Distorted Glow Tutorial

This is one of those effects you won’t be using very often (if ever), but it’s use­ful to learn more about the com­pos­i­tor and open to new ideas. This tuto­r­i­al is based on 2.68 and uses Cycles (but can also work with BI).

The Setup

Delete that wimpy default cube and add a Monkey to the scene. Rotate it so it’s fac­ing the cam­era, then rotate on the X axis so it’s look­ing slight­ly down­wards. The lat­ter is a mat­ter of style, you can do what­ev­er you want. Now, we need dark­ness to appre­ci­ate light so go to the prop­er­ties pan­el and set the world back­ground col­or to pure black.

Select Suzanne and give her a default dif­fuse mate­r­i­al. Now go into edit mode, select the faces that make her pupils, add a new emis­sion mate­r­i­al and click the assign but­ton. Set the emis­sion mate­r­i­al to a large strength (I used 200) and an orange-ish col­or (#E74800). Don’t for­get to check the Render Layers pan­el and enable the Emission pass.

We’ll add a sim­ple light set­up to make more of our mon­key vis­i­ble, this is also a style choice and you can skip this if you want. Grab the default lamp and light Suzanne’s face from below. We want a very dif­fuse and sub­tle light to fill in the shad­ows, so let’s set the size to some­thing big like 8.0. Play with the strength of the emis­sion node, I left mine at 50.0.

Add a new light and put it behind Suzie. This will be our rim light and will help our char­ac­ter pop from the back­ground. Set the size to 2.0 (still sub­tle), and a strength of 150. To add some vari­ety we’ll change the light col­or to the com­pli­men­ta­ry of our  glow’s col­or. And since our glow will be orange-yel­low, our rim light will be a sub­tle green-cyan (#E7FFF1).

Here’s our ren­der before compositing

Base Glow

The com­pos­i­tor is where all the mag­ic hap­pens, so make space for a nodes edi­tor and acti­vate the “Use nodes” option. Add a Glare node, set the type to Fog Glow and the qual­i­ty to High. Increase the size to 9 and set a low thresh­old (I used 0.0). Add a Viewer Node, and plug both the Viewer and Composite nodes into a Reroute Node (This is in Add > Layout > Reroute). Plug the out­put of the Glare node into the Reroute.

Distorted Glow

Add anoth­er Glare node, but this time plug the emit pass into it. Set the type to Streaks and the qual­i­ty to high. Increase iter­a­tions to 5, low­er thresh­old to 0.0 and set the streaks to 2 so the glow goes side­ways. The Fade slid­er will con­trol how long the streaks are, I used 0.98.

We don’t want the pupils along with our glow, because we would be dis­tort­ing them too. Add a Mix node, set the mode to Subtract and plug the emit pass and the out­put of the glare node into it. Make sure the Factor is set to 1.0.

Plug the out­put of the mix node into a Displace node (Add > Distort > Displace). The dis­place node can use an image or tex­ture to dis­place an image, so we’ll add a Texture node (Input > Texture). Click on the tex­ture but­ton in the nodes pan­el and add a new tex­ture. Plug a clouds node into the out­put. Set it to Improved Perlin and Hard, then set the size to 0.5 and Depth to 24. Now give it a name and hop back to the com­pos­i­tor. Plug the out­put of the tex­ture node into the dis­place node Vector input and increase the scales to 150.0 (or some­thing big like that). You might want to add anoth­er Viewer node to check the result of our set­up as we go along.

Let’s make our glow curve (since we are look­ing down). Add two more Displace and Texture nodes. Create a new tex­ture and use a Blend node, set it to Spherical and leave every­thing as it is. The cir­cu­lar tex­ture will make the glow buldge up, since we want it to go down we’ll use neg­a­tive scales in the Displace node. I used ‑100 and ‑250.

Now, we got the glow going but chances are the dis­place nodes also moved it from where it was. Let’s add a Translate node ( Distort > Translate ) to move our effect. Just play with the slid­ers until it’s cen­tered on Suzanne’s eyes, and a bit down (remem­ber she’s look­ing down). In my case I had to use 25 on the X axis and 140 in the Y axis. Up Next: more glowy-ness. Add a Blur node, set it to Fast Gaussian (because wait­ing sucks) and set the scale to 50 on both slid­ers. Add a new Mix node, plug the out­put of both the Blur node and Translate. You can use the Factor to con­trol the strength of the blur (I used 0.6).

We can final­ly mix our effect with the rest of the image. Add one more Mix node, set it to Add and plug the out­put from our first Glare node and our the out­put of the pre­vi­ous Mix node.

Return of the pupils

We’ll add our pupils back. This is anoth­er a style choice, but I think it looks kind of lack­ing oth­er­wise. Add a Hue-Saturation-Value node and increase the val­ue to 2.0, plug into a Mix node and set it to Add. Don’t for­get to con­nect our pre­vi­ous result and the out­put into the reroute node!

Take it further

This con­cludes the dis­tort­ed glow tuto­r­i­al. But think of the pos­si­bil­i­ties! You could try ani­mat­ing the glow, add hue-sat­u­ra­tion-val­ue nodes to give slight­ly dif­fer­ent tones to the glows or try dif­fer­ent inputs for the dis­place node. You could also add more dis­place nodes to cre­ate small­er details in the dis­tor­tion (and ani­mate those as well). If you have any cool ideas, share them in the comments.

All the posts you can read
TutorialsBlender, Compositing11.01.2019


  1. Jamie Robertson(6 years ago)

    Thanks for the tuto­r­i­al — real­ly helped me think and add some com­plex­i­ty to the glow effect I had been using — much appre­ci­at­ed — here is the tuto­r­i­al result… 


    1. Diego Gangl(6 years ago)

      Hey, nice work! The light­ing real­ly helps sell the effect

  2. rob on earth(4 years ago)

    Download results in 404 🙁

    1. Diego Gangl(4 years ago)

      Sorry about that! I don’t know when it got delet­ed but it is up again now.

  3. Emil(11 months ago)

    Very cool tutorial!

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