10 Ways to Make Your Gun Effects Look More Realistic

The key to good gun effects, like muzzle flashes, is believability.

Chances are you'll be working with prop guns at some point in your filmmaking career, which means that you'll want to know how to make those prop guns not seem like—you know—prop guns. There is a lot of work that go into making these things look realistic on screen, and Ryan Connolly over at Film Riot shares 10 tips that'll help you do just that.

Here are the tips Connolly lists in the video:

  • Choose the right type of gun: Should you buy a blank-firing prop gun, an airsoft gun, or some DIY one you made? (Here's a tutorial that shows you how to make one out of styrofoam and then cast it in aluminum.)
  • Use practical lights for effects: Flashing a clamp light creates a great, and realistic "muzzle flash" effect.
  • Add shells in post: Shell ejection is just another little detail that helps sell the illusion that real guns are being used, especially when shooting a close-up or medium close-up.
  • Use "blending mode": You know when you see muzzle flashes that look totally fake? It's probably because someone didn't use blending mode on their assets in post. So use it!
  • Blurs and distortions: Adding a little bit of blur/distortion around the area of the muzzle of your prop gun adds that extra touch of realism.
  • Add sparks and debris: Again, including a few sparks and some debris around the muzzle can make your gunshot look more realistic and more awesome.
  • Tracking: Make sure that anything that comes out of the gun (bullets, debris, smoke) moves independently once it's out of there. That is, don't track the smoke and other assets to the barrel.
  • Make sure reflections are correct: Where there's a muzzle flash there is also a corresponding flash on nearby reflective surfaces, especially if it's dark. Make sure that you add reflections of these flashes in.
  • Smoke is super important: A gunshot without smoke looks kind of—naked, boring, and unrealistic. (It's the movies, you guys!) Connolly really proves this when he shows a side-by-side comparison of a gunshot with and without smoke.

Now that you have some sage advice, how you use it is up to you. If you want to go big with your muzzle flashes—like Commando big—do it. If you want to scale back and go for a more realistic look, do it. It's all a style choice once you get to that point.

Do you have any tips for achieving more realistic looking gun effects? Share them down in the comments!     

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Another thing that will go a long way is making sure that your script and actors handle guns with a level of realism appropriate to your film's tone.

If you're making a gritty film about soldiers, cops, hunters, or anyone else who should actually have some idea how to effectively use a gun, you probably should make sure that your actors know how to hold a gun properly. Simply making sure that they keep their fingers off the triggers unless they're actually shooting, not waving their muzzle around carelessly, and using proper terminology (it's a "magazine"; not a clip, and bullets are just what leaves the muzzle) costs you nothing but a tiny bit of attention and will go a LONG way towards selling the illusion that these are people who are used to being around guns.

It's also worth avoiding stupid, technically inaccurate firearm clichés and misconceptions at every point in production from writing to editing. On the writing front, unless the firearm in question is an OLD single-action revolver that lands directly on it's hammer, guns don't just go off when dropped. Silencers/suppressors don't ACTUALLY make guns all that quiet, they generally just take enough edge off of the muzzle blast that you can shoot somewhat comfortably without hearing protection. And speaking of hearing protection, shooting anything besides .22LR rifle is going to leave your ears ringing, EVEN a .22LR handgun (shorter barrel; louder bang). Shooting a gun in a small, enclosed space like a car or an alley is absolutely DEAFENING. When you're shooting your film, I know that ultra slow-motion close-up brass ejecting from the gun or bouncing off the floor seems super rad, but if you're using blanks it's going to be really, REALLY obvious. Crimped blank brass looks nothing like live brass, so come up with a better solution for that close-up. And when it comes to editing, don't add the sound of a hammer being cocked back every time someone draws a gun. Unless your character is cocking a revolver at the same instant that he's drawing it, it makes absolutely no sense.

Oh, and for the love all things good and holy, do NOT try to pass off a freaking Crossman Marksman Repeater air pistol as a real gun. I know it's metal so you might think that it looks like a good prop, but that stupid fat bulge on the back of the slide makes it easy to spot as a BB-gun from a mile away. I can't tell you how many short films I've seen make this mistake. Airsoft guns can be had super cheap and with care even very, very cheap plastic ones can be passed off as real quite convincingly, so don't use that stupid $20 BB gun you have lying around.

Seriously, these are really easy things to do, and they'll improve the presence of guns in your film A LOT.

July 31, 2016 at 12:15AM

David West

here around 4:20 they put a full solid white frame in btw when the shotgun blast.
You have to catch it.

July 31, 2016 at 1:03AM


My biggest pet-peeve is the total absence of kick back or recoil in nearly all movies and tv shows.

July 31, 2016 at 10:02AM, Edited July 31, 10:02AM


In term of production, that's certainly NOT how they did it on Edge of Tomorrow.
And No, it didn't cost jewels.

July 31, 2016 at 1:21PM, Edited July 31, 1:22PM

Martin Brewer
Director, DOP

July 31, 2016 at 1:52PM

Ben Brooksby
Freelance Colorist

Use "blending mode": Please... "Blending mode" is always used. It is a selectable mode how the footage is blended together, but it always is present. You cannot.. un-use blending mode :D... What you most likely refer here is an additive blending mode, that makes things look emissive.

August 1, 2016 at 2:45AM, Edited August 1, 2:56AM


Not very realistic if the slide on the pistol doesnt move when firing a shot. Saw an example done by Red Giant where they masked and animated it to move...way more realistic that way.

August 2, 2016 at 5:40AM

Kerrin McLean
Director / DP / Editor