might you include? Rivers? Mountains? Hills? Boxes?
  • It is okay if your map takes seconds or even minutes to generate.
  • A map can represent many things—it doesn’t necessarily need to represent geography.

When posting your map

  • Include three maps generated by your program.
  • Each map should be shown as an image, not a video.
  • Consider posting a first run at this challenge early in the week, and then revisiting it towards the end of the week with a second post.

Pair Challenge: Layer Tennis

Part 1

  1. Create an computationally generated image.
  2. Pass the image—not the code—to your partner.

Part 2

  1. Receive a computationally generated image from your partner.
  2. Create a computationally generated image in response.
  3. Composite your image and their image in photoshop and post the result.
Pinterest: Perlin Noise
Active Pinterest search for Perlin Noise Art
Book of Shaders: Noise
Chapter on using noise in GLSL shaders from the excellent The Book of Shaders.
Shiffman: 2D Noise
Daniel Shiffman’s video on 2D Perlin Noise
Ken Perlin: Noise and Turbulence
Comments on Perlin Noise direct from the source, including the code.
GPU Gems: Improved Perlin Noise
Ken Perlin details an improved implementation of Perlin Noise for GPU Gems
Lecture: Juicing your Cameras With Math
GDC talk on making cameras cooler. At 11:40 he discusses the benefits of using Perlin Noise instead of RNG for camera shake.