Star Wars Special Effects: Create a Lightsaber

In honor of Episode 3 being released on cable this week (as if I needed a reason), let’s spend some time using Toon Boom Studio to recreate some of the most interesting special effects from the Star Wars saga. Of course, you can’t talk about Star Wars special effects without starting with the lightsaber.

Basic Premise

The steps we’ll use to create the lightsaber are as follows:

  1. Create lightsaber drawing
  2. Animate lightsaber
  3. Add signature distortions
  4. Add sound effects

Create Lightsaber Drawing

handle.jpg

To make the feathering step easier we’re going to draw the lightsaber handle and blade on separate layers. Since the handle would normally be obscured by a hand or two it’s best to not worry too much about detailing.

For the blade choose your favorite lightsaber color. Be sure to pick a color from the center of the blade when using the eyedropper tool. Create a new layer and use the pen utility to create a straight line. Using the default pen 1 for this (minimum of 5, maximum of 20) works well for this step.

Once the blade has been drawn, right click on it and select “Convert Lines to Brush”. It’s necessary to do this step since the feathering utility does not work on lines, only on brush strokes. You should notice that the brush version of the line becomes a little bit wider, which is just fine.

blade.jpg

Now select the blade drawing and go to the feathering tool (“F” by default). Leave the width of each step at the default of 5 but enter 3 into the number of steps box. You’ll see the lightsaber blade shape blur a bit, which is what we’re after.

Select the innermost shape of the blade and give it a slightly lighter color. This will give the blade more definition and make it appear less like a blurry blob.

The final bits of setup are all organizational. Make sure the blade is a child of the lightsaber handle by dragging the blade element onto the handle element. On the handle layer, use the rotation tool (“8″ by default) to move the pivot point to the top of the hilt.

Animate the Lightsaber

At this point you can go as crazy as you like animating the handle layer with the transform tool (“7″ by default). Since you’ve assigned the blade as a child layer it will properly follow the motions of the lightsaber handle as you animate it. Be warned that you will find yourself making lightsaber noises in your mind as you complete this step.

Add Lightsaber Distortions

onionskin.jpg

To give it the proper lightsaber feel it’s necessary to add a distortion layer above the animated blade element. The idea is to effectively bleed the blade from one frame to the next, mostly on quick movements. Turn on “Show Previous” so that you can draw an accurate arcing distortion frame. This should be hand-drawn with the brush tool for maximum effect. Adding feathering to each frame of the distortion will also give the lightsaber a nice touch, although it’s not entirely necessary since the movement happens so quickly. Only one distortion is needed for each movement, spread out over several frames, as it will happen fast enough that drawing many distorted frames is not worth the effort.

Here’s the animation before distortion:

…and after distortion:

Lightsaber Sound Effects

It’s time to add some lightsaber sound effects. Here’s a zip file full of lightsaber sound effects for you to download and add to your animation.

Final Version

Click anywhere to play the final animation with sound, click again to stop it.

Now you can add a lightsaber to any (or all) of your Toon Boom animations! If you post them to a video hosting site feel free to embed the animations below, we’d all love to see them.

13 Responses to “Star Wars Special Effects: Create a Lightsaber”

  1. kdog Says:

    Fantastic tut, Will. Simple & effective, the best kind. :) You could really have a lot of fun with this one, & the same general approach will work for any kind of swordplay with a few minor changes. Excellent as always, rock on.

  2. Will Says:

    Thanks Pat! You’re right that this could easily be applied to other forms of swordplay, and it would be fun to do too.

  3. Matthewb Says:

    It’s a nice effect I really like it, I agree with Kdog.
    I’m actually doing the same thing for live action in a multimedia course I’m doing.
    But instead I’m using Adobe After Effects. *time consumed sigh*

  4. Will Says:

    Ah After Effects. That’s one program I know I’m going to have to tackle at some point. Just … not yet.

  5. Ben Says:

    I was just wandering if these lightsaber effects were copyright free? Im doing a school project where i need some lightsaber sound effects

  6. Will Says:

    @Ben, The sound effects are considered to be in the public domain, there should not be any copyright issues.

    As for the visual effect, I created that so you should feel free to use that as well if you like.

  7. bart Says:

    hey nice tutorial! but i’m wondering how did you add the “start-by-click”?

  8. joey Says:

    i been struggling with this ya instructions are clear but the default buton for feathering isn’t ‘f’ on mine and i cant seem to find the feather function
    (i have restored all the keyboard defaults)

  9. Will Says:

    @bart, That’s a simple bit of Actionscript I did in Flash.

    @joey, The feather function can be found under the Tools menu. You must have at least version 4.0 of Toon Boom Studio for it to be there.

  10. dinesh Says:

    thanku please send more tuturial thanks

  11. Chavar Says:

    Great tut, you really know what you are doing.

  12. Wasif Qureshi Says:

    Excellent! this will help me a lot in future.
    Thanks a lot.

  13. Joonsuk Says:

    Wow! It;s really good.