Friday, 1, November, 2002 at 3:58:18 PM

Makin' Lightsabers in particleIllusion

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 the broomstick.

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 frame.

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 good idea.

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