Three Worlds, One Image: Vader Cinemagraph

Making Of / 14 July 2022

I decided to start off adding some After Effects animation to the Star Wars characters with Vader, though it didn’t really have much to do with him. One of the things I still hadn’t grappled with in the original still image was the “laser light over smoke” effect that was used in the egg chamber in Alien. I was hoping I would be able to figure out a way to reproduce that effect (or at leas get close to it) in After Effects and then take that solution back into Illustrator to create a stylized, vector version of it.

Since Vader was essentially being backdropped by a scene from another movie, it would give me two chances to come up with a solution to the same area of the image. Vader was a good place to start: even if what I came up with crashed and burned, it could still serve as a workable background since he wasn’t interacting with what was behind him in any way.

I ended up being really happy with what I came up with—the effect seemed to integrate well with the Illustrator art.

As far as adding animation to Vader himself was concerned, I didn’t want to get too elaborate—the moment in the film I wanted to capture was right before his big showdown with Luke, where he is very still and passive, wanting to draw Luke into a trap. Just a flick of his wrist to activate his lightsaber and a slight movement in his cape was all it felt like it needed.

I had added some smoke near Vader’s feet in the original image but had wanted to keep it relatively subdued—too much interaction between the smoke and the Alien background was going to obscure what was going on “on another axis” and potentially muddy up the colors for both areas. Being able to get the smoke to move freed me from that concern.

I found a great video clip of smoke on and posterized it a bit to get it to blend well with the rest of the image. It only took a little masking and color correction to get it to look like it belonged with everything else. 

The combination of Vader with the Alien background ended up being a pleasant surprise for me. I would never have thought of combining them if I hadn’t been working on this project but I loved the result.

Now it was time to get started on the other guy in the showdown.