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Lightswords: Creating a basic lightsword

Posted: Wed, 15th Jun 2005, 1:52pm

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Simon K Jones

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EffectsLab tutorials: Lightswords

Creating a basic lightsword

This tutorial will guide you through the process of creating a basic lightsword in EffectsLab. For the purposes of this tutorial you can use your own movie clip, or download a short example file from FXhome.com:

http://fxhome.com/effectslab/tutorial_movies/lsclipmpeg4.mov (Quicktime mpeg4)

Filming

Stand-in props should be used for lightsword sequences. This makes placing the effect far easier, as you have a reference point. Animating a blade without such a reference can be extremely difficult.

Getting started

Load EffectsLab and select New Video Project from the welcome screen.

Select the bare lightsword clip as your background plate, and check the settings:

Drag a lightsword effect from the effects browser onto the timeline to begin.

Use the crop tool to alter the length of the effect as required. If you are using the example file, stretch the effect to the full length of the clip.

Lightsword types

There are two types of lightsword, each designed for different purposes. The Freehand lightsword can be used for many purposes, enabling you to place up to 180 points to create the shape. For actual lightswords, however, the 4-point system is almost always faster and easier to use.

Choose 'New 4-point' from the toolbox.

This will add a new shape to the list and automatically switch the toolbox to its attributes.

Drawing the shape

To draw a 4-point shape, click four times on the canvas. The first two clicks represent the hilt, and the last two clicks represent the tip of the blade.

It may be easier to zoom in on the blade for more accuracy, using the zoom slider at the top right of the canvas. The canvas can be repositioned by dragging it with the right mouse button.

Only work on a single blade at a time. Once you have completed one blade, you can place a new lightsword effect and work on the others.

Note: You can create several lightsword shapes within a single effect, by adding more shapes using the drop-down menu. This can be very useful for double-ended lightswords. All shapes within a single object share the same glow attributes.

Click two points on each side of the hilt:

You can drag the points using the mouse if you need to reposition them at all.

Click another two points on the tip of the blade. This will automatically close the shape:

The glow is activated by default. As you can see, this sometimes makes placing the blade shape difficult as it obscures the background plate.

Switch the glow off by clicking the green toggle on the timeline so that it turns red:

The glow can be turned back on once you have finished positioning the effect.

The next frame

Press the right arrow key to move to the next frame. The blade will have moved, but your shape will still be in the old position. You can move the shape by dragging the corner points if you like, but there is an easier method.

Click once on a blank area of the canvas. This will clear the shape.

Draw the shape again in its new position:

This method allows you to quickly move through the frames and easily reposition the effect.

Every SINGLE frame??

Lightsword effects are inevitably time-consuming, as they rely on manual rotoscoping. When the blade is moving swiftly, you will probably have to draw every single frame. If the blade is at rest, however (such as if the actor is holding it steady), you can often get away with only doing every 5 frames. EffectsLab will fill in the rest. Even for fast sequences, drawing only every second frame can work fine. As you get more practice, you will work out your own time-saving tricks.

Fine-tuning

The toolbox contains several sliders that can enhance the appearance of your blade shape.

The Hilt and Tip Curves introduce curvature to each end of the shape, which can help to match the angle and speed of the blade and hilt. These values can be altered over time, so you can make sure the curvature is correct on every frame.

The Feather blurs the edges of the shape, creating a softer edge between the core and the glow. This is very useful for lightsword masking (see below). For feathering the core normally you should use the core feather slider in the glow attributes.

The grading tools can also be extremely useful for lightswords. The Saturation tool in particular is vital for matching the colour intensity of your glow to the natural saturation of the background clip.

The glow

Once you have finished positioning the blade shape, you can turn the glow back on.

Simply click the red toggle on the timeline:

Double-click on the Blade Glow track name to change the toolbox attibutes.

There are many controls to alter the glow. The default settings provide a glow that is suitable for many shots.

Clicking on the green colour bar enables you to change the colour of your glow.

Click a tab on the colour gradient, then click the Colour square to display the palette:

Select a new colour and click OK.

Unusual glows can be created by clicking in a blank area of the colour gradient to create additional tabs:

Click OK to apply the new glow to the effect.

Masking

Sometimes a lightsword might pass behind your actor, or another object in the shot. You could use the normal masking controls, but this would also mask out the glow, which doesn't look very realistic. A slightly different technique masks the effect, but enables the glow to spill around the edges convincingly.

In this example, the red saber should be behind the actor's head:

To begin, add a new Freehand shape to the relevant lightsword effect using the drop-down menu. As before, turning off the glow can make the drawing process much easier.

Freehand shapes allow you to add up to 180 individual points, which is why they are ideal for masking purposes.

Draw the freehand shape around the part of the actor that should be obscuring the effect. The shape can be drawn by individually clicking each point, or by click-dragging with the left mouse button.

Drag the final point onto the first point to close the shape.

When the shape is successfully closed, it will turn blue:

Setting the Smooth Points slider to about 0.33 can help with soft, organic shapes such as this.

As you can see, the shape only needs to be accurate in the area that needs masking.

Click the animate tab in the toolbox to lock the shape. It will turn red.

This shape is currently still behaving as a normal lightsword – if you turned the glow back on now, you would have a globular lightsword over the actor's head! However, we want this shape to remove itself from the overall effect.

In the toolbox settings, change Opaque Shape to Transparent Shape:

Increasing the Feather to 5 can make the masking more subtle.

If you switch the glow back on now, you will see that the new shape has masked the main lightsword, while still allowing the glow to spill around the edges: It is often a subtle effect, but can make a big difference.

There you have it – fast and easy lightsabers that also look great!

Last edited Fri, 12th May 2006, 8:32am; edited 1 times in total.

Posted: Wed, 15th Jun 2005, 2:52pm

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Redhawksrymmer

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Cool, can't wait for more to pop up. As always. smile
Posted: Sun, 26th Jun 2005, 5:10am

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Jealous Flesh

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Can the blade color only be changed in the full version? I have the demo and it wont let me change the core color, glow size, or do virtually anything other than the four point placement.
Posted: Sun, 26th Jun 2005, 8:44am

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vilhelm nielsen

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Malone wrote:

The demo version is exactly the same as the full version but with the export/save restrictions.
Posted: Sun, 26th Jun 2005, 3:04pm

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Pooky

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Double click "Blade Glow" in the timeline on the left.
Posted: Mon, 27th Jun 2005, 12:04am

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Jealous Flesh

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I have to say that having to jump thru about 4 hoops just to change a lightsaber from green to blue is a little bit too much infatuation with the technology. I guess I can get use to it.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Dec 2005, 12:45am

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jrg2134

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I do have a question about the tutorial & lightsabers. I went through put the sword on each frame but when i go back it only has a segment of the saber showing and everything then it has some kind of purple item that starts were the effect starts and ends where it ends! It's approx. 20 frames. Can i expand that anyhow? So the glow of the sword is through the whole clip instead of 20 frames?

Oh and one other thing.... I don't quite understand the masking... what tool do i have to hit in order to mask?
Posted: Fri, 23rd Dec 2005, 2:15am

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Hendo

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jrg2134 wrote:

I do have a question about the tutorial & lightsabers. I went through put the sword on each frame but when i go back it only has a segment of the saber showing and everything then it has some kind of purple item that starts were the effect starts and ends where it ends!
You need to set your project's In- and Out-points. These points determine how much of your movie background you are going to work with, and how much of it will get rendered.

The In point is probably already set to frame 1, but the Out point is probably at frame 20.

Try pressing the 'P' key. That will automatically set your project's In- and Out-points to the maximum length of an object on your timeline.

jrg2134 wrote:

I don't quite understand the masking... what tool do i have to hit in order to mask?
Look in your timeline. Under the object that you're wanting to mask (expand it if necessary), look for a 'Mask' section. Click on it. You can now add a new mask by either:

1. Clicking the '+' symbol that is next to the 'Mask' text in the timeline;
or
2. Clicking the 'Mask' button in the Inspector panel (right-hand side of the EffectsLab window).
Posted: Mon, 26th Dec 2005, 4:44am

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Wizard

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Hendo wrote:

The In point is probably already set to frame 1, but the Out point is probably at frame 20...Try pressing the 'P' key. That will automatically set your project's In- and Out-points to the maximum length of an object on your timeline.
Although this is very true, and should always be double checked, I do not believe this is what is occurring in this particular case. I may be wrong here, but it sounds to me like the "In" and "Out" points are set to render the entire video, but the length of the effect itself is not set correctly.

If I am correct, jrg2134, when you are roto-scoping your effect up to frame 20, you see a glow, but on frame 21, the saber guidelines are still visible, but the glow is not, as in the illustrations below.

Effect at frame 20:

Glow is still active on frame 20.

Effect at frame 21:

Glow is not active on frame 21.

This is because the default length of the effect is set to 20 frames, and must be increased. Although the effect is not active on any of the frames following frame twenty, the blade shape is still visible, because you are still selected on the neon shape inspector.

To increase the length of the effect, right click on the specific effect in your time line, and select "Set length", then type in the desired duration. Another method of increasing the length is to select the "Crop" tool, then click and hold on the end of the effect in your time line, and drag to the desired length.

Crop/time line


Happy holidays.
Wizard.
Posted: Wed, 8th Feb 2006, 3:58pm

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FXhomer1369

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Hi, I have a problem with the mask, When I go on freehand and I join the points my mask it isn't blu, only dark, Why???
Posted: Wed, 8th Feb 2006, 4:17pm

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Oeyvind

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FXhomer1369 wrote:

Hi, I have a problem with the mask, When I go on freehand and I join the points my mask it isn't blu, only dark, Why???
OK, you have to alter the glow properties. Change the core color and the glow color. Also check that your shape isn't a "transparent matte" but a "opaque matte" (or something like that wink ).

Oeyvind
Posted: Wed, 8th Feb 2006, 4:58pm

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Wizard

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FXhomer1369 wrote:

I join the points my mask it isn't blu...Why???
Since this tutorial was originally written, the programs have gone through many updates, and certain small details, although similar, are not the same, such as a closed shape. Closed shapes no longer turn blue in the new version of the program. You should now see a translucent white, or near grey color when the shape has just been closed. Once you select "Animate", the shape should turn a dark red.

If your footage is turning black itself, it may mean you have added a mask to your source footage, instead of an additional freehand neon light, set as a "Transparent shape", as opposed to "Opaque". I don't think this is what you meant though, but if it is, you do not want to add the mask to your source footage (the background plate).

Hope this clears it up.
Wizard.
Posted: Wed, 8th Feb 2006, 6:39pm

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FXhomer1369

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Wizard wrote:

FXhomer1369 wrote:

I join the points my mask it isn't blu...Why???
Since this tutorial was originally written, the programs have gone through many updates, and certain small details, although similar, are not the same, such as a closed shape. Closed shapes no longer turn blue in the new version of the program. You should now see a translucent white, or near grey color when the shape has just been closed. Once you select "Animate", the shape should turn a dark red.

If your footage is turning black itself, it may mean you have added a mask to your source footage, instead of an additional freehand neon light, set as a "Transparent shape", as opposed to "Opaque". I don't think this is what you meant though, but if it is, you do not want to add the mask to your source footage (the background plate).

Hope this clears it up.
Wizard.
It's like you said, my mask was translucent withe, but, after I changed opaque to transparent shape, should I put the lightsaber???
Posted: Wed, 8th Feb 2006, 7:52pm

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Wizard

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FXhomer1369 wrote:

after I changed opaque to transparent shape, should I put the lightsaber???
This may very well be due to my being sleep deprived, but to be completely honest, I do not quite understand what you are trying to ask at this point. However, I will still try my best to give you a reasonable answer.

If you have created your four point neon light effect, then created your freehand neon light effect (with in the same effect on your timeline), around the object you wish not to have the neon light pass over, then selected "Animation", and "Transparent shape", part of your neon light effect should now be "cut out" or "blocked", but a portion of the glow should still remain around this area. I will try to illustrate the steps for you below.

Freehand neon shape inspector settings:


Creating the neon light effect and Freehand effect:


The first illustration shows what should occur in your effects inspector. The second illustration shows the different stages of what your effect should look like during the different steps of the creation, and the final product. If you are doing all of the steps correctly, it should be in the ball park of what is above. The illustrations are thrown together rather hastily, but that is the general idea of what you are trying to achieve.

With out a better understanding of the question you are asking, I can not really be much more specific. I only hope that I have answered your question sufficiently, and that after seeing the steps, you have the basic idea of what needs to be done. If you do have any further questions about this process, I would be happy to offer more assistance.

Take care.
Wizard.
Posted: Thu, 9th Feb 2006, 5:39pm

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FXhomer1369

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Wizard wrote:

FXhomer1369 wrote:

after I changed opaque to transparent shape, should I put the lightsaber???
This may very well be due to my being sleep deprived, but to be completely honest, I do not quite understand what you are trying to ask at this point. However, I will still try my best to give you a reasonable answer.

If you have created your four point neon light effect, then created your freehand neon light effect (with in the same effect on your timeline), around the object you wish not to have the neon light pass over, then selected "Animation", and "Transparent shape", part of your neon light effect should now be "cut out" or "blocked", but a portion of the glow should still remain around this area. I will try to illustrate the steps for you below.

Freehand neon shape inspector settings:


Creating the neon light effect and Freehand effect:


The first illustration shows what should occur in your effects inspector. The second illustration shows the different stages of what your effect should look like during the different steps of the creation, and the final product. If you are doing all of the steps correctly, it should be in the ball park of what is above. The illustrations are thrown together rather hastily, but that is the general idea of what you are trying to achieve.

With out a better understanding of the question you are asking, I can not really be much more specific. I only hope that I have answered your question sufficiently, and that after seeing the steps, you have the basic idea of what needs to be done. If you do have any further questions about this process, I would be happy to offer more assistance.

Take care.
Wizard.
Thanks 10000!!!, It worked, I didn't unlock the mask. smile
Posted: Thu, 8th Mar 2007, 4:45pm

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The Editing Room

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can you do pictures as well with the same technique as you said
Posted: Fri, 9th Mar 2007, 12:38am

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Axeman

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Yes, you can add the lightsaber to any clip or image you have imported.
Posted: Fri, 9th Mar 2007, 8:23pm

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Mandalorian

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The programs also have .png and usually .tga file formats that you can export in.