In Depth: Gun Fire and Muzzle Flash

In Depth: Gun Fire and Muzzle Flash
News, Inspirations, Tutorial, In Depth Jun 23, 2015 at 10:48 AM

If you’re planning on making an epic action film like Max Max: Fury Road or Rambo, you’re going to need lots of fire power. Here is a rundown on how to add spectacular muzzle flash and gun shot effects to your films in your host of choice. I’ve also included info on 3D models of weapons and some sound effects.

Updated June 23, 2015: Fixed an error, added some content.

in depth: muzzle flash

Introduction: A Brief Overview

Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the gun. — Army of Darkness

Guns are not something I know much about. I have never shot anything but a nerf gun. I abhor gun violence. To be clear, I am not talking about real guns in this article. I'm talking about movie making and learning about real weapons so that the visual effects are acceptable to an audience.

Making a believable composite is the most important part of convincing your audience that your gunfire is real. I've never been a fan of guns and that may put me at a disadvantage for creating gun fire effects. I can't tell the difference between an M-16 and an AK-47 and really only know what I've seen in movies. If you're wanting to make your movie realistic, talk to an expert on guns or even watch some YouTube videos with real weapons so that your guns match with the right muzzle flash. Take notes and then amp it up a bit for your movie for dramatic effect!

There are way too many guns out there! Here are some links from Wikipedia which may be useful.

General Tips for Adding Realism to Gunfire Scenes

Hot Tip!

Mark Christiansen breaks it all down in Chapter 14: Pyrotechnics: Heat, Fire, Explosions in his book Adobe After Effects CS6 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques. I highly recommend checking it out.

Muzzle Flash

A muzzle flash is the visible light of a gun shot blast, when hot air and gas erupt from muzzle of a gun. Wikipedia has a nice breakdown of the characteristics of a muzzleflash. Here is a summary:

  • Muzzle glow - happens right before the bullet leaves the barrel of the gun and is created by the gas that pushes the gun from the barrel
  • Primary flash, Intermediate flash and Secondary flash - caused by the mixture of gasses leaving the gun and the speed of the bullet. The secondary flash is the most 
  • Sparks - caused by unburnt powder leaving the gun after the weapon is fired

Most muzzle flashes that you see in movies are bigger and more dramatic than in real life. This is of course, an artistic and dramatic choice but I'd recommend you know a little bit about the guns you're showing so you aren't completely off base.

The muzzle flash is fast!
It's a "flash" so each blast of flames should only last a frame or two.

Make each muzzle flash look different.
Even though they are fast, you don't want them to look identical. If you're using stock footage, use some type of distortion on the flash to make each look different.

Make a reflection of the muzzle flash on the actor and gun
Create a bright orange spot (or whatever color your muzzle flash may be) on the hands, arms and face of the actor, as well as on the gun. This should only last as long as the muzzle flash.

Muzzle Flash, Real vs. Movie

A Fun Read

5 Ridiculous Gun Myths Everyone Believes (Thanks to Movies)
Thanks to Dan Warvi for the link.

Silencers and muzzle flash suppression

Some guns come with suppressors that are meant to disrupt the shockwave of gas coming out of the barrel so the shooter is not blinded by the brightness of the gunfire.  The FBI and ATF refer to suppressors as silencers, as do most movies.

Does your actor have a silencer on his gun? If this is the case, don't add much or any muzzle flash but do include some smoke. Also, you'll still want to add some sound effects, just quiet little "pew pew"s and not big bangs. 

Ejecting shell casings

Get to know which type of shells will be shown ejecting from your gun if you're adding them in digitally. Here's a handy table of handgun and rifle cartridges

Check out the RodyPolis Action FX Bundle: The Shootout Stock Pack includes 16 Shell Casings from various weapons, the 3D weapons Pack includes models of shotgun shells, and the Shootout Audio Pack includes audio of 10 bullet shells of various weapons bouncing on the ground.

Here's an example of shells ejecting from an Airsoft gun, for reference. 


Don't make the smoke too prominent and know which guns have smoke and which don't. Make sure your smoke color matches your shots. If the smoke is shot over black, use a layer mode set to Add to easily key the smoke.

You can make smoke with particle emitters or with plug-ins for creating smoke. You can also composite stock footage of smoke on your gun shot scene.

Plug-ins for creating smoke are included in GenArts Monsters and Digieffects Phenemona.

Gun recoil or kickback

Recoil is the backward momentum that is created when a gun is shot.  The Wikipedia entry on recoil is quite interesting, talking about Newton's second and third laws. There is are two recoils when a gun is shot, the kickback from the escaping bullet and another from the gas that follows the bullet out of the chamber. For more on that, see The Physics of Everyday Stuff: Gun Recoil.

In Hollywood films, you'll often see characters being thrown several feet back from a small handgun, but this may not actually be the case. Take into account the size of your actor and the type and size of the gun. For drama, though, you may want to include a bit more recoil than would exist in reality.

Edit out a frame during the actor's faux kickback to make it look more realistic.
This tip is from IndependentVFX's video TUTORIAL: Muzzle Flash - part 1, flash & smoke

Bullet Hits

Show bullet hits, debris, and blood spatter in a cutaway shot. Video Copilot Action Essentials 2 has lots of options for this type of thing.

Victims do collapse when shot but don't really fly backward from the momentum of the bullet. However, it's your movie and if you want to increase the drama, maybe your actor needs to fly backward when shot. For more on this, check out One Shot Drops: Surviving the Myth, an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 

Shooting the Scene with Prop Guns

Prop guns

You'll want to use realistic prop guns, such as Airsoft guns and rifles, which have a red or orange tip for safety. Depending on where you live, you may have different laws about Airsoft guns. In the US, they are not classified as firearms, so anyone over 18 can buy one without a permit and anyone, regardless of age, can use them. In the U.S. it's also legal to remove the orange tip, but be careful with law enforcement mistaking it as a real gun. The orange tip can always be removed in post.

Make a Toy Gun Look Real 

Film Riot has some help for you in making your guns look real.

Do not to use real guns with blanks on a set, besides the fact that it's likely illegal. Remember Brandon Lee and Jon-Eric Hexum, two well-known actors who were killed on the set because of gun shot injuries. 

Cracked Guns

See: Cracked.com: 36 Awesome Low-Tech Tricks Used in Movies

Plug-ins and VFX Software for Muzzle Flash and Gun Fire

There are a ton of stock footage options out there for muzzle flashes however, they may not have exactly what you're looking for. They may not have it for the right gun or the right angle that you need. A plug-in will remedy this situation. Muzzle flash alone isn't exactly going to sell a plug-in on it's own so many plug-in bundles include a muzzle flash effect. Here are a few that you may already own.

FXHOME HitFilm 3 Pro


HitFilm 3 Pro you everything you need to be editor, VFX artist and colorist, merging a non-linear editor with advanced 3D compositing and over 180 effects, plus mocha tracking from Imagineer and 130 plugins for your other video software. One plug-in in the bundle is Gunfire. There are presets in the HitFilm software that you can use or you can apply the plug-in and concoct your own. 

Below is the interface for HitFilm 3 Pro, showing the Mini-Gun Flash [Gunfire] preset.


More info:

FXHOME HitFilm Pro (standalone, includes plug-ins)
Price: $299   $284.05 Toolfarm Price

Host Support for HitFilm Plug-ins (included with Standalone): 130 plugins for Premiere Pro & After Effects CS5, CS6 & CC, Final Cut Pro X, Vegas Pro 12 & 13 and Motion

Demo: Click here

Tutorial for HitFilm GunFire

In the video below, Josh Davies from FXHOME gives a muzzle flash tutorial. This uses the stand alone, HitFilm Ultimate, but the plug-ins are very similar. You can download the media for this tutorial here.

GenArts Sapphire S_MuzzleFlash

Sapphire MuzzleFlash

Sapphire's MuzzleFlash plug-in was new in Sapphire 6, and is a full featured plug-in that has options of choosing the type of gun, the angle, adjusting the flash, timing and glow. There are variants built in to modify the look of your flash. 

Genarts Sapphire

More info:
GenArts Sapphire

Price: $1,699 (AE Compatible). Prices vary for different hosts.

Host Support:

Check the product page for specifics on supported versions.

Demo: Click here

Digieffects Phenomena Muzzle Flash

Digieffects Phenomena

Digieffects MuzzleFlash has several nice features for adding muzzle flash to your shots. The Muzzle Type shown in the image above is "At Camera".

Digieffects MuzzleFlash

More info:
Digieffects Phenomena
Digieffects DIGISUITE (Damage, Phenomena, Tweak and Aura)

Toolfarm Price: $79.99 (Reg. $75.05) for Phenomena
$284.04 (Reg. $299.00) for DigiSuite

Host Support: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro 7/X, Apple Motion

Demo: Click here

Turn that prop gun into a lethal weapon. You're armed with flashes from a 357 Handgun, M-16 Rifle, 12-Gauge Shotgun, and a Turnicliffe.

Muzzle Flash from Aura by Digieffects from Digieffects on Vimeo.

Trapcode Particular

Trapcode Particular is meant for many things, not merely muzzle flashes, but Red Giant has some great free presets for Particular for Muzzle Flash.

More info:
Trapcode Particular
Trapcode Suite

Toolfarm Price:
$379.05 (Reg. $399.99)
Trapcode Suite: Toolfarm Price: $854.05 (Reg. $899.99)

Host Support: Adobe After Effects

Demo: Download here

Tutorial: QuickTip #65: Automated Gun Muzzle Effects

In this QuickTip, Harry Frank shows you how to quickly create no-keyframe, automated gun muzzle flashes with Trapcode Particular, and free preset that he's created for Red Giant People.

Download the preset here - For After Effects CS5 and up. Note: you must have a log-in to Red Giant People. It's free to register and use. These are .ffx files and you must put them in your presets folder. "Two muzzle flash presets: one single and one automatic. Simply place on a Solid layer and create a Spot Light called 'Emitter'."

Stock Footage Muzzle Flash, Smoke, etc.

Stock footage can be pre-matted or pre-keyed so you just position it onto your footage and you're good to go. Sometimes it will be shot over black, which works well for gun fire and smoke elements. Just use a transfer mode or layer mode such as add, lighten or screen on the footage.

Video Copilot Action Essentials 2

Video Copilot Action Essentials

VC Action Essentials 2

Video Copilot Action Essentials 2 comes in a 720p HD version and a 2K Film Resolution version. It includes over 500 pre-keyed high definition action scene elements like muzzle flashes, dirt charges, couch hits, blood, wall hits, shells, smoke and more.

It also comes with 20 bonus action sound effects and an hour of After Effects training on how to use the product.

These are Quicktime movies so if you're not an After Effects user, you can still use Action Essentials 2.

More Info:
Video Copilot Action Essentials II (2K Film Resolution Version)
Video Copilot Action Essentials II (720p HD Version)
Video Copilot Action Flares Bundle (Optical Flares + Pro Presets + Action Essentials II)


Here's an example of Sam from Video Copilot in a war scene, with VFX containing muzzle flash and more from Action Essentials II.

Video Copilot Shockwave Particle FX

ShockwaveVideo Copilot Shockwave brings bigger effects for sci-fi weapons. It is 50 particle elements as HD stock footage.

More info:
Video Copilot Shockwave

Video Copilot MotionPulse Audio SFX - BlackBox Shockwave Bundle - Features 2,000 multi-layered soundfx, all 5 sound design packs, over 25 categories sound mixing tutorials, fully mastered. SoundFX Pack - 24-bit, 96Khz, WAV and MP3 formats. Full Audio Sound FX bundle includes Signal, Impact, Velocity, Organic and Machine packs. Includes Shockwave for amazing particle FX!

Video Copilot ULTRA STUDIO Bundle - Includes Element 3D, Pro Shaders 2, BackLight, Motion Design II, MotionPulse, Shockwave, as well as the model packs JetStrike, Flight Kit and Metropolitan.


Here's the Sci-Fi Weapon FX Tutorial that uses Shockwave.

That Studio Muzzle Flashes

That Studio Muzzle Flashes from Indie Essentials are new to the stock footage market. This set adds high-quality (up to 2k, 24fps), one-click effects you can use to enhance any Independent film, creating impressive practical visual effects in minutes.

More info:

That Studio Muzzle Flashes from Indie Essentials - High-quality, one-click effects you can use to enhance any Independent film, creating impressive practical visual effects in minutes

That Studio Indie Essentials includes Muzzle Flashes, smoke, sound effects, creature kit and much more!

RodyPolis Shootout Stock Pack

RodyPolis Shootout Stock Pack includes 32 Muzzle Flashes of handguns and machine guns; 33 Bullet Hits such as wall hits, dirt hits, and sparks; 25 Blood Elements such as blood bursts and splatters; 16 Shell Casings from various weapons and much more. The footage is 1080p MOV files with PNG compression. There are also images included which are high quality PNGs.

More info: 

3D Models of Guns and Weapons

RodyPolis 3D Weapons Pack contains 14 high poly 3D models of grenades, bullets, knives, rockets, and more! The models are fully textured and ready to be used in your action scenes. The weapons come in both FBX and OBJ formats, which are compatible with most 3D Applications.

RodyPolis 9mm Hollow Point

9mm Hollow Point from RodyPolis 3D Weapons Pack

Video Copilot 3D Model Pack - Projectile Weapons

A collection of 3D Models that are ready to use inside your favorite 3D program including the powerful Plug-in Element 3D! Click "Highlights" for more information and samples.

Sound Effects

Sound is very important to the realism and impact of your action scene, and I've often heard it said that you can get away with poor visuals, as long as the sound is good quality.

Video Copilot MotionPulse Audio SFX - BlackBox Bundle

Video Copilot MotionPulse Audio SFX - BlackBox Bundle which features 2,000 multi-layered soundfx, all 5 sound design packs, over 25 categories sound mixing tutorials, fully mastered. SoundFX Pack - 24-bit, 96Khz, WAV and MP3 formats. The Full Audio Sound FX bundle includes:

It's compatible with Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Audition, Sony Vegas, Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and most Audio/Video Apps.

RodyPolis Shootout Audio Pack

RodyPolis Shootout Audio Pack comes with 140 Sound FX, including 27 Gunshots of pistols, shotguns, and Assault Rifles. There are gun reload sounds, explosions, blood splatter and more. The files are in WAV 24Bit 96kHz.

Download Free Sound Effects

There are loads of places online to download free sound effects but the quality varies a lot. Here are a couple of places with quality offerings.

Sound Effects Tutorials

Make Your Own Gun Sounds Effects! - Film Riot


Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho. — Die Hard

There is no shortage of muzzle flash tutorials out there. I've dug through them and I'm giving you a few of the best that I've found.

Movie Guns

Tom Antos, who incidentally is one of my Facebook friends, has the most impressive tutorial on muzzle flash that I've ever seen! He starts in Canada by shooting a gun and then analyzing the footage. He talking about the elements of a gun that dictate the look of the flare, and the camera set up and shutter speed. He then walks you through some tips on building muzzle flash in Premiere Pro and After Effects, using Video Copilot's Action Essentials.

Check out Tom's website and more tutorials.

After Effects Tutorials

Realistic Muzzle Flash Compositing

VinhSon Nguyen of CreativeDojo.net always has great tutorials. Here's his take on muzzle flash compositing.

AE: Realistic Muzzle Flash Compositing from VinhSon Nguyen on Vimeo.

VFX Bro always had some great tutorials and he has one for a Gunshot Shockwave in After Effects.

Here's a great After Effects tutorial series you may not have seen, from Independent VFX. It is complete with building the shell, using only built in effects in AE.


Muzzle Flash, Part 1: Flash and Smoke created using the Fractal Noise effect.

Muzzle Flash, Part 2: Bolt Action and Shells

Create a stream of ejecting bullet shells in Adobe After Effects

Create A Muzzle Flash In 3ds Max

See also: Rich Young's massive Muzzle Flash Roundup for After Effects at Pro Video Coalition from 2012. Most, if not all, of the information is still pretty pertinent.

Disclaimer: Toolfarm does not condone gun violence in any way.

Posted by Michele Yamazaki