How to create special effects in your home movies

Ever wonder how computer animators and special effects artists create sparks, snow, and smoke effects that look and behave just like the real deal? You know, sparks that fly out of things and sputter off as they fall to the ground. Smoke that wafts upwards, free of gravity’s pull. Falling snow that blows across the ground as it’s pushed by a gust of wind. All can be simulated in movies by particle effects software.

I’ll spare you the techie details on how particle systems work their magic, but you’ll be jazzed to know that CyberLink PowerDirector 9 lets you add animated sparks, bubbles, snow, and even lightning to your videos. Don’t get me wrong — PowerDirector’s particle effects won’t turn your videos into special effects extravaganzas. However, they can definitely add some glam to your opening titles and punch up your family footage. After all, what proud parent can resist adding a fireworks display to a video of their kid scoring a goal?

Camping up your pet videos is a cinch with particle effects.

Using PowerDirector’s particle effects, like using its transitions and titles, starts in a “room.” Here’s what you’ll find in the Particle Room: one canned effect, tools for creating your own effects, and a link that takes you to DirectorZone.com. The last is CyberLink’s user community site, where you’ll find thousands of free, downloadable particle effects built by other users.

The canned effect included with PowerDirector spills stars while it travels across the screen from right to left. I can imagine it being used to dress up an opening title. To use a particle effect, simply drag it to the timeline, positioning it on a track that’s lower than the track of the title or video clip you want the effect to appear in. (Lower-numbered tracks take priority over higher-numbered tracks, so you can overlay or superimpose the effect over the video or photo on the higher-numbered track.)

By the way, PowerDirector taps into the powerful video processing technology in the latest Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs, so when you press Play, you see the effect in real time. No preview rendering is necessary.

But the real fun starts when you roll your own particle effects. Simply launch the Particle Designer and select an emit method. As the name implies, emitters discharge or give off particles. The default particle shape is a four-sided star (which you can see in the silly cat video screen shot above), but you can swap stars out for hearts, birds, smoke, lightning, soccer balls, or another of many shapes that come with the program.

Using the Particle Designer, you can distribute special effects along a path like the one shown here.

Next you choose a particle style, which determines particle behavior. For example, particles can bounce as if they’re on springs, fly away from the emitter, circle it, and more. You can layer multiple emitters over a photo or video to get effects that are more complex. If you decide you’ve gone too far, you can delete emitters.

One of the key attributes of particle effects is that they’re dynamic; they can change over time. For example, individual particles can start out being one color and end another. They can change size, spin around, blink on and off. Plus, you can set them to be subject to gravity. For example, they can spill out of the emitter and fall to the ground, the way objects in the real world would.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at how you can put all these things together to create super cool effects.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of TechHive. ]

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