Creating Realistic Lightsabers in Adobe After Effects
Article by Zack Paragon

In this article, I’m not going to waste your time telling you how to use each and every tool inside of After Effects, just how to make a lightsaber, which is probably why you’re reading it.

Okay, let’s get started.

Now, assuming that you already have AE open, drag your footage onto the New Comp button.
You should see something like this:
http://i.imgur.com/vdst1.jpg

Now that you have your footage ready, scrub (drag the slider in the timeline) forward to the point in time where you want your lightsaber to appear.
http://i.imgur.com/ZQrb0.jpg

Now, create a new solid layer by pressing CTRL+y, or simply right-click in the timeline and choose New > Solid.
When the Solid Settings box comes up, choose a bright white, and click “Make Comp Size”.

http://i.imgur.com/j8BIR.jpg

Shut off the solid’s eye switch to make it invisible.
Then with the solid selected, press the “G” key, and draw a mask around the blade.

http://i.imgur.com/SBBac.jpg

Now, create another solid, this time make it black, and put it under the other layers.
Also, move your footage to the top and change its Transfer Mode by pressing F4, selecting the menu that says “Normal” and changing it to “Screen”.

http://i.imgur.com/E9sHN.jpg

You can now turn the white solid back on and see it through the footage.

http://i.imgur.com/wG82U.jpg


Now comes the fun part: creating the glow.

Right-click on a blank space in the timeline and choose New > Adjustment Layer.

http://i.imgur.com/EUkvK.jpg

Move the adjustment layer below your footage, then right-click on it and choose: Effect > Blur &Sharpen > Fast Blur.

http://i.imgur.com/mq1Ly.jpg

Next, change the blurriness to 5.0 by simply clicking on the number 0.0 in the effect controls box and entering a new value. Also check the “Repeat Edge Pixels” box.

You should start to notice some blurring of the white solid.

http://i.imgur.com/1nGKK.jpg

Click on a blank space in the timeline, then on the adjustment layer.
Duplicate the adjustment layer by pressing CTRL+d.
Change the Transfer Mode of the second adjustment layer to “Screen” just like before.
Now, click on the second adjustment layer and press: CTRL+Shift+t. This will bring the effect controls back up.

Change the value from 5.0 to 15.0.
Now, it should start to look more like a lightsaber, but we’re not done.
Click on a blank spot in the timeline, then on the second adjustment layer and duplicate it like before. Press: CTRL+Shift+t and set the blurriness to 25.0.

Repeat these steps: Click on blank spot, click on and duplicate top adjustment layer, press CTRL+Shift+t, change value, repeat.

Do this two more times until your blade looks something like this:

http://i.imgur.com/z5nXl.jpg

Now, coloring.

Create a new adjustment layer. New > Adjustment Layer and put it below your footage, but above the other layers.

Right-click on the new layer and choose: Effect > Adjust > Color Balance.
In the effect controls, check “Preserve Luminosity” and change the ”Highlight Blue Balance” value to 100.0, do the same for the “Midtone Blue Balance”.
Now your lightsaber effect is done, and should look like this:

http://i.imgur.com/LEswP.jpg

For different colors, just play with the settings, but leave the “Shadow” values alone, as they create sort of an ugly, hard-edged halo around the blade.

To animate the blade is very simple:
Shut off all but the footage.
Click on the white solid so that you can see the mask.

http://i.imgur.com/KdIar.jpg

With that layer selected, press m.
Click on the stopwatch. This will create a keyframe each time you change the shape of the mask.

http://i.imgur.com/YZriJ.jpg

Move forward it time one frame by pressing: Page Down.
Click on the blank box on the left side of the stopwatch icon.

http://i.imgur.com/XRqBM.jpg

Notice how it creates a new keyframe?
You will need to do this every time the blade is still, otherwise, it will start moving to its next keyframe and not remain stationary.

Now, move forward another frame to where the footage moves, your mask will be left behind, so you need to move it.

http://i.imgur.com/ASCue.jpg

To do this, click on a blank spot in the timeline, then on the white solid again.
Click on the corner of the mask and drag it to the corresponding corner of the blade in the footage.

http://i.imgur.com/aq9g0.jpg

Repeat this on the other three corners.
Move forward another frame, and reposition the mask.

http://i.imgur.com/HF7Cf.jpg

Turn the other layers back on, and that’s all there is to it!