18 December 2016

A quick VFX fix

I saw Rogue One this week: once on opening night, but once also a few days earlier at a private company screening. It was quite something to see my name up in the credits for a Star Wars movie. After seeing it on Friday, we came home to watch A New Hope for the continuation of the story. I have a recent Blu-ray release of both trilogies, with all sorts of digital updates, corrections, and additions. But there were some easy fixes that mysteriously were not made. I noticed one glaring problem while watching Luke practice with his lightsaber onboard the Millennium Falcon.

You can see the problem in this comparison image of two sequential frames from the movie. Mark was holding a handle with the blade attached, probably a rotating one covered with a highly reflective material. Then the camera stopped, he tried to remain still, and his lightsaber was switched out for just the handle. But as it's impossible to stay still enough, there is a noticeable jump between the two frames, looking abrupt and unnatural. This is a very old camera trick, practically dating back to the very first moving pictures.

However, with digital technology, the fix here is quite easy. It didn't take me long to figure out that the first good frame with the lightsaber turned off could be used to cover the few frames with the lightsaber on, so that there is no jump in Luke's position. The training ball was matted out so that the rotating version from the original frames would show through. Then some animated noise was added to the single frame to make it match the moving footage. Since the lightsaber's blade is missing, it could easily be added in with a shape layer and a glow effect. The benefit here is that it can be animated going down, instead of just sharply disappearing from one frame to another. You may also notice that even in this new release of the movie, the blade's color is wrong; it looks either colorless or almost green, instead of the blue we all know Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber had.
This correction was quickly done on my laptop using Photoshop and After Effects, although it probably could have been done with either program instead of both. This was just a little project that I did on a whim. In reality, it only takes a few minutes to get the shot mostly there, but as with much of this kind of work, getting that last 5% can take the most time. As an example of that, I wasn't that satisfied with the final result after posting it, so I worked on it some more and even tried putting it a bit of glow on Luke from the saber.