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How to Create the Star Wars Lightsaber Effect

Lightsaber
See this effect here.

There are a number of ways to create the lightsaber effect. When deciding which method to use, the prime consideration is the software you have. If you are lucky enough to own Adobe After Effects you can use the beam effect with keyframes to make a pretty good job without too much effort. If you are limited to Windows Movie Maker, thinks will be more difficult.

This page provides a quick overview of the most common methods recommended around the Internet. Whichever method you decide upon, there are two tasks to perform:

  1. Create the beam effect
  2. Animate the beam over time

Creating the Beam

There are three ways to create the lightsaber beam:

Draw the beam manually. You can use a graphics application such as Photoshop or Illustrator, or use a rotoscoping tool in a video editor (this allow you to draw on individual frames).

Use a mask to define the beam. In your video editor, create a new layer with a solid color, then add a matte the shape of the beam. Add effects such as glow and blur until the beam looks good.

Use a built-in beam effect. Some applications include effects that you can customize into a lightsaber beam. For example, the beam effect in After Effects or the lightning effect in Premiere Pro.

Animating the Beam

The best results are obtained by manually adding the beam to each individual frame. You could completely redraw each new frame but this is insanely slow and hard to keep consistent. A quicker method is to use a preset shape or mask and modify it for each frame. For example, use a garbage matte and move the points a little bit each frame to keep up.

A much quicker method is to set keyframes every second or so and let your editing software create the movement between them. This is not as accurate but it is much quicker and works fine for many shots.

In practice you may find it best to use a combination of techniques. For fast action shots, keyframe every single frame. For slower and smoother movements, use keyframes more sparsely.

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