Effects Tests

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qtIcon Landing on an asteroid base
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Films and FX tests

Blasters using the Beam Effect in Adobe After Effects 5.5 - A Tutorial

Other tutorials: Cloning | Superfast running
Index | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Download Clip

Page 3 - Position and animate the Beam

Now we need to make it look like the beam is coming from the Tie Fighter. In the Effects Dialog, click on the Beam Effect, like this:

This turns on the crosshair markers for the start and end points for the beam. Use the mouse to grab the start point (the one on the left) and align it with the right gun on the fighter.

Grab the other cross hair and place it off the screen a a good bit. You will have to expand the preview (stage) window to place it pretty far outside the stage.

The tough part about this is eyeballing the angle that the blaster should be on. I can't help you with that. Perspective is all a matter of what you think looks right. However, I can give you a good pointer. Assuming that you built the animation of the ship, you should know how to create a really long cylinder, match it to the fighter angle and render it at this exact frame. Then, you have a temporary guide to help with the perspective. Just remember to remove that guide before you finalize the clip.

Something like this:

Once you've angled your line, you will now need to set the thickness of the beam. It needs to be thinner at the start at thicker at the end. This is because the perspective makes it appear this way. In this example, you can set the sizes at 4.00 and 10.00. That seems to look fine.

Animating the Beam

This is the fun part. The secret to animating the beam is a combination of the Beam Length and Time. The Time always needs to have two keyframes set up, one at the start for 0%, and one at the end for 100%. And they need to be separated by 4 frames. Again, this is for this effect only. It only takes 4 frames to complete the shot.

At this point it makes the most sense close the Effects dialog, and work in the timeline. Uncollapse the beam layer by clicking the little arrow on the left. Then keep uncollapsing until you get the Beam effect open. Make sure your playhead is still at frame 15 (the beginning of this layer). Click on the little stop watch to turn on a key frame, set the value for Time to 0% - subsequent keyframes will be added automatically. Then move the playhead up 4 frame and change the value for Time to 100%.

The Length is not so easy in the case where the beam needs to grow as it does in this case. This is really the most tedious part of setting up the effect. You need to go back and forth frame by frame a few times and adjust the length of the beam to make it fit just right. In this example is took 3 keyframes to do it. Click on the little stopwatch to set the first keyframe for the Length. Set it to 0%. Scoot ahead one frame set the value at 16%, and then go 2 more frames and set it to 64%. These values are arbitrary and change for every effect. This test clip is an excellent example of this because these parameters work fine for the first 4 shots or so while the fighter is far away, but are WAY off for when the fighter is closer.

At this point, your timeline looks like this:

The first beam is totally finished now. You can go ahead and play it back to see how it looks.

Having done all of this, it's very easy to make multiple shots. You already know all you need to know. And, the nice thing is, the beam itself has been created and animated. You just need to duplicate it, slide it to a new spot on the time line, and set up the animation, placement for start and end, etc...

In the video I made with this tutorial I had the Tie fire 6 shots. 4 in rapid succession in the beginning and 2 at the end. The first 4 shots are separated by 3 frames. Then there is a delay, then at 1;15 the last 2 shots come in. The last 2 shots are only 2 frames long and they are thicker than the first set. (The fighter is closer to the camera.) And this is what the final timeline looks like:

One final point to mention here. This is optional, but it may help the effect. The little M that is checked ON for all the layers is for motion blur. You won't see anything from this switch until you render your final clip. In the Render Queue, click on Current Settings, and make sure you have Motion Blur set to "On For Checked Layers". I hadn't mentioned this before because it's not a necessary step. But, it may improve the final result. The example clip included with this tutorial does NOT have motion blur applied.

I think you're going to find that this tutorial is helpful in getting you to understand how the beam effect works and what is involved in making it look good. But, these settings are very specific to this one tutorial. If you really want to learn to do it right, you will really have to take what you've learned here and experiment with it.


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