How did the original lightsaber prop work?

How did the original lightsaber prop work? - Through glass view of colorful elegant old style feminine costume on mannequin on exhibition

The original (non-animated) lightsaber was apparently a wooden slat that could rotate covered with a reflective tape:

original lightsaber still

What kind of reflective tape are we talking about here? The light is so intense and pure, it seems too bright for any reflective tape I have seen. If the illuminator was mounted on the camera shining at the saber so that it would reflect light back towards the camera why do we not see a spotlight effect on the actors?

Also, one of the animation techniques used for the sabers was rotoscoping. How did this work?

Best Answer

As stated in the answer to this question on the Sc-Fi and Fantasy SE:

In the video below, Mark Hamill and George Lucas briefly discuss the methods used to create the lightsaber effects in the Original Trilogy films.

The effect was largely achieved by coating a thin wooden tube with reflective material (made out of movie screen) and shining bright spotlights onto it in order to make it appear fluorescent. They then used film filters in post-production to make that effect seem substantially more pronounced and to add colouring.

Later films also used a technique called rotoscoping to add the light flares and colouration.

There is also this explanation, which appears to use similar terms as Hamill and Lucas in the video:

One of the special effects in Star Wars movies is the lightsaber. The lightsaber was made by covering a rotating pole with movie screen material all around it so it would reflect its light source back. If the lightsaber moved out of a certain area it went from being a glowing light to just a rotating pole. The special effects team was originally going to use reflective tape, but as soon as the actors hit each other the sabers would break, so they used the rotating pole instead.

As the Star Wars saga went on, ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) got more efficient and used just a pole, and later did effects and screen shots to make the lightsabers glow. The lightsaber had a lot to do with advances in special effects technology more than anything else in the Star Wars movies. The sound was created by the humming noise in a projector, because that’s what Ben Burtt thought a lightsaber might sound like.

This blog compiles a lot of the knowledge about lightsabers.

Pictures about "How did the original lightsaber prop work?"

How did the original lightsaber prop work? - Showcase with collection of aged style costumes
How did the original lightsaber prop work? - Elegant vintage dress decorated with precious stones
How did the original lightsaber prop work? - Exhibition of assorted historical costumes in showcase

How do prop lightsabers work?

On the set, the actors use props composed of handles that have aluminum rods attached to them, and these rods are the length of the lightsaber "blade." The handles are plastic models and the aluminum rods are painted red or green or blue. The actors use these props as though they were lightsabers.

How was the original lightsaber prop made?

For the original Star Wars film, the film prop hilts were constructed by John Stears from old Graflex press camera flash battery packs and other pieces of hardware. The full-sized sword props were designed to appear ignited onscreen, by later creating an "in-camera" glowing effect in post-production.

What happened to the original lightsaber prop?

The auction house specializes in Hollywood memorabilia and acquired the prop from the collection of Gary Kurtz, a producer on "Star Wars: A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." It's the first time the prop has been put on public display.

The original lightsaber from Star Wars comes to our studio

Sources: Stack Exchange - This article follows the attribution requirements of Stack Exchange and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Images: Shuxuan Cao, Shuxuan Cao, Shuxuan Cao, Shuxuan Cao