How to animate a muzzle flare

Note: Since I wrote this, people in the brickfilming community seem to have moved on to specialist video editing software so I’m not sure how much use it’ll be now.

A few people have asked how I did this effect in The Brick Gulch Chronicles. It’s not difficult, but it is very time consuming and tedious. There’s probably faster and easier ways of doing it but I’m no Photoshop expert and I just go with what I know.

I use Photoshop 7.0. Other versions may have slight differences, I don’t know. Here’s how I did it…

Instructions

Split your film into frames. I don’t need to do this because Stop Motion Pro saves each frame as a separate file anyway. If your capture software doesn’t do this, you’ll need to engage in some jiggery pokery.

In Photoshop, open the first frame where you want the muzzle flash to appear.

Starting frame

Create a new layer:

New Layer button

Your layer window should now look something like this:

Layer window

Making sure the new layer is selected (it should be highlighted as in the picture above), draw an orange blob over the muzzle of the gun.

Orange blob

Use the Smudge tool to draw out the edge of the blob in the direction the character is firing.

Smudged orange blob

Now use the Smudge tool to draw out little flashes around the muzzle.

More smudged orange blob

When you’re happy with the shape of this layer, create another new layer. Your layer window should now look like this:

Another new layer

Now draw a yellow blob over the top of the orange blob.

Yellow blob

Smudge the yellow blob so that it follows the same shape as the orange blob below. You should make it slightly smaller so that the orange edge is still visible.

Smudged yellow blob
More smudged yellow blob

Now create yet another new layer.

Yet another new layer

Draw a white blob over the top of the yellow and orange ones, then smudge it as before.

White blob
Smudged white blob
More smudged white blob

When you’re happy with the way it looks, click Save As on the File menu and save a copy of this frame in your preferred format – bmp, jpg or whatever you like. It’s important that you save a copy because we’re going to carry on using the same file to do the other frames.

Congratulations. You’ve finished your first frame. The good news is that it gets a bit easier from now on. Not a lot though.

Now open the next frame in the sequence.

Next frame

Select the whole picture and copy it. Now select the first layer in your other picture (the one we’ve been working with all this time).

Select first layer

Paste the new frame into the picture so it sits on top of the original frame

Next frame with the old fx

Notice that we’ve picked up the old muzzle flare there, but it isn’t quite in the right place – you want it to move with the character. Even if the character is standing still, you want it to change a little from frame to frame so it doesn’t look like you’ve just pasted a picture on top of your animation.

So here we go again.

The easiest way to see what you’re doing is to move the muzzle flare layers out of the way and then put them back in the right place afterwards. You need to pick each layer in turn and use the Move tool to move them away from the character.

Layers moved

Now move the orange layer so that it is in the right position, then use the Smudge tool to change it a little.

First layer resmudged

Do the same with the other layers.

First layer resmudged

And there’s your second frame. Save a copy of this one, then repeat the process for all the other frames you want to do.

Once you’ve finished, you need to join all your frames together again. As before, this is something you can do in Stop Motion Pro in a couple of seconds. Other programs might not be so easy.

And there you have it. Boring and time-consuming but it looks OK in the end.