We’ve all wondered what it would be like to travel the galaxy through hyperspace in the Millennium Falcon. Han and Chewie didn’t seem phased by the sight of stars and planets zooming by, but for an audience it was incredible. George Lucas and his special effects team, Industrial Light and Magic, were pioneers in groundbreaking visual effects. For years, they led the film industry in computer-generated imagery. While faster-than-light travel and multi-million-dollar budgets may be out of reach, it’s easier now than ever to create your own stunning lightspeed traveling visual effects.


Hyperspace 101: Getting Started

In this effects tutorial you will need a computer with video editing software, an image of a starry night sky, and StarStaX, a free program designed for astrophotography. For my image, I used a still frame from this HD time-lapse video of stars in the VideoBlocks library. There are many ways to get still frames from video, such as taking a screen grab (or print screen for you Windows users) or exporting from Photoshop or iMovie, but I used Adobe Premiere Pro. You’ll want to choose your frame carefully, as it’s important to have clear, bright stars and minimal noise artifacts.

How to Create a Lightspeed Travel Effect

Star Trails and Space Travel

Once you have your image, import it into a non-linear video editing program (I used Adobe Premiere Pro). Key frames play a very important part in any visual effects undertaking—as they can be used to set exact frames to start and end your transitions. In the case of creating hyperspace effects, you can use them to add a gradual zoom to your image by scaling it from 100% at the beginning of the sequence to 200% at the end.

Next, export the video as a JPEG image sequence and import the images into StarStaX. This software is primarily used by astrophotographers to composite time-lapse footage to show star trails, but by adding a zoom effect in post, you can create some amazing sci-fi effects. Once your images are imported, you will need to adjust the blending settings in StarStaX to create a comet-tailed, gap-filling composite photo. This will ensure that the program cleanly traces your moving stars like they are streaking comets. Make sure “save after each step” is selected in your blending settings to create a new JPEG image sequence once the program starts processing.

Here are the complete settings I used in StarStaX:

How to Create a Lightspeed Travel Effect

When the program is finished processing the images, import your new JPEG image sequence into Adobe Premiere or your video editing program of choice. From here you can adjust the contrast if you want to clean up the image and remove any excess noise. Render your video, and you can check out your awesome lightspeed warp effect!

How to Create a Lightspeed Travel Effect

Awesome, right? Now you can finally put the finishing touches on your science fiction opus with an original hyperspace sequence. You can also try playing around with different adjustments to the image to see what effect they have on your star trails. By using a video time-lapse of stars circling in the night sky or adding a slow rotation to your still frame, for example, you can use the same technique to create vortex star trails:

[Original footage courtesy of psoup487]


Adam Gillikin writes about video editing, sci-fi effects, and stock footage for VideoBlocks.