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HOW TO MAKE LIGHTSABERS
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"An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age:" Creating Lightsabre FX
Animation #3: Making the Lightsabre Swing
by Jedi Knight Toren Depor

1) Create a New Choreography by right clicking (Command Click on the Mac) on the Choreographies folder and selecting New Choreography. Click on the Choreography in the Project Workspace and type 40 into the Length field. Drag the Lightsabre model onto the choreography, then add an "Aim Roll At" constraint by right clicking (Command Click on the Mac) and selecting New Constraint>Aim Roll At. Select the Camera as the target. This will make sure that the sabre always faces the camera. On the General tab of the Properties Panel uncheck "Cast Shadow" and "Receive Shadows." On the Rotate tab of the Properties Panel of the sabre model, enter -100 into the Y rotate field and 0 into the X and Z fields.


Figure 5-3-1

2) Drag the "Shadow" model onto the choreography and apply "Orient Like," and "Translate To," constraints with the Lightsabre model as the target. Enter Skeletal mode (F8) and apply a new "Scale Like" constraint to "Bone1" of the "Shadow" model with "Bone2" of the Lightsabre model as the target. On the General tab of the Properties Panel, uncheck "Active," "Cast Reflections," and "Receive Shadows." Then drag the "Pulse" action onto the sabre model. Enter 9.5 in the Repeat field. If you want a longer animation, then you need to figure out how many times you want the animation to loop. Simply divide the number of frames of the animation by the number of frames of the "Pulse" action, which happens to be 4 frames and enter the result into the Repeat field.
 

3) Enter 0 into the X, Y, and Z rotate fields on the Rotate tab of the Properties panel for the lightsabre model on all of the following frames: 0, 9, and 10. Create some key frames between frame 10 and frame 1:03 of the sabre swinging.


Figure 5-3-2

4) To make the sabre deform as it moves, turn on Onion Skinning (Tools>Options>Onion Skin) and set it to 1 frame before and a step of 1 frame. Check "Onion Skin" checkbox. Onion Skinning allows you to see previous and subsequent frames. NOTE: Onion Skinning is only supported in A:M 8.0+.


Figure 5-3-3

5) Select the lightsabre model and open the Pose Sliders window (ALT+3). As the animation plays, use the "Swing" pose slider to make the sabre stretch out as it moves. If the sabre is moving left, drag the slider between 0 and -100. If it swings right, drag it between 0 and 100. I usually make the back edge of the blade touch the front edge of the previous frame, as shown below.


Figure 5-3-4

6) Click on the sabre model and open the Pose Sliders window (ALT+3). At frame 0 drag the "Deactivated" slider up to 100%. At frame 2, hit enter in the percentage field for the "Deactivated" pose slider. At frame 8 drag the "Deactivated" slider down to 0%.
 

7) At frame 33 (1:03), enter 0 into the percentage field for the "Deactivated" pose slider. At frame 40 (1:10), drag the slider up to 100%. Under the Pose Channels folder for the shortcut to lightsabre, change the Default Interpolation type from Spline to Linear for the "Deactivated" pose.
 

8) Drag the Attribute Node of the "White" material onto the lightsabre model in the choreography. On the Channels tab of the Properties Panel, check the "Transparency" checkbox. Do the same for the "Glow" material. Change the Default Interpolation of all channels from Spline to Hold.
 

9) Expand the attribute node for the "White" material in the action. Open the Transparency channel and create a CP at frame 0 with a value of 100, a CP at frame 2 with a value of 0, and a CP at frame 40 (1:10) with a value of 100. Repeat this for the Transparency channels of the "Glow" material.
 

10) Render your animation. Your sabre now activates swings around as it pulses, then deactivates.
 

Example:

swing.mov
63.4 KB
 

  Animation #1: Making the Lightsabre Pulse
    Animating the ambiance of the glowing materials so that they pulse.
  Animation #2: Making the Lightsabre Activate and Deactivate
    Animating the ambiance and the scale of the blade.
  Animation #4: Creating a Lightsabre Duel
    Making two lightsabres produce a clashing effect when they collide.
 

Part 1: Observation and References of Lightsabres
    A list of observations about the nature of Lightsabre blades, as well as visual references.
Part 2: Modeling and Texturing the Lightsabre Blade
    Creating a Lightsabre shaped plane that glows.
Part 3: Preparing the Lightsabre for Animation
    Adding a simple skeleton and creating two poses.
Part 4: Creating Lightsabre Collision and Blaster Deflection Lens Flares
    Creating a lens flare using A:M's built-in lens flare tools.
 

DOWNLOADS
Completed Project File 70.4 KB
    Contains all of the materials, models, actions, and choreographies used in this tutorial.
Tutorial: Off-Line Version 996KB
    All of these tutorials downloadable as a ZIP Archive.
Tutorial: Off-Line Version 1.06MB
    All of these tutorials downloadable as a SIT Archive.
 

CREDITS:
Tutorial by Jedi Knight Toren Depor (a.k.a. Filmmaker Matt Pfingsten)
 
Special Thanks to
Hal Hickel of ILM for verifying the existence of lightsabre shadows
Loring Veenstra for Beta testing my lightsabre tutorial
Jan Horjus for Beta testing my lightsabre tutorial
TheForce.Net for hosting this tutorial
Hash Inc. for making such powerful 3D software
George Lucas for creating Star Wars

 

 

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