Want to add a jolt of excitement to your videos? Want to zap your project with humorous and unforgettable scenes? Consider using your computer to create an electrical effect that occurs at just the right moment. With this effect you can make faulty outlets and switches spark, lightning strike anywhere you choose, equipment go completely haywire, even project electrical power from characters in your video, similar to what the Emperor does in Return of the Jedi
What You Need
To accomplish this effect you will need a computer capable of editing video, a way of getting your video on and off that nifty computer, and a graphical program similar to Corel Painter. Painter is what we used in this article and is available for both Mac OS and Windows. Other programs that may be useful in lieu of Painter are: Adobe, After Effects, Digital Origin’s Roto DV, or any other program that lets you draw directly on the video. For the best results, we recommend a FireWire compatible camera such as Mini DV or Digital8.
First Things First
First, you must shoot the scene in which you will add your electrical effect. For an example, we will shoot someone checking a faulty electrical outlet with a multi-meter . Little does this guy know, he is about to get shocked before he can attain a reading on his meter. Of course, before shooting a scene like this, you will want to make sure that the breaker for the outlet is off. You never want to put your talent in any real danger. If you forget and leave the breaker on, real electricity may shock and possibly kill you. Then you wouldn’t have fun creating the effect yourself!
Shoot the scene so that the outlet probes from the multimeter and the man’s fingers are all clearly visible. Upon touching the finger onto one of the probes, the actor should react as if he is getting the shock of his life. Unless you want to animate thousands of separate frames, keep the reaction time to a minimum. If the actor is sitting there getting shocked for ten seconds, then you will have 300 frames to animate. If he reacts like he only gets a quick shock, then you can get away with animating anywhere from ten to thirty frames. For practical purposes, the shorter the reaction,
Don’t Hate, Animate
Once you have successfully captured the video to your hard drive, you will need to find the sequence in which the electrical zap is to take place. This should be a file all it’s own, assuming you captured each scene onto the computer separately. Importing the file into Painter converts it to frame stacks that you can draw on individually. Using the controls, find the frame where the actor first begins to react to the imaginary shock. This is where you will begin your animation .
For electricity, you don’t need to know how to draw, jagged scribbles work just great. Of course, a little artistic talent is always helpful. Choose a color for your electrical current. Light blue or white usually works well . Using thick and thin lines, draw the sparks and bolts as they start to come out of the outlet. For an added effect of realism, add some lighting to the scene. This will make the electricity appear to glow. In Painter you can do this by selecting the Effects menu, going down to Surface Control, and selecting Apply Lighting. Change the color of the light to the color of your electricity. Move the pointer so that the light is where the outlet is.
Once you are satisfied with the result, use the arrow key that is right next to the play button in the Frame Stacks window to advance to the next frame. Now, repeat this process for every frame where the zap is visible. A good, quick zap can be as short as seven or ten frames. Fortunately, in traditional animation, electricity is fairly random. That means you don’t have to be too careful about making sure one frame matches the next. As you can probably imagine, this can get repetitive very quickly.
Once you finish animating the sequence, it is time to export it to a new movie file. Be sure to pick the same compression format that you used when you captured your video to the hard drive (.avi, .mov, etc). Some programs may let you choose the frame rate. For typical video, choose the NTSC standard of 29.97 frames per second. Painter users will notice that the program does not import or export sound. When you save your movie file, it will be silent. Therefore it is a good idea to export the sound from the original movie file before you begin working with it in Painter. That way you can combine the new video and the old sound in your editing program and lip sync will stay intact.
Don’t Forget Sound
Now you have an electrifying sequence you can add to your video project. You have everything ready to go in your editing program, but something still seems to be missing. Sound effects! While not necessary, sound effects do help add impact and believability to the scene.
You can create your own sound effect by recording the sound of an electric razor, or make a buzzing noise into a microphone yourself. Capture your sound effect to your computer, shorten it to the approximate length of the effect and then place the sound file where the electrical blast occurs in your video-editing program. Most video editing applications have a second sound timeline just for this feature. It really helps make a difference, especially if you are using the effect for humorous purposes. Now edit everything like you normally do, and you’re ready to output to tape.
Lightning and electricity aren’t the only things you can animate, of course. You can animate fireballs, shots from laser guns and many other things. Creating effects like this can be easy once you have tried it a few times. The key is to be creative and to experiment. The more you experiment, the more you learn, and the more fun you’ll have!