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The latest free update for HitFilm 3 Pro tempts us back to the Dark Side with three brand new and inter-connected effects, focusing on the perennial favorite known as the lightsword*. We’ve also got workflow tweaks and fixes galore, so read on…

The circle is now complete

The primary purpose of Update #5 is to give me an excuse to insert as many Star Wars quotes as possible into this article. Star Wars fanfilms have never gone away and with The Force Awakens just around the corner we’re expecting the lightsword to once again reclaim its title as everybody’s First Effect.

Lightswords have traditionally been very labor-intensive, usually requiring frame-by-frame rotoscoping and extensive tracking by eye, due to the extreme motion blur on the prop weapons used by actors in action scenes. Automatic tracking simply doesn’t work when you’ve got a blade that is barely visible even to the human eye.

In Update #5 we’ve set out to minimize the workload and create the fastest, easiest and best lightsword method you’ll find.

Note the 3D environment constructed inside HitFilm 3 Pro using assets from NXVisual Studio

Three lightsword effects are included with Update #5, each with a slightly different focus.

Lightsword (2-Point Auto) is the main event, providing an easy way to position the effect using just two points (the hilt and the tip), which should be positioned on the leading edge of the blade. HitFilm then derives the required motion blur based on the relative movement of the points. You can choose between streaking which matches that in the movies or set up a custom streak to match the shutter speed and motion blur in your footage.

The 4-Point Manual version lets you create a rectangular shape, which is accurate but not as slick as the 2-point. Finally there’s the standalone Lightsword (Glow Only), which adds our custom glow behavior to any layer, with customization options for the flicker and edge stability.

Both the 2- and 4-point versions can be linked to tracked points, so if you do successfully track movement you can speed things up even more. Useful for less frenetic shots, perhaps – or, indeed, for creating other neon effects far, far away from Star Wars.

There’s no avoiding roto when it comes to lightswords, but Update #5 is the easiest and fastest system I’ve encountered for creating authentic results.

 Workflow tweaks

Not interested in space fantasy romps? Then check out the workflow tweaks introduced in Update #5:

Fixes

You’ll also find Update #5 more stable, with the following fixes applied:

Let us know how you get in with Update #5 and have fun with all that roto!

*also known by other names of varying legal complexity.

Image breakdown

The dramatic image at the top of this blog post was created entirely in HitFilm 3 Pro. Here’s a quick breakdown.

First up I constructed a rocky surface using a bunch of 3D planets, created by user NXVisual Studio, which I scaled and stretched to become flatter shapes. By mixing several of these together I ended up with a generic surface which could be shot from numerous angles.

The virtual camera was positioned down low, looking out to the horizon of the surface structure.

Distance fog is hugely important when creating 3D environments. You can find fog settings in the 'advanced' tab of a composite shot's properties.

A single 3D light was used, with a blue-ish color to contrast with the deep red of the fog.

Here's the shot with self-shadowing enabled.

The sky was created using the free Billowed Background effect from the Red Giant Universe plugin collection.

This is a plate from a very old project we shot around 2008. It's only 720p but due to being small in the final frame it works perfectly in a 2K shot.

Here's the plate composited into the 3D scene. Note the 3D unified space at work, with the video layer perfectly embedded in the rocky surface. This makes it very easy to construct 3D sets with live action components.

HitFilm's chroma key effect makes removing the greenscreen super easy. Note the realistic 3D shadow being cast from the video layer onto the rocky surface. The video layer is also receiving the distance fog and light wrap from its surroundings.

Lightswords created and stock atmosphere elements inserted in 3D space.

The final shot with additional grading, revised framing and a textured landscape. As the shot is created in 3D, it's even possible to add a camera move, with the video layer locked in place and casting accurate shadows as the actors move.