In Depth: Gunfire and Muzzle Flash (Updated 18 January 2019)
Table of contents
Introduction: A Brief Overview of Gunfire and Muzzle Flash
- Muzzle flash
- Silencers and muzzle flash suppression
- Ejecting Shell Casings
- Gun recoil or kickback
- Bullet Hits
- Bang for After Effects
- FXHOME HitFilm Gunfire
- Boris Sapphire Muzzle Flash
- Digieffects Phenomena Muzzle Flash
- Trapcode Particular
- Video Copilot Action Essentials
- Video Copilot Shockwave
- RodyPolis Shootout Bundle, Including Freebies!
- BOOM Library SFX Guns
- Video Copilot MotionPulse
- RodyPolis Shootout Audio Pack
- Krotos Audio Weaponiser Fully Loaded
- Free Sound Effects
- Sound Effects Tutorials
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. But, I’ve seen a lot of action films and sci-fi films. This article focuses on movie making and learning about real weapons so that the visual effects are acceptable to an audience. Please do not be a troll if I have some detail about a weapon wrong. I’m here to tell you about resources for making YOUR Gunfire and Muzzle Flash believable.
Making a believable composite is the most important part of convincing your audience that your gunfire is real. 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!
Here are some links from Wikipedia which may be useful.
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.
A muzzle flash is the visible light of a gunshot blast when hot air and gas erupt from the muzzle of a gun. Wikipedia has a nice breakdown of the characteristics of a muzzle flash. 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.
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.
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 the 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 gunshot scene.
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
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.
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, and 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. Remember, 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 Gunfire and Muzzle Flash 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 gunshot injuries.
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 its own so many plug-in bundles include a muzzle flash effect. Here are a few that you may already own.
Bang is a modular, fully procedural 3D muzzle flash plugin for After Effects that lets you easily add realistic and stylised muzzle flashes directly to your footage. Its 3D particle system renders unique flashes viewable from any angle, taking into account After Effects’ comp cameras.
How to make Gunfire | Hitfilm Academy
Max explains how to make Gunfire VFX in Hitfilm Express/Pro 2017.
Tutorial for HitFilm GunFire
In the video below, Josh Davies from FXHOME gives a muzzle flash tutorial. This uses the standalone, HitFilm Ultimate, but the plug-ins are very similar. You can download the media for this tutorial here.
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Sapphire’s S_MuzzleFlash plug-in is a full-featured plug-in that has options of choosing the type of gun, the angle, adjusting the flash, timing and glow. It’s very easy to use and incorporates Mocha for easily tracking the muzzle flash and smoke to the tip of the gun. Choose from an M16 assault rifle, AK47 assault rifle, Beretta pistol, Colt45 revolver, and a 12Gauge shotgun, all of which have several parameters that can be modified.
Here are the Effect Controls for S_MuzzleFlash.
What’s really cool is the Preset Browser in Sapphire that has fun and useful presets, such as Atlantis Death Ray, Alien Sniper, and Future Shock, for your sci-fi needs.
Sapphire is the most in demand, unequaled work-horse plug-in suite for visual effects.
Sapphire 2019 is the latest major upgrade for the legendary suite of VFX plug-ins. Key features include a totally revamped and enhanced LensFlare and Flare Designer, new PixelSort digital glitch art effect, new WhipLash transition, new animating shape tool for Effect and Transition Builder, new Mocha Essentials workspace with new spline tools like magnetic edge snapping, and is optimized for maximum CPU and GPU performance.
Digieffects MuzzleFlash has several nice features for adding muzzle flash to your shots. The Muzzle Type shown in the image above is “At Camera”.
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 Tunnicliffe.
<h3><a href="https://www.toolfarm.com/buy/digieffects_phenomena_nature_effects"><img style="float: left; height: 250px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; width: 250px;" src="https://www.toolfarm.com/images/uploads/product_descr/Digieffects_phenomena_box.jpg" alt="Digieffects Phenomena" /></a>Digieffects Phenomena</h3>
<strong>Forces of nature at your command.</strong>
Forces of nature at your command including Fire, Smoke, Rainfall, Snowstorm, Fog Factory, Electrical Arcs, Fairy Dust, Bubbles, Fireworks, Muzzle Flash and Sparks.
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<h3><a name="particular"></a>Trapcode Particular</h3>
Trapcode Particular is meant for many things, not merely muzzle flashes, but Red Giant has some great free presets for Particular for Muzzle Flash, laser guns, and more.
<h4>Tracer fire with Red Giant Trapcode Particular</h4>
Create Laser Gun Effects in After Effects with Free Laser Gun Rig
Aharon Rabinowitz shows you how to use his free Trapcode Particular laser gun rig to set up laser gun effects for your 3D renders and live action VFX shots. Pew! Pew!
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. Unfortunately, the preset was on Red Giant People, which no longer exists, so the free preset is MIA.
Create organic 3D particle effects, complex motion graphics elements and more.
Trapcode Particular is the definitive plug-in for creating organic particle effects in Adobe After Effects, complete with depth and realistic shading, and full 3D rotation. Whether you are creating motion graphics, or realistic visual effects like fire and smoke, Particular’s complex physics engine allows users to custom define air resistance, bounce, and turbulence to customize each particle. With GPU-acceleration and the 300+ presets, Trapcode Particular will have you turning out stunning, dynamic particle effects in minutes.
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 gunfire 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 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.
Here’s an example of Sam from Video Copilot in a war scene, with VFX containing muzzle flash and more from Action Essentials II.
Action Essentials 2 is a collection of stock footage elements for compositing. Ideal for visual effects & motion graphics.
- 20 Categories of FX
- 500 Pre-Keyed High Definition Elements
- Available in 2 Versions: 2K and 720p
- 60 Minutes of After Effects Training
- 20 Bonus Action Sound FX
- Detailed Video Thumbnails
- Over 90% Live Action Footage
Video Copilot Shockwave brings bigger effects for sci-fi weapons. It is 50 particle elements as HD stock footage.
Here’s the Sci-Fi Weapon FX Tutorial that uses Shockwave.
Advanced Particle Animations
HD particle stock footage – 50 particle elements! Shockwave is a digital stock footage collection of advanced particle animations. Each Element was simulated with real-world physics!
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.
RodyPolis Shootout Stock Pack
What is Included:
- 25 Blood Elements such as blood bursts and splatters.
- 33 Bullet Hits such as wall hits, dirt hits, and sparks.
- 32 Muzzle Flashes of handguns and machine guns.
- 16 Shell Casings from various weapons.
- 15 Smoke Puffs for gun smoke.
- 32 Images such as bullet holes, blood hits, and sniper scopes.
- 3 Product Tutorials using Hitfilm and After Effects.
FREE Free Bullet Shells from RodyPolis
This Collection features different variations of spinning bullet shell casings from 9mm, .40, and .308 ammunition. Unlike other packs, these are real shells that were shot, so the results you get from these are much more realistic. These are seamlessly loopable, so you could keep them spinning forever if you wanted to.
- 9 real spinning bullet shell casings. Fully loopable.
- Includes 4 types of shells for Pistols and Assault Rifles.
- Delivered in HD resolution. 10-bit Prores 4444 (pre-keyed).
- Completely free!
FREE Free Bullet Hole Textures
- 137 high-quality bullet hole textures.
- 6 different surfaces, including Asphalt, Concrete, Drywall, Glass, Metal, and Wood.
- Created using real guns and real surfaces.
- Delivered in PNG for a small payment of… no, it’s free!
The 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. Available for Instant Download!
3D Model Pack for Element 3D and Other 3D Apps
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.
The 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.
First a couple of examples of what the bundle sounds like.
This is the final answer to your needs for modern firearms. Use our “Guns – Construction Kit” (11 GB, 12 mic recording, 17 guns) to create your own weapon sound style. Or use the 350+ “ready to use” fire-shots & handling sounds in the “Guns – Designed”. This bundle has it all! The bundle contains both, the CONSTRUCTION KIT and the DESIGNED edition, each of which can be purchased separately.
Video Copilot MotionPulse Audio SFX – BlackBox Bundle which features 2,000 multi-layered sound effects, 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, Magix Vegas, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Pro Tools, Apple Logic Pro, and most audio/video apps.
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.
Shootout Audio Pack is a high-quality action movie Sound Effects library consisting of Gun Shots, Bullet Hits, Explosions, and more. Great sound is as important as great visual effects, so we created this package as a professional, yet affordable, option for filmmakers and sound designers. This product is fully royalty-free and is available for Instant Download.
This is a standalone software for creating your own weapon sounds.
The Ultimate Weapon Sound Design Solution
Weaponiser is the only all-in-one solution for weapon sound design; providing a powerful and efficient workflow, a comprehensive library of professionally recorded weapons, carefully designed presets with high-end, real-time synthesis and unparalleled sound quality – making it the ultimate ‘go to’ tool-kit for creating dynamic assets.
There are loads of places online to download free sound effects but the quality varies a lot, and here are a couple of places with quality offerings.
- Free Gun SFX from Film Riot – Really nice stuff.
- Gun Sounds at SoundBible.com. Note the different Creative Commons licenses.
- Free Guns and Weapon Sound Effects from AudioMicro.com
- Gun Related Sounds at SoundCrate.com. Lots of options.
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 gun and muzzle flash tutorials out there, and I’ve dug through them and I’m giving you a few of the best that I’ve found.
10 Tips for Better Gun Effects from Film Riot
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.
Animated Muzzle Flash Effect: BCC & Adobe After Effects
Paul Ezzy shows Continuum Complete users how to create a realistic muzzle flash effect with smoke inside After Effects. Filters used: Organic Strands, Particle Emitter, Brightness & Contrast, and Vector Blur.
Muzzle Flash Tutorials from Independent VFX
Realistic Guns for Cheap
Cinema 4D Tutorial – Realistic Gun Simulation (PART 1)
Cinema 4D Tutorial – Realistic Gun Simulation (Octane Render) (PART 2)
How to create an impactful shotgun blast effect | HitFilm Express
FXHOME shows you how to make this effect with HitFilm Express, but these tips are useful for any editing software.
After Effects Tutorials
Realistic Muzzle Flash Compositing
VinhSon Nguyen of CreativeDojo.net always has great tutorials. Here’s his take on muzzle flash compositing.
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
Posted by Michele Yamazaki