Vegas Sabers - Introduction
Admit it: lightsabers are cool. With all the vicerallity of mano-a-mano combat and chivalry combined with geeky sci-fi, nothing is quite as cool as Luke's favorite tool. And if you could wield one, hey, that would be the tops. Well, young Skywalker, swing a saber you can, but much time and keyframing will it take. Prepared are you? Hmmm, see we shall.
The inspiration to create lightsabers is two-fold (beyond their inherent coolness). First, about two years ago, a friend said it would be easy to create lightsabers in any editing environment with the simplest of compositing tools. I called his bluff a bet him a case of beer (good beer: whatever kind he wanted) that he couldn't do it. He never came through. Second, I recently saw the fabulous light sword effects created with AlamDV and immediately thought: hey, I could do that in Vegas. I grabbed an opponent, shot 30 seconds of video and, five hours of compositing later, I had 20 seconds of some of the most poorly choreographed sci-fi combat ever created.
Easy it is, hmmm, fast it is not. The basic process is to create a lightsaber in a paint program, key out the background and then use the overlay motion tool in your editing application to move the saber around. Of course the movement of the saber is matched to your footage of your battling warriors, which means that you are basically hand animating the saber frame by frame. To get the glow, you add a drop shadow of an appropriately electric color behind the overlay. Fancier features can be added later, like flashes when two sabers meet, flickering and motion blurs for fast sweeps. And of course sound fx are necessary to sell the illusion.
Check out the 15 second proof-of-concept video to see the results of our experiment (about 1MB).
About Vegas the following tutorial is, yes? Why? Well, Vegas Video is my editor of choice, so I know it best. But I also know Premiere and MediaStudio Pro pretty well and can authoritatively say that what is described here would be very difficult to perform using the motion overlay tools in those apps, primarily because the associated dialog boxes are too dang small and because the feedback from changes is not immediately visible in the Preview window. I get lots of complaints that I am a Vegas zealot and that I should work with Premiere more. All I have to say is: Zealot I may be, but about the tools this is not. I would never claim that Mikita drills are better than Milwaukee drills, the final results are all that counts. From Avid to FinalCut Pro, if you can do sabers like Vegas (or better), more power to ya (and I'd love to see how).