As we know, I am addicted to lens flare. It’s ridiculous, mostly unnecessary and in the movies often shows up inexplicably from no apparent light source.
As we also know, J.J Abrams uses a lot of it.
We went and saw Super 8 the other weekend and although this post isn’t really a review of the movie, I will say I liked most of it. Like the latest Star Trek, anything scientific or unexplainable was associated with his trademark anamorphic flares which danced and glowed with alien presence compared to the more ordinary scenes in the movie.
When Star Trek came out I was using Blender 2.49 and after the movie credits rolled promptly rushed home to see if I could duplicate the dazzling effects I’d just seen. Turns out, it was garbage in comparison.
Blender 2.5 doesn’t really change or add much new (at least, I think there were glare nodes in 2.49…?) but the year or so since has added some knowledge and ability to my compositing skills.
It’s a mess, I admit. I just finished and haven’t really cleaned it up at all. Let’s walk through it:
Glare nodes (on streak, set to 2) by themselves make a sort of anamorphic glow, but it’s a little fat, as tall as the specular shine. You can change the threshold if the specular is gradient, or add an RGB curve set like that second one down: with the C point towards the bottom right corner. This, if you’re unfamiliar with curves, will darken everything, amplifying the bright spots across all channels (R, G & B) which helps thin out the glares into a more needle-like shine. This is good for adding more distinction in them, instead of the generic hazy effect that they make by default.
It repeats a lot, basically taking them and stretching them (Blur set to horizontal with the X value being taken between 10 and 5000) or colourizing them (with the RGB curves) and then mixing them back together.
The very bottom row (glare, glare, blur, RGB, flip > mix) is what makes the red ghosts to the bottom left of the frame. With the flip in there it’s literally taking the whole image, bluring it really horizontally and then flipping across both axis to simulate what real lenses do with focal flare: the spot shows up opposite the light spot through the middle of the frame. It’s just more stylized with the stretching and the colouring. I didn’t do any real chromatic maths here, so it’s just whatever looks good – usually opposite whatever your main colour is.
RGB curves are fantastic for colouring, although some people prefer the split tones method. It doesn’t matter, they do the same thing, it’s just how you prefer to visualize the change.
I did the DoF last, although I’m not sure if that’s the proper form or not. I tried it both ways and it didn’t seem to make much difference on the end result.
So. That’s pretty much it. Have fun, be ridiculous!
Oh, and the reflections are just an HDRi reflection-mapped to the material.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
EDIT: I should mention, objects that are close to the middle of the frame will generate a crazy bright spot. It’s a sort of graphical feedback loop where the glare brightens and flips but since the flip is so close the original it gets brightened again and so on. You can fix this by bypassing that first Ghost glare node altogether, or increasing it’s color mod for variable control, or changing the threshold of both.
It takes a bit of experimenting for each scene on an individual basis. Sadly, there isn’t a nice one-size-fits-all that I’ve discovered yet.
I should also mention, since I missed it earlier, those little dots are actually Blender’s starfield fed through the DoF and the bokeh makes them look bigger.
There’s some space clouds without compositing to show the normal star field.