Click here for the particleIllusion project file
Click here to download the background clip (1.3 megs, DIVX 5.02 avi)
The quest for the perfect
lightsaber is one all fanfilm creators go on while stitching their
films together in the editing room. This tutorial is to show how I
went about using particleIllusion 2.0 to do my own lightsaber
effect. While the final piece may not look on par with ILM's work,
this method is quicker than most methods I've seen with inexpensive
desktop compositors and does a fine job.
We begin with some footage
of my brother James. He's waving a broomstick around in his best
Glacos the Gleeful Jedi impression. This
is a recreation of the legendary Battle of the Living Room.
Open up the Lightsaber IPF
file. This file contains just one emitter sitting on the stage, the
lightsaber. Load up a video clip as the background for Layer 1. Now
comes the tedious part. Move point 1 of the emitter to the base of
the lightsaber, and point two to the tip of the broomstick. Move to
the next frame and repeat. It's a good idea to turn off particle
display while doing this, as the lightsaber's glow tends to block out
If the clip is 10 seconds
long, you'll have to do this 300 times. It sounds worse than it is,
once you get into a groove the work goes pretty fast and in about a
half hour or so, you'll have your lightsaber matched up. I find it
faster to pick one point and match that with the broomstick for 60
frames, and then move to point 2 and move that for 60 frames. It's
much faster than switching back and forth between the points at each
Why match the saber on every frame instead of on every second or third frame?
I did it to get a more accurate match to the broomstick. There will be cases
where the saber barely moves for 10 frames at a time, and in those cases
you can get away with not moving the points. Humans move around pretty jerkily
though, so even when your actor is standing still, it's quite likely that their
arms are floating around a tiny bit, which makes a frame by frame match a
Now the easy part is out of
the way. At the points where your lightsaber is behind the actor,
you'll need to use Blockers to mask out the saber's glow. The best
way to go about this is to break the body down into smaller chunks so
that you aren't dealing with 30 points on every frame. Make a new
layer and call it Body Blocker. Then pick the Blocker
tool and make a rough mask around the actor's torso. Repeat this
procedure of creating a new layer and tracing the shape with the
Blocker tool for both arms, the head, and if needed, the legs.
Use a Blocker's Active
function to turn it on and off when you need it. For this
Battle of the Living Room clip, we only need to block the
saber out from around frames 100 to 110.
Right-click on a Blocker point on each of your Blockers to open it's Properties.
Check the Use Layers below for BG image so that the background video clip is visible when rendering.
To change the saber's
colors, enter the Emitter Properties and
select the Saber
particle type. At the color tab, change the two colors in the
gradient. Right-click and Copy Gradient,
and paste it into the color tab for both the Saber Glow and
Copy of Saber particle types.
If you find that the saber is too thick or thin for the background clip,
you can thin the blade out by changing the emitter's Zoom.
The Lightsaber project file was saved with a Number value of 300 so
that it would play okay on slower computers. Before rendering,
Number should be changed to a setting of 1000. This will give the
saber a much smoother look instead of a jumble of blurry circles.
The final step before rendering is to change the motion blur
settings for the project. Enter Project Settings and check the
Enable box. Change Extra Frames to 15, which will give a good trail
when the saber is swung quickly. When the particles are blurred
this much, they lose some of their glow. Drag the Intensity Adj.
Slider to 200%, and they should be back to their vibrant selves.
Thanks to James Deane for swinging a broomstick around so I could have some footage to work with.
Here are some lightsaber clips:
A finished version of the above clip:
AVI (1.3 meg divx)
Quicktime (2.8 meg)
Glacos the Gleeful Jedi vs Elvissimo, wielder of the Force-foot
AVI (1.4 meg divx)
Quicktime (3.1 meg)
An unfinished two person fight to play with
If you're looking for sounds to add to your lightsaber scenes, check out this link at
If you have any questions or comments about this tutorial, feel free to email me at