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Making a Lightsaber in After Effects

See the finished
effect here.

The easiest way to make a lightsaber in After Effects CS3 is with the Beam effect. This effect creates a short beam somewhat like a lightsaber by default. With only minor adjustments you can make a convincing lightsaber in whatever color and size you like.

The part that takes the time is animating the beam. There are a couple of different ways to do this but the best results involve setting regular keyframes for the start and end points of the beam.

The example I'm going to use is a very quick and simple effect featuring a person turning on and waving a lightsaber. I shot the footage using a stick for the lightsaber. In this case we will use the stick as a guide and superimpose the beam on top of it.

Begin by importing the video file and making a new composition. In our example the video file is called raw-dave1.m2t.

Create a new black solid and name it Beam. Add the beam effect to this layer (it's in the Effect & Presets panel, under Generate > Beam). The timeline looks something like this:


In the composition window you will see a horizontal beam. It's the wrong color and size so we need to use the Effects Control panel to adjust the beam's properties.

Effect Controls: Beam

Position, Size and Colormatching the start and end points

First we need to match the length and position of the beam to the prop (i.e. the stick).

Now with the beam in the right place, we can adjust the color and width. We only need to do this once — the settings will follow the animation. However we can change these settings later if we want to.


Now comes the tedious part. In the same way that we set the start and end points above, we need to do this every few frames as the lightsaber moves. It's actually very easy — it just takes patience.

Note: My example begins with the lightsaber being turned on. To do this, drag the in-point of the beam layer to the point where you want the effect to begin. Set both the start and end points of the beam at the base of the stick, then create a few keyframes with the beam steadily extending.

Sound Effects

Once the visuals are finished you need to add the lightsaber sound. We have some basic sounds you can download here. In my example I started with an "ignition" sound effect, then looped a background hum throughout the rest of the file. I then added a couple more swooping lightsaber sounds where the beam moves more.


That's basically all there is to it, except a few more tips...