Lightsabers in The Force Awakens

Today I was reading an article in Cinefex magazine on The force Awakens, and found some impressive details regarding the way they handled the lightsabers, which was different from any of the previous films. The whole article is great, as Cinefex articles generally tend to be, but here are some interesting quotes about the lightsabers in particular.

  • "We made blades out of acetal. That is a very tough material, like solid nylon, that we managed to bore out to a 36-inch length. We then built a special core that held 3,000 LEDs, and programmed each LED to a board inside the lightsaber handle, where we also hid the batteries. Everything was radio controlled. When we wanted the blade to switch on, the lights illuminated progressively up the blade, the way a lightsaber behaves, and we also programmed LEDs to pulse We installed a motion sensor so when the blade hit an object, it sensed vibration through the handle and flashed the lights to white. You couldn't have done any of that ten years ago because LED technology has progressed, thanks to the mobile phone industry" - Manufacturing Supervisor James Enright
  • "On Episode III, we cheated on-set lighting to create lightsaber interactions. The trouble was, the interactive light was never emanating from the saber. This time, we discussed with cinematographer Dan Mindel how we could more effectively create interactive lightsaber effects. We did tests using LED lights, and the prop department built features into props that allowed us to change the value of the light depending on how quickly the blades were moving. We could remotely control their color temperature, and when the lightsabers clashed, they even flashed." - Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett
  • "We took lightsaber effects to the next level. It was so much more sophisticated than the roto shapes and glows in the earlier films. Both sabers were matchmoved, lit, and textured 3D objects with a huge amount of effects passes and 2.5D setups inside the composites." - Compositing Supervisor Jay Cooper

So not only did the use hugely complex radio-controlled LED props, to create authentic interactive lighting on the set, ILM then tracked the blades, replaced them with 3D blade effects, and then added shimmers, sparks, and steam as they interacted with weather and the environment. Fascinating, eh?


  • Aladdin4d
    Aladdin4d Posts: 2,466 Enthusiast

    Absolutely fascinating and really, easily done but what surprised me was this:

    "We made blades out of acetal. That is a very tough material, like solid nylon, that we managed to bore out to a 36-inch length."

    It surprised me because you can buy an already bored out version called tubing ;)

  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,255 Staff

    Maybe they needed a non-round hole through the core, to fit their LEDs? Or perhaps they needed a special blend of Acetal that was more transparent or something, and had to custom-fabricate the blades. Or maybe they already had acetal rod and a long drill on hand, and though "eh, what the heck"?

  • inScapeDigital
    inScapeDigital Posts: 709 Enthusiast

    I really liked the way the lightsabers looked and interacted in TFA; they felt and sounded like they were actually solid beams of energy crashing together.

  • Mandalorian
    Mandalorian Posts: 76 Just Starting Out*

    Very cool stuff indeed.  Hyperdynelabs worked on these sabers, using their remote saber tech they've had for quite a while.  Definitely makes it feel more lifelike having the props light up, though I too am curious why the custom blades, as there are lots of polycarbonate blades out there for the saber industry made for dueling specifically.  Maybe they're lighter or don't bend as much?

    And the 3d approach to lightsabers is much better.  I did some experiments not long ago with that idea, and I was able to get results very quickly and accurately that included proper blade falloff, motion blur, size, etc, without having to resort to complex rotos.  Makes lightsaber effects so much easier and more realistic.

    Thanks for sharing those excerpts from the article.  Very tempting to check out the rest of it.

  • DanielGWood
    DanielGWood Posts: 1,016 Just Starting Out

    That's super awesome. Really impressive how much they were able to do with the electronics there, a great reminder of how far things have progressed in the intervening years.

  • Andy001z
    Andy001z Lord EarthPosts: 3,630 Ambassador

    The idea of a real lightsaber seems to be every inching it's way forward. A long way from actors using wooden sticks.

  • KirstieT
    KirstieT Posts: 1,272 Staff

    Man, to have a real lightsaber......

  • Andy001z
    Andy001z Lord EarthPosts: 3,630 Ambassador

    @KirstieT Problem is you need the Jedi force tricks to go with it, otherwise some clever dick will come along and pull a gun (bang) you dead. Now with the Force bullet might be deflected, but until then, just good for slicing water melons.

  • KirstieT
    KirstieT Posts: 1,272 Staff

    @Andy001z Tru dat. Slicing watermelons is something that I currently lack any ability in and so my Jedi training would be primarily for that purpose for a good few months I imagine :)

  • TFA's Kylo Ren Vs. Rey scene was amazing.

    I love how they made it so much more dramatic, rather than just plain action!


  • SteveKarstensen
    SteveKarstensen Posts: 330 Just Starting Out*
    edited March 2017

    Problem is you need the Jedi force tricks to go with it, otherwise some clever dick will come along and pull a gun (bang) you dead.

    Funny thing, that; I used to GM a Star Wars d20 roleplaying campaign and despite slug throwers being a thing (stats and all), there were no rules/sidebars/asides anywhere in the book indicating whether or not bullets were affected by the Deflect ability.  It's like no one even thought that such a scenario would come up.

    Naturally, it happened to us not five sessions in.  At the time I ruled that the bullets were vaporized in contact with the blade, which would allow a Jedi to deflect them, but not redirect them as you could with blasters.  People far more nerdy than I can come up with arguments against that position, but it was good enough for us.