Imperfect crystals

At a meeting I attended earlier this week, a physicist who creates nano-scale materials with novel properties was explaining the intricacies of his research. Apparently, much of what he does is based around creating imperfect crystals, in which the carefully engineered imperfections impart exactly the right properties.

At one point he said: “To make the right imperfect crystal, you first need to figure out how to make a perfect crystal.” And that thought really resonated with me.

In my own work in computer graphics and animation, from texturing to 3D modeling to character animation, that’s one of the fundamental principles. You first need to ask yourself what the “perfect” version would be of, say, a marble texture, or a cloud shape, or a human walk.

Then you need to artfully add imperfections, to match the sorts of imperfections one would expect to see in the real world. In a sense, what people are really looking for is the structure through the noise.

You absolutely must have the structure, whether in an arm gesture or an ocean wave or a wisp of smoke — the perfect crystal. But you must also have just the right amount of imperfection.

Symmetry and noise need each other in all things, including human relationships. The interplay between them is what tells us it’s real.

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