Simulating Gun Muzzle Flashes on a Budget

Hi everyone,

I have a script coming up that requires me to simulate muzzle flash 
lighting from guns.  For example, some of the shots are night 
exteriors of building windows where the gun is going off inside and 
the flashes light up the window. Other shots may light up the face of 
the wielder of the gun.  Not sure about our gun wrangler yet, so I 
don't know if the gun will produce muzzle flashes or if they'll be 
added in post.

I know the old effect was done with a paddle full of single use flash 
bulbs with a striker connected to a battery.  Do they still make these 
flash bulbs and can you rent the strikers\sockets?  I can't really 
afford Lightning Strikes, so I'm looking for a simpler and less 
expensive solution.  Also, I'm not shooting in Los Angeles, so using 
more commonly available materials would be ideal.

I'm shooting on RED, so I'm moderately concerned about rolling shutter 
artifacts with flashes, but I know they've decreased their read-reset 
time, so I'm hoping this won't be so bad.

I plan to shoot a few tests, so I'm looking for suggestions.  One 
thought I have is getting AC-powered\charged Photo Strobes and 
striking those.  The problem I foresee is the short duration of the 
strobe, where I might want a slightly longer flash.  I could 
potentially employ two of them alternating to compensate for their 
reset time.

Another effect I've done for lightning simulation has been shutters on 
a light, and having an electrician flick them on and off.  This is 
passable, but usually not perfectly realistic.

I suppose I could look into Automated concert lighting instruments, 
but am concerned about how complicated and expensive they can be.  If 
anyone has tried this effect with these instruments, I'd appreciate 
specific advice.

Thanks for any suggestions and sharing your experiences!

Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA


I've shot live theatre archival videos with miniDV gear shooting intelligent lighting producing an on-stage strobe effect that looked quite good. The advantage of intelligent lighting is the amount of shutter open time can be pre-programmed to get the best "look". My personal experience is with High End Cyberlights and Studio Spots, both of which have easily programmed shutter modes.


Hal Smith

Engineer and Somewhat DP (and the occasional live stage LD).

Edmond, OK



I think electronic strobes will be too fast and shutters too slow....

though shutters might work - not for machine guns but maybe for single 



flash cubes, magic cubes, flip flash... all these AG1-B devices are 

cheap and easy...


look at websites like this one:


magic cubes were the non-electrical ones... mechanically actuated.


Note that ag1B are blue-coated so they are daylight balanced....

so either remove the coating (and substitute a clear piece of plexi 

because the bulbs DO explode if not coated, throwing hot glass 

everywhere)or take the exposure hit and add gel.


If it were my movie, as we used to say in NY, I would probably rig a 

bunch of coating-stripped ag1-b bulbs in the bottom of a loaf baking pan

and put a piece of plexi in front of it  and run wires to a nail-board 

hooked to a battery.

two hours to build and gone in sixty seconds:-)


Mark H. Weingartner

LA-based VFX DP/Supervisor



I would recommend Sawdust rounds for this, after extensive searching and back and forth on a project I am shooting this is what we did. The muzzle flash is really great and they are very safe. Basically the primer ignites a small amount of powder mixed with sawdust and the sawdust produces a large flash but no projectile. We tested these at close range on a dummy first without problems.


The flash looks allot better than any wonk post added flash and it's low cost.


I have to talk to the purchasing guy on this project but I will get you the name of the manufacturer I think he is in LA


Robert Houllahan

Film Maker



Don't allow those close-range tests to make you complacent or careless.


Firearms: props, shooting blanks or otherwise should be treated as

dangerous at all times.


Chris Mills


Lizard Lounge Graphics, LTD.

Wellington, NZ

Int'l:  +644-977-5400 / +642-174-8770

NZ local: 04-977-5400 /   021-748-770




Very true if you put the barrel of the firearm loaded with these sawdust loads to your head or chest directly it would still kill or maim you. These loads are relatively safe when handled in a sane and competent way.


Robert Houllahan

Film Maker




For the windows, I'd try flashbulbs, as has been suggested.


Way back in my wild college days, for a short, I built a rifle using a

piece of pipe,   some D-cells (If I recall), a light switch as a

trigger, some wire, flash paper, and a model rocket igniter.


Worked really well.


Caveat, don't stand in front of the muzzle. The flame had a nice reach.



Steven Gladstone

New York Based Cinematographer

Gladstone films





Thanks Rob, I'd appreciate more information.  I'm familiar with Zircs 

and paintballs filled with dust, but my experience with blanks is more 

limited.  I've worked with non-guns in the past, and it was horrible.


Before this turns into a whole lecture on set safety, please note that 

I can do these shots without seeing the gun go off, so I just need a 

light gag.  My brilliant gaffer suggested taking a beadboard with 

Rosco-flex on it and winging it in front of a light really fast, so 

I'll test that too.




Graham Futerfas

Director of Photography

Los Angeles, CA




Hi Graham,


As a manufacturer of lighting effect equipment please feel to trying this:


You might use one ( or as many as you want) karesslite LED panel ( controlled by the multi-purpose effect generator LFXHub + DMX module + LightningFX upgrade.


Advantage with this app: safe, can control many type of lamps, easy set-up, environmental friendly (no waste). fully dimmable without change of colour temperature.


Within the "LightningFX upgrade" of the LFXHub there are three presets available, one of them called "single-flash". Simply hook up the DMX device at the LFXHub´s DMX module and push the trigger button. It will expose three frames ( @ 24 fps) with every push on the button. This app is made for the simulation of muzzle flash or photo flash effects.


Alternatively to the LED lamp you could also try dimmer shutters. The problem with most dimmer shutters is the response time, as posted on CML.

I have tried many dimmer-shutters in the US, all of them are too slow for this app.

Best response time ( down to 3 frames) can be done with "Dark Vader"  Shutters (

Even "lightning" combined with the LFXHub looks really great).

I know "MACCAM" ( has a Dark Vader shutter and a complete kit of our LFX Tools based in LA.

You could also try


Next option ( I know strobes might be a problem, but may be give it a try), we have tested the LFXHub with lighting with an Atomic 3000 strobe controlled by DMX in a single channel mode. Even an analog strobe could be controlled, the LFXHub has 0-10 DC outputs as well.


Synchronization with a muzzle flash

We have never tried it but it´s worth to test it ( I have problems to get a gun in Germany).

The lighting sensor can trigger a flash hooked up e.g. with a karesslite.

We have tested to synchronize a strobe with some other strobes using the lightingsensor combined with the LFXHub. Works great, but we have no experience with gun fire, may be the duration of the real flash is too short for a synchronization, normally this is a problem of the response time of the controlled device. But this is just an idea.



LightingFX option:


Hope it helps.

If you need support please contact me.


With flickering regards

wishing you many excellent movies


Olaf Michalke

General Manager

m o v i e - i n t e r c o m

L i g h t i n g FX T o o l s

Tel.:  +49 (0)30 - 22 32 05 75

Fax.: +49 (0)30 - 22 32 05 71

Wegenerstr. 4

10713 Berlin, Germany



hee Hee... my kind of fun:


When I was still working in theatre, I worked on a show that had 

flashpots in it...we used the screw-in fuses with the mica windows, popped the window,  and filled the fuses with flash powder.


that way we had relatively uniform pre-loads and they did not require 

measuring and handling when re-loading the pots from show to show.


Flash powder is great for this sort of thing - even slower than  flashbulbs.... but flashbulbs will be more uniform and faster to re-load shot-to shot.


I have my old car kit (in a Waaaaay pre-kino-flo world)  that 

consisted of  100ft 16mm film cans with wedge sockets attached to the

inside - you put a peanut bulb in them and plugged into the cig lighter.


Well, guess what - those wedge sockets are exactly the same for peanut 

bulbs and ag1 or ag1b flashbulbs....

avail at Barbizon, for instance.


Thus the pre-rig for a multi-shot flash-loaf-pan or similar  (you 

could also use a baking sheet.... how about a muffin or cupcake 



would be really fast...


Mark H. Weingartner

LA-based VFX DP/Supervisor





I've had to do this twice on location now, without any warning, grabbed my

stills camera, bit of black wrap around the flash to make it into a slot,

banged away fine, with a good SFX it worked.


The other time I had to do it, and didn't have my camera, I flashed a frame

in post during the edit.


John Rossetti – London




I've done a lot of faked, limited area lightning effects and this 

isn't too far off.  The affordable options I've used:  MAC 250 (or a 

MAC 2K for more punch) and HMI's with shutters.  I agree with 

previous posters that duration will be a problem with shutters.  The 

MAC 250 can most likely do what you want plus you can control 

duration, intensity and colour.  I've never used it to create a gun 

muzzle flash but it seems like the controls are there.  You'll need 

someone who can program it.


Here are two ideas that I never tried but if you're testing you might 

consider them:  1.  Use a film projector loaded with almost entirely 

black film with a few white frames mixed in.  You could absolutely 

control the number of frames that way;  2.  A suggestion from someone 

on this list which is kind of a homemade solution is to create two 

large spinning discs with cut out slits in front of a (boxed in) 

bright source.  I always thought that this was a good idea but I 

never tried it.


Superlow budget:  I've used a grip twitching a flag in front of an 

HMI to simulate lightning.  It kind of worked for that but again 

duration will be a problem for you.  Most of the real gun muzzle 

flashes that I've shot - and my experience is not extensive - are one 

to two frames at 24fps.  It's hard to move a flag that fast.   

Lightning flashes that are slightly longer are still believable.


Let us know what works best.





Director of Photography

San Francisco Bay Area




Hi everyone,


Thought I'd follow up on the progress for this shot.  So I shot a test 

today, and found a simple way to do these muzzle flashes.  My gaffer 

had recommend I try this, and it seems to have worked.


I lit a diffusion-covered window from behind with a 300 watt fresnel 

(all scrims in it so it was dim and looked like a moody lamp on 

inside), and took a 2x4 bounce board with Rosco-flex silver on it with 

a 650 watt bounced into it so it lit the window brightly.  Then we 

panned the 650 on and off the silver board in various quick gunfire 

rhythms.  I put black foamcore for the 650 to bounce into when it was 

panned off the silvered bounce board.  Took the footage in post, added 

gun fire sound FX, and it worked perfectly.


When I actually shoot the real shot, I'll want to be careful about 

going too bright with the flash, so it doesn't create problems in 

post.  I also didn't light the outside (camera side) of the window for 

my quick test, but will do that for the real shot.


Good news is I don't need special equipment or anything for this, and 

the test only took 10 minutes to set up.




Graham Futerfas

Director of Photography

Los Angeles, CA -- Currently prepping in Dallas, TX




If the shot is a lockoff, you could also shoot ten seconds of "light 

off" and a few seconds of "light on" and edit your flashes entirely 

in post. Might give you more realistically sharp flashes than panning 

the light can achieve on its own.


Dan Drasin


Marin County, CA




I also recommend trying the Atomic 3000 strobe, you don’t need a desk, just use the test function on the head and you can adjust the flash duration as well. Simple and cheap.


If you need more sophistication, this could be fired off a desk with a sonic switch, for when the gun is in shot.




Mat Buchan


Whistler BC





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