Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Martial Art Film Effects

Dear CML'ers

I keep wondering what is called and how is it achieved, that funky and cool effect you can see on most of the art martial films from the 70's when the Bruce Lee's, Jackie Chan's, etc... move their arms before attack and you can see how this movement creates a trail of itself. it was very popular during that time and recently Jim Jarmush used on "Ghost Dog" where Forrest Whitaker plays a kind of suburban and modern samurai.

So, what I need to know is :

- The name of this effect (if it has a name since no one around me have a clue and we refer to it as "the Bruce Lee arms effect", and second and more important

- How this effect is achieved on film and video both. I figured that on film must be a Lab process consist on several dissolves or fade-in in order to get the repetition of the same movement on different times. So if this is more or less correct, I assume that the camera must be still are on tripod (but never on movement).

I have to shoot it on video and I'm getting as much info as I can. I guess in my case, I will get this effect done on Post with the Avid or something...

Thank you so much in advanced! and regards from Barcelona.

Santi Trullenque

Richard Lester did something like that for the title sequence of "The Three Musketeers" and for a scene in "Superman 2". It involves optical printing and creating a dupe negative with the effect added. Probably would be easier to accomplish digitally these days.

David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.

On video : Adobe After Effects can mimic this effect, they call it "Time Echo".

You can set the number of echoes, the delay, starting intensity, decay, and a decay operator. I know that Final Cut Pro has the same effect, but I'm not in front of that workstation right now, and can't recall what they named it.

Steve Milligan
Animator/Operator/North Carolina

Norman McLaren of the National Film Board of Canada achieved it with stroboscopic light and also removing(?!) the shutter.

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland

>Norman McLaren of the National Film Board of Canada achieved it with >stroboscopic light and also removing(?!) the shutter.


I think the film you're thinking of is 'Pas de Deux'. More 'ballet fu' than 'kung fu' but beautiful non the less.

I was always led to believe that the footage was shot 'normally' (though possibly overcranked anyway - it's a while since I last saw it) then the multiple exposures where created in the optical printer.

Here :

They claim up to ten multiple exposures of consecutive frames re-exposed onto one individual frame. This method would give have given the option of feathering off the exposure of adjacent negative frames as they are stacked up onto the one print frame so that the 'trails' die away rather than follow limbs around like a Hindu Gods arms.

Anyway - whatever method Norman McLaren did use is certainly the same method employed in 70s Hong Kong.

Tom Townend,

On the amateur/semi-pro video side, this effect can be done most painlessly by using Adobe Premiere's GHOSTING filter on your video. It's under the BLUR sub-folder on the Video Filters palette.

Paolo A. Dy
Director / Cinematographer
Manila, Philippines
View my work portfolio -

On film, it's done in the optical printer. An IP is made and put in the projector gate of the printer, then there are several passes exposing the DN stock in the camera gate. Each pass has the stock synced up one frame more retarded than the previous one, and the exposures are reduced each time, allowing for the gentle fade away. The total exposure must remain at 100% (so the non-moving parts are correctly exposed).

The trick is to get the end of the effect correct, so that the "fan" of waving arms closes up or folds away in an orderly manner, rather than just disappearing.

I guess the principle is exactly the same if done as a digital or video effect. Some packages have the tool already there on the menu.

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia


I did this effect a while ago, just casually on some stuff I'd shot of a juggler using illuminated batons. This was done in After Effects and included refinements such as progressively decaying trails (you have to look closely).

There was a nicer version with trails which faded away. The alternating flashing colours of the batons created an interesting effect although the ugly "exit" sign in the background corrupts it.. 644Kb MPEG-1 video, five seconds :

Really this is a ten-second throw away effect which anyone should be able to do very quickly and cheaply, including at film res.

Phil Rhodes
Video camera/edit

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