Cutting edge effects

Who needs Industrial Light and Magic? Laurence Grayson shows you how to create a lightsaber with a broom handle, some tape, a consumer editing package and a healthy serving of patience. Teach you he will, yes?

All you need is the Adobe Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements bundle, which costs just $269. Sorry, but other consumer editors like Studio or VideoStudio aren't up to this task.

En garde

OK, so perhaps using broom handles doesn't exactly provide the most realistic end result, but I'm not here to tell you how to make a lightsaber, or how to choreograph a fight, other than saying I take no responsibility for broken fingers/heads/ornaments. But I do have a couple of tips. Make sure the "blade" of whatever you're using is fairly thick and make it more visible with bands of tape at regular intervals (especially the end). Use different coloured tape for multiple blades, and shoot the scene against a contrasting background if you can, using a fairly slow shutter speed (around the 1/50-1/120s second mark) to emphasise the motion.

Capture your footage with Premiere Elements (hit &lt F5 &gt to bring up the capture tool - click on the More button and deselect "Capture to timeline" if you haven't already done so). Double-click on your first clip in the Media pane to open it in the Monitor window, and use the In and Out markers to trim it down to the part you need before dragging it down to the beginning of the timeline.

Hit &lt Ctrl &gt -M to open the movie export dialogue, click on Settings and then pick "Filmstrip" from the File Type drop-down menu, uncheck the "Add to Project When Finished" box then click OK. Call it "lightsaber1.flm", pick a location, and click Save to complete the render and export process.

Paint and decorate

Now you have a file that you can open in Photoshop Elements, so do just that. Unless your clip is really short - in which case it'll appear as a single column - you'll see each frame running in rows from left to right; as shown in this screen shot. Zoom in on the first frame in the sequence (&lt Alt &gt -mousewheel down) until it occupies the whole screen, then create a new layer (&lt Shift &gt - &lt Ctrl &gt -N). Call this layer "Sabre1_Glow".

Before continuing, save your file as a Photoshop (.psd) file, calling it "lightsaber1.psd" It's important to leave the original filmstrip untouched for now. With the new layer selected (check the Layers pane, bottom right), use the Polygonal Lasso tool to trace the outline of the first blade in the first frame, then fill it with solid white using the Paint Bucket tool. It's important to trace the whole blade, especially if it's in motion, so trace around the blur as I've done in this image. Don't worry about getting it pixel perfect, but pay fairly close attention to the point where it joins the grip and any areas where the blade is obscured. Now scroll to the next frame and repeat this procedure until the first blade in every frame has been traced and painted white.

You'll find that using the shortcut keys for the Lasso (L) and Paint Bucket (K) will speed things up a little.

Repeat this process for any other blades in shot, creating a new layer for each one and naming it accordingly. Pay attention to points where blades overlap and make sure the layer for the uppermost blade is on top. The final effect will also look better if you trace underlying blades in one piece, so only trace separate pieces when the blade is obscured by an object.

When you've traced them all, select the Background layer and hit &lt Ctrl &gt -L to bring up the Levels dialogue, then type 0 into the right-hand Output Levels box. This will black out the background entirely, making things a little clearer. You should end up with something that looks like this screen shot.

Save the file (I can't stress how important this is) and then save a copy called "lightsaber1_white.psd".

The fun part

In lightsaber1_white.psd, click on Layer-Flatten Image to merge the three layers into one, hit &lt Ctrl &gt -A then &lt Ctrl &gt -C to copy the image, then open up the original filmstrip file (lightsaber1.flm). Hit &lt Ctrl &gt -V and the copied layer will be pasted over the top into a new layer. From the drop-down menu in the Layers pane, select Screen instead of Normal, and the black will be removed, leaving just the white blades visible on top of the original. Lightsaber1_white.psd has done its job now, so you can save and close it and return to the previous version, lightsaber1.psd.

In the Layers pane of this file, right-click on the "Sabre1_Glow" layer, hit &lt Ctrl &gt -L to bring up the Levels dialogue, and pick the colour of your lightsaber by changing the individual colour channels - just use the drop-down Channel menu to pick the colour that needs adjusting and drag the right-hand slider to the required position.

For example, if the lightsaber is red, drop the green and blue channels down to zero; if it's blue, then adjust the green and red channels.

When you've changed the blade colour, click on Filter-Blur-Gaussian Blur, and enter a radius value around the 8-11 mark. This should give you a look that's the same the example in this picture. Feel free to experiment with the colours and the amount of blur - you may need to increase the blur if the blade is quite large in the frame. Repeat this step for the layers you've created for your remaining blades.

Coup de grace

When you've finished blurring and colouring your blades, save a copy called lightsaber1_glow.psd and then flatten the copy as you did before (Layers-Flatten Image). Again, hit &lt Ctrl &gt -A then &lt Ctrl &gt -C to copy the whole image, then switch to the original lightsaber1.flm file (which should still be open), and paste the copied image over the top with &lt Ctrl &gt -V. Change the blend mode from Normal to Screen to remove the black and you'll have the finished effect.

Now all you need to do is save this as a new Filmstrip (.flm) file and Boba Fett's your uncle. Lather, rinse and repeat for the rest of your clips and you can then use Premiere Elements to edit them into a finished sequence just as you would with any video file - see here.

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Laurence Grayson

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