Well, this works, but it’s certainly not going to win any awards.

I was looking through my YouTube subscriptions for a VFX tutorial on how to make a glowing something in the hand so it looks like the person is holding it. I found one that made a cool glowing globe, but in my attempt at refinement I ran into a video on creating a small fireball which (in the original video) is thrown at the camera to trigger a transition.

My version isn’t as well done as I opted to pull up short in a lot of ways because I liked the more raw, “magical” looking fire as opposed to the more “realistic” fire in the source video. I also tried to add some other effects with varying degrees of success.

Relevant Websites

I hit up the Surfaced Studio‘s YouTube channel because I’d seen their glowing globe tutorial earlier in the day. The video started out with a totally different effect, including the globing orb being obscured by the host’s fingers as it rested in his palm, and intended to follow the orb tutorial, but it was that finger-occlusion part that wasn’t included in the video, and what sent me out researching

That lead me to their video on throwing fire, which served as the basis for this experiment.

Relevant Resources

I downloaded a free pack of effects called Ignite Express from FXHome.com. Curiously, I had done this the night before, and was surprised to see the fireball tutorial using them like everyone knows about it. It really is a small world.

Technical Details

I recorded a 1080p video of my hand, which is just a hand, but I had to think through what I wanted to happen. Basically, I wanted to kind of “snap” my hand open to trigger the fire, and then close it to snuff it out. It was kind of weird to do this in “the real world” without any kind of prop or anything, so I have more of an appreciation on how some actors feel about green screens now.

The heavy lifting on the fire is done by CC Particle World on a new solid layer. There’s a lot to this effect, and the original video makes some pretty convincing fire — not the best, but passable — using it. The key settings are under the Physics turn-down, specifically Velocity, Gravity, Resistance, and Extra. I messed around with these values to create a more shapely “plume” appearance where the particles moved up in instead of down. I also messed around with the Birth Rate and Longevity values so the fire would be a little more compact. The Particle Type is set to “Shaded Sphere”, the Birth Color was set to a fiery yellow, and the Death Color is set to an equally fiery red. Finally, the Transfer Mode was set to “Add”.

I followed through on the source video by adding Directional Blur, CC Vector Blur, and Glow, but didn’t throw in a lot of directional blur (I only set it to 5.0). I did keep the stringy-ness of the vector blur, though, setting Amount to “25” and Map Softness to “10”. I liked this look better than the traditional blob of fire because it seemed a bit more like an ethereal conjured fire and not just a really large lit match head.

Then I did a few things which were probably not in the proper order.

First order of business was to get the flame to look like it’s in the hand and not just hovering above the video of the hand. There’s a slight movement in the underlying video, so I wanted the flame to move around accordingly. Here, I opened the Tracker window with the hand video selected. I set up the tracking point on a bright spot on my chain bracelet and let AE calculate the slight motion. I then added a Null layer and set the tracker’s Edit Target to that null layer (remember to hit “Apply” kids!). This put the null’s position at the mercy of the tracking results so as the bracelet moved, so did the null. Again, slight, but every little bit helps.

Next, I added an adjustment layer and threw on the Light Flares effect from the Ignite package of plugins. My original goal was to find an effect that would create a glow in the palm of my hand, but this did not do that. It did, however, create a cool lens flare effect, so I applied the fire colors to this and let it roll. I applied a wiggle(8,0.2) expression so that the flair would pulse as the flame wiggled around. They weren’t in sync, but the effect was understood.

Before going any further, I parented the flame layer to the tracker null, so it would move around as my hand did. I had to shift the position of the flame so it would be in the palm, and it worked OK.

Next, I wanted to deal with the concept of adding a glow within the hand. An adjustment layer would be too encompassing, so I needed to separate the hand from the rest of the arm at some position in order to contain the glow of the fire to just the palm area. To do this I needed a mask, but because I had to mask out the hand over time, I needed to use the roto brush.

First, I had to dupe the video layer, removing the tracking layer in the interest of KISS. Painting around the hand on this new layer from the edge of the chain to the tips of the fingers, I ran through the video and adjusted the roto coverage as needed. The contrast between my hand and the wall behind it was not very good, so the roto kept picking up the background as part of the mask. In the end, I had a masked hand in a sea of black. I put this immediately on top of the main video. With unaltered timing, the two videos would play at the same speed, but I muted one layer as they both had a little bit of background noise.

To the masked layer I added a Glow effect, setting Intensity to “0.9”, Threshhold to “62%”, Radius to “1.0”, and Blend to “Screen”. This brightened up the palm — but only for the masked layer, meaning the brightness “dead ends” at the chain bracelet, which looks kind of dumb. Was this dupe-and-roto the best way to accomplish this? I suspect not.

The last step was to add keyframes. Because the flame naturally grows from nothing, I didn’t have to deal with that aspect as my hand snaps open. As the flame grows, I dialed up the adjustment layer’s Light Flares Intensity from “0′ to “1.2” over a few seconds. I did the same with the masked palm’s Glow Intensity. The timing and spread for these is really to-taste, and I tried to keep it in sync with the growth of the flame.

As my hand closed near the end, I did ramp down the Intensity of the Light Flares on the adjustment layer, the Birth and Death sizes of the CC Particle World on the fire layer, and the Intensity of the Glow on the masked hand layer, running these all to 0 roughly coinciding with the closing of my hand.

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