HOW TO MAKE LIGHTSABERS 2.0

Discussion in 'Fan Films, Fan Audio & SciFi 3D' started by DorkmanScott, Nov 10, 2005.

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  1. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Well folks, I've been promising this revision just about since I had DaftMaul put up the first one three years ago (almost to the day). And now, at long last, here it is.

    Welcome to TheForce.Net's Fan Films Forum.

    Let's cut straight to the chase. You're here because you have discovered that you (yes YOU) have within your grasp the ability to create a Star Wars-based film complete with compelling dialogue, exotic locales, and dynamic characters.

    That being said, you don't really care about any of that. You just wanna know about the lightsabers.

    And while this thread has a great deal of that information, let's get real. You clicked this link because it said LIGHTSABER, and now you want to know. So let's get to it:

    EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT LIGHTSABERS AND HAVE APPARENTLY BEEN UNAFRAID TO ASK

    Section I: The Effect

    How do I make lightsabers on a home video I've shot?

    Probably the #1 question on this board after "When is (fill in the blank) coming out" There are several necessary stages to accomplishing this:

  2. Capturing


  3. Well, the first thing you need to be able to do is get your footage into your computer. If you have an analog camcorder (the kind with the big VHS tapes), you are going to need a capture card. These cards run anywhere from $150--$1200 depending on the model and how robust they are.

    If you have a DV or miniDV (DV = Digital Video) camera, you will need a Firewire port on your computer. Firewire is the trademark name of the Apple Computer corporation for the IEEE-1394 data transfer standard, also called i.Link by Sony; however, like Xerox, Kleenex, Band-Aid and a handful of other such terms, Firewire has come to be used almost universally as the generic term for the transfer standard.

    Apple Firewire and most desktop PCs use the 6-pin Firewire port standard; Sonys and many digital camcorders use a smaller, 4-pin standard. It is up to you to figure out what you have.

    If you do NOT have Firewire but DO have a digital camera, purchase a PCI Firewire card for your computer.

    Some cameras and capture cards transfer through USB. They may be cheaper than FireWire, but you will get what you pay for. The data transfer capabilities of USB are not nearly high enough for high-quality digital video, and the image quality will be poor and probably choppy.

    With your capture card will likely be packaged capturing software. You will need to read the manuals to figure out how exactly they work to get footage onto your computer.

    Most editing software programs like Adobe Premiere, Vegas Video, Final Cut Pro, and iMovie have capable video capturing utilities. Windows MovieMaker is NOT recommended for this, as it imports video files into a proprietary format that no other program can currently read.

    Now the footage is on your computer and we can begin.

  4. Rotoscoping and Tutorials


  5. There are many different methods for the creation of the lightsaber glow on a video file, most of which employ a process called rotoscoping. The rotoscope is a device, patented by animator Max Fleischer in 1917, to project live-action footage, one frame at a time, onto an animator's drawing board; the style that resulted from this process became the trademark Fleischer Studios animation style.

    Like Kleenex and Firewire, "rotoscoping" has come to mean any frame-by-frame alteration to footage, although the actual rotoscope device has since been abandoned in favor of computer workstations. Don't let the way the term is used on this board convince you that it applies only to the creation of lightsabers.

    The most popular programs for this process on video are as follows:

    Adobe AfterEffects (AE): By far the most popular method to date in Adobe AfterEffects is the one developed by Ryan_W and Link64PD, which you can find here.[
  6. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do I really have to do this thing frame-by-frame?

    Yes. If you want good results, there?s no way around it. Some of the abovementioned programs like AE and Commotion support keyframing, in which the computer calculates motion between frames, but often the very precise calculation does not match the less precise organic motion of the clip and requires adjustment.

    There have been talks of writing a computer program to identify a color in the scene and make it glow automatically, but this idea is fraught with practical issues. A fast-moving saber will blur a great deal, becoming more transparent and thus, essentially, almost a different color. There are a number of other problems as well that make this a nice dream, but an impractical one for good results.

    All the major visual effects houses still employ rotoscoping as a cornerstone of their compositing division. Sometimes there?s just no substitute for an artist?s eye.

    I don?t have enough money for these programs. What should I do?

    If you are a student, you can find academic discounts all over the web, at such sites as:

    Creation Engine
    Academic Superstore
    JourneyEd

    And others.

    What about the flashes when two lightsabers hit together?

    There is some confusion on this board as to what is the appropriate ?reaction? for lightsabers to have when they come in contact with each other.

    Many people say ?don?t use lens flares?, but that?s not completely accurate. More accurate would be, ?Don?t use lens flares with artifacts?.

    A digital lens flare is made up of two parts: the bright flash, and those colored circles at funny positions. Those circles are artifacts, and they are designed to simulate the effect of a bright light bouncing around the lens array of a camera. These are desirable for making a digital light source appear to be shot with the same camera as real light sources that are creating similar flares, but they tend to be bad for lightsaber clashes because they call far too much attention to themselves. If you can make the flash without the lens flares, that is best and most film-accurate.

    One option is to purchase Knoll Light Factory. Designed by John Knoll?who also designed Adobe Photoshop and worked as a visual effects supervisor on the two Star Wars prequels, it?s a safe bet that this is a good program. Available for download is also Knoll Light Factory Photoshop, a version designed for Photoshop. It is not keyframable, but could still be used on a filmstrip or image sequence to create animated flare effects, and is significantly cheaper than its AE counterpart.

    The lens flare effect I used for the lightsaber sequences in Ryan vs. Dorkman and Contract of Evil is also available to download from Ryan Wieber?s website.

    A lightsaber method can also be adjusted to create a custom two- or three-frame flash.

    What color should my lightsaber be?

    According to George Lucas, the only lightsaber colors that exist are green, blue, red, and by special request of Samuel L. Jackson, purple.

    However, the extended universe novels and comics, not to mention numerous fan films, support the viewpoint of ?if you can dream it, you can have it.? So if you can figure out the logistics of a rainbow-gradient lightsaber (and, hopefully, a reason for such an atrocity), have at it.

    The decision of lightsaber color is really a personal one, and possibly one used to express something about the character. Obviously, Sith and red are practically synonymous. Red is an angry, aggressive color. There?s a reason Sit
  7. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Section II: The Prop

    How long are lightsabers?

    The average two-handed lightsaber is 11 to 12 inches long. Depending on possible different styles, such as a one-handed Chinese-influenced style, or a power-move kendo style, you may want a longer or shorter handle. Double-bladed lightsabers range from only slightly longer than a single-bladed lightsaber (Exar Kun, who built the first recorded double lightsaber, had one only about 14? long) to a longer handle which allows for greater control of the second blade (Darth Maul?s lightsaber was 22? long).

    The energy blade of a lightsaber is, according to novelizations, a meter long. (For the Imperialists, that?s a little over three feet.) However, the EU supports the idea that length and intensity of a lightsaber blade can be varied. In ?Splinter of the Mind?s Eye?, Luke adjusts his lightsaber to act as a lockpick.

    On the other end of the extreme is the dual-phase lightsaber, used by Gantoris (one of Luke?s first students at the new Jedi Academy) and later, Kyle Katarn. The dual phase lightsaber is like a normal lightsaber, but the handle twists in such a way that realigns the lightsaber focusing crystals, causing the blade to double in length and, as a by-product, change color.

    To date, a dual-phase lightsaber has not been utilized in any film, fan or official, though some films like The Empire Strikes Backyard have played with the humorous qualities of varied lightsaber lengths.

    How do I make a lightsaber?

    In the official films, particularly the prequels, there are at least two sets of lightsabers fabricated. The ones seen hanging on the actors? belts are referred to as beauty props. In the prequels, these are custom-machined from aluminum by qualified machinists. In the original trilogy (with the exception of Luke?s lightsaber in Return of the Jedi, which was machined), lightsabers were cobbled together from various found parts.

    Luke?s lightsaber in the first two films was made of the base of a Graflex 3-cell flash gun, a photography tool. A cheap solution at the time, nowadays you would be hard pressed to find one of these for less than $1000.

    The ones used in fight scenes are known as the stunt props. In the original trilogy, these were duplicates of the beauty props (though less refined and detailed) with lightweight carbon-fiber rods secured in them for fighting.

    In the first two prequels, the stunt sabers are resin duplicates of the beauty props with cores of 5/8? stainless steel rods that extend approximately 6 inches out of the emitter. Secured to these are 3/4? aluminum tubes, painted bright green or orange/red, depending on the background, and wrapped in heat-shrink to keep the paint from chipping off.

    In the final prequel, Revenge of the Sith, the lightsaber stunt props were redesigned again for the purposes of the climactic Duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, utilizing simplified, modular metal props and lightweight, specially ordered carbon-fiber tubes, again brightly painted and shrink-wrapped.

    Most fan films use anything available as a lightsaber prop. It depends on your budget and skills. Check out the Costuming and Props forum for more information (and do some looking before you post any questions there).

    The favorite of fan films is the 3/4? wooden dowel. Sturdy, medium weight, and very cheap. Paint them bright colors and screw them into a plumbing tube and you?ve got yourself a stunt prop.

    Also growing in popularity are 1/2? aluminum tubes. Lightweight and cheap, they take quite a beating before they bend, and can be straightened a few times before they give out completely.

    Popular with some costumers and prop collectors are electroluminescent (EL) blades, which light up and are sturdy enough for duelling. Unfortunately, they can withstand high-speed duelling because they are extremely flexible, almost rubbery, and are not recommended
  8. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Section III: The Fight

    How should I choreograph a lightsaber fight?

    Best idea is to get a professional martial artist, or someone with some weapons experience, to help you train with and properly utilize a sword and sword-like weapons. Realize that most actors in films with fight scenes either have a martial arts background, or have spent 3 months or more training for the fight scenes.

    You should also understand that most fights are not just fights, but stories, with a beginning, middle, and end. Just as you would never fight someone just for the hell of it, your characters should never fight unless something is actually at stake.

    Also, concentrate on a style for each of your characters. Each person should have his or her own unique style that helps to further illuminate that person?s character, whether it be aggressive, reserved, or otherwise.

    For one perspective on the psychology of the warrior and of swordfighting in general, check out Shimmering Sword by Nick Jamilla. Despite a few editorial issues you English majors out there may catch, the book is a useful perspective on modern, ancient, and futuristic swordplay.

    Netsword also has a page they call Stage Combat 101.

    And a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, VoijaRisa on the boards, has a page on Choreographing a Lightsaber Duel.

    Also, here on TFN are a couple of other perspectives on fight choreography; I hesitate to say ?tutorial? as it is something you can?t really learn just from reading a webpage or book, but must actually do physically:

    One is a conversational discussion about choreography with users Tumblemonster and LoganSaj.

    We have Thoughts on Staged ?Lightsaber? Combat

    And there is also Fighting with Lightsabers.

    Realize that these are all from the perspective of the author, and they all have very different backgrounds. Jamilla?s book comes from a background of Japanese martial arts, Staged ?Lightsaber? Combat favors European fencing as the basis of a lightsaber system, and Fighting with Lightsabers considers European broadsword fighting the zenith of martial combat.

    Lightsaber combat is in fact a combination of all of these, and the prequel lightsaber fights, at least the ones with Darth Maul, mixed in a good deal of Chinese martial arts as well, a style I personally favor. None of these should be considered the authority on how to choreograph a lightsaber fight, just useful information to synthesize into your own work.

    Other Recommended Reading

    Since I know I?ve got your attention, do me a favor and consult The Everything Topic and the Fan Films FAQ before you ask any questions on the board.

    I can practically guarantee you the big question you have that you can?t imagine has ever been asked before, has been asked a hundred times and more, and answered completely somewhere in one of these threads. Just do a little digging before you decide to ask it again. The other members will appreciate it greatly.

    And remember: Google is your friend.

    Once again, welcome to the forum! I look forward to watching your film!

    DorkmanScott
  9. FruityTooty Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 29, 2005
    star 4
    Yeah, rock that ****, Mikey.
  10. RyiokuXL Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2005
    star 4
    Nice, Very nice.

    Maybe people will read it this time?




    One can only hope...

    EDIT: For the record, I had never made a thread on how to do an effect that already had a tutorial at this website.
  11. FruityTooty Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 29, 2005
    star 4
    I'd change the name of this, honestly. You cover a lot of bases, and it just sort of trails off into saber specifics. Maybe something like "Lightsaber Effect Q&A Thread."
  12. TrowaGP02a Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 24, 2004
    star 4
    [face_dancing] =D= =D= =D= [face_dancing]


    Now a lightsaber question that is answered by this thread = automatic BAN[face_skull]
  13. outrider462004 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 31, 2004
    star 4
    At last its here. Thank you.
  14. ktulu216 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Feb 16, 2005
    star 2
    Well done Mr. Scott. [face_dancing]
  15. winter_chili Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 6, 2002
    star 5
    +5 points for the EYAWTKASBWATA reference.
  16. DarthArjuna Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 14, 2002
    star 5
    Three years ago? Wow, I feel old, because I remember when the last one went up.
  17. rogue_09 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 2, 2003
    star 4
    omg first page omg [face_chicken]

    Seriously though, good stuff.
  18. durbnpoisn TFN Staff Cast & Crew Database

    VIP
    Member Since:
    May 20, 2002
    star 5
    Let me just make an appearance here to say, Great Googly Moogly, this is a most thorough thread. Excellent work, Mr. Scott. No, no, no... Not that Scottish guy from Star Trek. Dorkman's real last name is Scott.


    Let me also say, that no matter how thorough this thread is, mark my words, there will be a silly lightsaber question thread started within a week. Such is the way with these wildly popular Star Wars oriented boards. People tend to ask before looking.

    Anyone who is reading this right now without a smirk on their face (because they know I'm right), is probably holding an expression of relief for not having been that dude that started the afformentioned thread. The person who DOES start that thread will never have read this message. And I smirk at that person.


    To that end, have fun going blind tracing lightsabers! It's a helluva lot of work, fer sure... But the end result is worth it. As long as you don't cut corners.

    Cutting corners = crappy results

    Remember that little equation for ALL your FX work going forward.
  19. Goldleader23 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 15, 2003
    star 3
    Awesome job Dorkman! :D

    So if you can figure out the logistics of a rainbow-gradient lightsaber (and, hopefully, a reason for such an atrocity), have at it.
    Does that mean I can post This again? [face_whistling]
  20. DVeditor Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Dec 21, 2001
    star 6
    We will do what must be done. [face_devil]

    Awesome thread, Dorkman. Very glad to see this one up and running - don't think I've seen anything close to this thorough in a long time. :D

    Although I'm bitter that you linked to the older version of the tutorial sticky. (That was a classic thread in itself though so I don't mind too much. :p)
  21. TrowaGP02a Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 24, 2004
    star 4
    We will do what must be done.

    Excellent[face_mischief]

    So, bets anyone? Countdown to the next eleventeen year old who pops the magic question?

    We should have a clock that keeps the time until someone asks. Like those, "Accident Free For ____ Days" things.
  22. Mircat Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 3, 2005
    star 3
    ?Andrew, this is the best email I?ve ever received? - Strong Bad

    - The Cat
  23. Evil-Henchman Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 17, 2004
    star 4
    Sigh, all that work I did in AE on the math behind the blurs for lightsaber cores wasted... by you Dorkman... by you. Stinkin' new thread... *sob*.

    J/K. I really don't think anyone cares about that info but me anywho. At least I know I'm doing it right eh?


    :D

    Oh, and let's not forget another great site for lightsaber props... RLSA Sabers
  24. DMPjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2003
    star 4
    "I give it 11 minutes." //Squidward

    The clock idea is pretty funny :p Great to see 2.0 finally hit the board, Mike; aweseome job :D
  25. Vi3tBoi53 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 7, 2005
    star 1
    How do you make lightsabers? How do you make lightsabers? How do you make lightsabers?

    NOBODY EVER POST ANY QUESTION LIKE THAT AGAIN!!! It gets so annoying. Finally the question might be over. 3 years ago? Wow that was a long time. Good job.
  26. mrgrey Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Nov 9, 2005
    Just one question: when did Kyle Katarn use a dual phase lightsabre? IIRC he uses a normal green sabre at first in Jedi knight, followed by a normal orange, followed by another normal one that can't recall the colour of when he spars with Mara Jade, followed by red (when he turned to the dark side in MOTS), followed by blue in the JK2 and JA.

    I know it's a little off topic, but seeing as Dorkman's decided to use it as an example, I was wondering where he got it from.
  27. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Going back through when I was doing this, I kind of wondered where I got that from myself. I think I meant Corran Horn. [face_blush]

    I'll have to go back through and check my sources.

    M. Scott
  28. DarthArjuna Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 14, 2002
    star 5
    Yes, it was Corran.

    Edit: I want to say, I use Windows Movie Maker to capture, as it can capture to full DV AVI. Anything less, it's .wmv, but at least with me, I have an option for DV AVI and it's what I use.
  29. FruityTooty Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 29, 2005
    star 4
    WMM has the nasty habit of clipping minutes off of the beginning of large captures. Any ideas?
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