December 17, 2015

How to Create the In-Camera Lightsaber Effect From the First 'Star Wars' Film

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens just hours away for most of us here in the States, here's a wonderful DIY tutorial from Shanks FX on creating an in-camera lightsaber effect using the original tools from Star Wars: Episode IV:

And about the tools he used:

If you want to try this out yourself, "Scotchlite" tape rolls can be found at local hardware store for around $10.

I also went in search of a Graflex flashgun handle and was lucky enough to find one but it was one from the 60s and not the sleek silver version that Luke uses in Episode IV & V. 

The original effect is pretty spectacular when it works correctly, but the issue is that you need a light hitting the Scotchlite just right, or it just looks dull. Doing it the original way is rather cheap and not that time consuming, but if you want it to look like it does now in the films, you'll want to go with a rotoscoped post effect, which is how the effect is accomplished now. There are a million lightsaber post tutorials on YouTube, and I think it would be more productive to have you guys share what has worked for you, especially as software has changed and they aren't all as current as they could be.

Here's a great BTS video on lightsabers, and you can skip ahead to 4:35 in the video below for exactly what they did for the original trilogy:

Rotoscoping is certainly the way to go for the colored effect and to get a more spectacular hit if you were going to fight with them, but there is always something interesting about keeping things analog.

As an added bonus, here's another of the Star Wars related Shanks FX tutorials:

Your Comment

23 Comments

This calm music made me watch the video.

December 17, 2015 at 6:07PM, Edited December 17, 6:07PM

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Csonka Olivér
Wannabe anyone
220

STOP READING FURTHER IF YOU HAVENT SEEN FORCE AWAKENS YET.... FULL OF SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!

APARENTLY PEOPLE HERE THINK THAT EVERYONE HAS SEEN THE MOVIE AFTER 4 DAYS.... SIGH.

December 19, 2015 at 10:28AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
907

Was it invisible when I wrote spoilers at the top of my thread?

December 19, 2015 at 11:05AM

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Spoiler.
This is not really a reply to me.

December 25, 2015 at 6:47PM

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Csonka Olivér
Wannabe anyone
220

Yeah, be careful. Someone disregarded the topic of this article and decided to lay out a lot of important plot details to Force Awakens below. Stop reading if you haven't seen the movie. Seriously. I was caught off guard and walked away from my computer really disappointed.

December 19, 2015 at 3:42PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1019

The topic is Star Wars and "someone" has a name. I guess typing the word spoilers doesn't mean anything anymore or is it an intelligence test for people that read comments section of a Star Wars post when its just been released. Caught off guard or grandstanding?

December 19, 2015 at 8:42PM, Edited December 19, 8:42PM

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Simon, don't you have friends you could've shared your thoughts with instead of blabbing them here? I think I can understand why you wouldn't.

Your excuse for revealing details is as weak as the plot points you criticize in the movie. Why?

"The topic is Star Wars." Every other story on the web is about Star Wars. Did you find it necessary to comment on and spoil every one of those as well? This is an article about filmmaking techniques they used in the movies, not the screenplays or storytelling. Had you not written anything, it would've had the exact same impact as what you did write because your comments added absolutely nothing to the ACTUAL topic of conversation. Another case of "Hey everybody, look at me."

"But, I wrote SPOILERS." Just because you announce you're about to do something assholish doesn't erase the assholish nature of what you do - especially in this case, where nobody cares what you thought of the movie.

December 21, 2015 at 4:31PM, Edited December 21, 4:34PM

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SO everyone that precedes a comment by writing the word SPOILERS is an arsehole?

The only people saying hey look are me are the sad sacks that aren't fit to shampoo my crotch that want to big note themselves for comments made after mentioning spoilers.

As for the topic nobody was interested in commenting on the topic.

I think your more pissed off that someone doesn't like what you like. You enjoy your remake?

It doesn't bother you that with the years they had leading up to this movie and the MASSIVE budget available that the best they could do was rip off the original with about 8 major plot points? With the infinite possibilities they had available to them with the Star Wars universe this is all they could come up with!! Pathetic.

December 23, 2015 at 7:08PM, Edited December 23, 7:27PM

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Simon, I see reading comprehension isn't your strong suit. No one here actually disagreed with what you said, they're just pissed that you said it. So, I don't know what you're going on about. That type of flawed logic is probably what made you think posting spoilers here was a good idea in the first place.

You ought to to know by now that people don't always read comment sections linearly, top to bottom, line by line. They often skip around and skim. The word "spoilers" at the top of a long post could easily be missed. The big question is, why would you risk potentially spoiling this movie (or any other) for a community to which you're a frequent contributor? And then you doubled-down on the spoilers WITHOUT warning when people expressed their displeasure. Btw, your plot proposal during that major spoiler has been done a million times before, makes no sense, given the character's personality, and shows you get high marks in unoriginality and tired, old tropes. I'm digging the irony, though.

So what if no one else was commenting on the article. What's wrong with leaving the comments blank? You just validated the notion that you couldn't resist putting your stank on this article by implying, "If no one else is commenting, I'll take the opportunity to draw attention to myself by saying controversial things so I can hurl insults at the idiots who liked it."

Finally, to answer your question, no, not everyone who writes "spoilers" before a comment is an arsehole. But the ones who do it on the day the new movie officially comes out (in the US) under an article about the in-camera effects from the ORIGINAL MOVIES (mostly, but also the prequels, to some extent), NOT THE ONE THAT JUST CAME OUT, are indeed campaigning for the title of arsehole.

December 25, 2015 at 10:00AM, Edited December 25, 10:33AM

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So awesome!

December 17, 2015 at 8:43PM, Edited December 17, 8:43PM

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Keith Kim
Photographer
1679

hell yeah, super awesome!

December 19, 2015 at 12:20AM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
1488

Saw The Force Awakens last night. BAD.

Spoilers.

Complete rehash of the original Ep4 A New Hope with bits of Empire thrown in.

Also starts with a droid with secret plans being hunted.

Also has orphan on Tatooine with unknown powers.

Also has Death Star

Death Star also has critical weakness on the outside that magically makes it blow up but only after shield generators are blown by rebels sneaking inside as per the original again.

Also has a cantina scene.

Also a brother and sister that don't know about each other just like Luke and Leia.

A bunch of other things too...

BUT the worst thing!!! The father son scene on a walkway inside the death star as per the Emire Strikes back with Luke and Darth!!!! SAME LOCATION SAME CONTEXT couldn't believe what I was seeing. Pathetic.

It actually made me appreciate The Phantom Menace more. A deeper original story.

Pod racing was awesome and Darth Maul was fantastic.

Also JJ Abrams has switched from lens flares to whip pans. Average.

December 18, 2015 at 3:34AM

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Couldn't agree more. Reviewers have to be paid off or something.

It was decent but soooooooo many re hashed ideas. I liked some of the performances (Rey, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and even Harrison Ford) but I was bored by the end. I just couldnt believe how "safe" the story was. Hoping for a bit more originality...there was not much to be found.

That is the Hollywood system now, not sure why I expected anything else.

December 18, 2015 at 4:12AM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2710

There was no heart in it. And it was such a stupid move to kill of Han. They should have killed off Leia and then you have Han's rage to work with in the sequel. Seeing Chewy on his own was wrong.

December 18, 2015 at 6:12AM

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^^^^^^SPOILER^^^^^^^^

December 18, 2015 at 1:34PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2710

You're the reason why we can't have nice things. Seriously. Who spoils a movie within 24 hours of release?! Have some consideration!

I closed my eyes so I have no idea what your comment actually said but seriously.

December 18, 2015 at 10:40AM, Edited December 18, 10:40AM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
812

Okay I quick-glanced over what you said to make sure I wasn't just being a jerk but no. You're the reason we can't have nice things. This is an article about creating a Star Wars effect, not a spot to post spoilers.

December 18, 2015 at 10:42AM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
812

I like the nice things line. Whats that from?

I said spoilers in my first post plus anyone who wants to see the movie shouldn't read comments section of a star wars post or use Facebook etc till they've seen it.

But there is not much new in this movie that we haven't seen in A New Hope. I'm sure someone will make a split screen side by side comparison video before long.

Ive seen better fan films than this story. They were original yet felt part of the star wars universe. Abrams was given an amazing opportunity and all he could do was play it safe.

December 18, 2015 at 7:38PM

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Not sure where the nice things line originated but it's fairly common. And I didn't read the majority of your post until after I watched the movie but simply scrolling down was enough for me to see what you wrote about Solo. So thanks for ruining the biggest surprise of the movie for me.

December 22, 2015 at 2:49AM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
812

what the hell is wrong with you dude

December 18, 2015 at 11:29PM, Edited December 18, 11:29PM

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matt
873

Are you not familiar with the term spoilers? or did you not read the first post in a thread? or are you a troll that googles the word spoilers... dude.

December 18, 2015 at 11:54PM

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I have an itch to try this at home.

December 21, 2015 at 9:40AM, Edited December 21, 9:40AM

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Darrell Ayer
Director of Photography
79

We did a little video with LED Light strips for light sabers because we were bored around the office the other day. I'm sure with a little effort they could look pretty good. And there's an added bonus of lighting effects on clothes and skin. https://youtu.be/ISn1QBT6mwA

December 30, 2015 at 10:54AM, Edited December 30, 10:57AM

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Caleb Brown
Marketing Coordinator
81