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File:Lens flare collage multimedia 9207.jpg
"Cheesy Lens Flare, GO!"
Red Mage, Eight Bit Theater

A form of glare, which has become a trope in its own right.

It occurs when a bright object, usually the sun, is in the shot. The light causes a glare off every piece of glass it passes through on the way to the film or optical receiver. This causes a little ghostly chain of circles, on an imaginary line from the object through the center of the frame.

Notably, this camera glitch is included where it doesn't have to be, for dramatic effect, or to make something look like it was shot with a real camera (See The Coconut Effect).

In 3D CGI, the rendering engine can throw one in automatically. (See: the recent Star Trek opening sequences, Adobe Photoshop's "Lens Flare" plug-in.) Often, the software will even allow the user to specify the type of lens to be faked.

3D videogames in the mid-to-late 1990s were absolutely polluted with fake-looking lens flare effects. The Play Station port of Quake II added a little star-shaped glare effect and a lens flare around every light source on the map. Walking down a corridor with spotlights was a ridiculous experience. Games journalists therefore refer to any bandwagon visual effect as "the new lens flare".

In older anime, a fake lens flare combined with a sharp sound effect (shaheen!) is used during a beauty shot of any appropriately shiny Humongous Mecha, as parodied several times on Dexter's Laboratory.

Artists have many debates over the use of lens flares in animation and CGI. Ironically, the artificial element can add a touch of realism (even without The Coconut Effect) due to the fact that the user is watching the image through a screen[1]. Others feel that the lens flare has been overused and doesn't truly add anything to the image, other than distracting from the quality (or lack there of) of the image.

Examples of Lens Flare include:


Anime and Manga


Comics

  • Transformers comic book colorist Josh Burcham is infamous for adding lens flare effects wherever possible.


Film

  • Parodied in Hot Fuzz. When Sgt. Angel is in the pub for the first time doing his little Sherlock Scan on all the minors in the pub he spots one kid who smiles at the same time a car outside turns on its lights, causing a hilariously over the top Flare that blinds Sgt. Angel.
  • In the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the camera does a worm's-eye-view of Jack on the ship's deck, with a big ring-shaped lens flare surrounding him. The DVD commentary shamelessly calls that "the greatest lens flare in cinema".
  • The 2009 Star Trek movie uses a lot of lens flare. This was a style decision by director J. J. Abrams, who later admitted he went overboard with the lens flares.
    • Most of flares in the movie were real however, as it was VERY brightly lit, with the ship shining everywhere, causing the flares.
  • Super 8: The amount of scenes don't have a lens flare could be counted with both hands.
  • There is always real lens flare around the spinners in Blade Runner as the light on top of them is so bright. Invoked by the design team as they noted the lens flare made them seem more real and less like pieces of plastic flying around


Live-Action TV

  • The camera lens filters on Firefly were sent back for worse ones that didn't filter out lens flare. To give it that documentary feel.
  • Lost often used Lens Flare, fueling some Epileptic Trees theories about "mysterious flashes" turning up in some scenes.
  • Southland is riddled with them.
  • Series 5 and 6 of Doctor Who with the Eleventh Doctor, has a ridiculous amount of lens flare, possibly to show off the new HD format (The series 5 premiere was only the fifth episode of the show broadcast in HD).


Music Videos

  • The music video for Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" uses about a million of these, making a gritty story about an abusive relationship oddly (visually) beautiful.
  • The video for the Michael Jackson / Akon duet "Hold My Hand", made well after Jackson died, abuses lens flares to give seemingly everything nice in the world an etherial, "magical" quality.
  • The music video for Katy Perry 's music video for "E.T." has a few of these. These are probably computer generated.


Tabletop Games

  • Some Magic: The Gathering cards have this in their art. Wingbeat Warrior caused someone to send in a letter wondering what it was doing there, which earned the reply "Yes, there are 35mm cameras all over Otaria. Photography is a favorite hobby there."

Video Games

  • Older Ace Combat games (such as Air and 2) has no lens flare. Conversely, it got really gratuitous in 3: Electrosphere (but it does look awesome). Later games have it, but not as pronounced.
    • It does serve quite functionally. If you line up the lens flare, you will get disoriented by staring at the sun. Think that's not a big deal? The very first mission in Electrosphere has you heading towards the sunset to intercept some backup fighters. For a lack of better term, you basically couldn't see shit (aside from the lens flare that is).
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majoras Mask, the aliens glow which produces a lens flare. Because there is no cross hair while aiming you bow, this makes it easier to shoot them by lining up the circles of light.
  • Perfect World Internationals debut trailer's use of lens flare was savaged by Kotaku's debut (and only) episode of Trailer Trash. Their response? Make a new trailer, Now with more lens flare".
  • '97 racing game POD featured lens flares around the sun of the alien planet the game was set on. Yes, that sun that was usually obscured by dark red clouds. All you saw was the... lens flare.
  • Saga Frontier - Alkaiser and Alkarl's Bright Fist and Shining Kick attacks generate a lens flare.
  • This is decently done for the opening animation in Sonic Advance 2, a Game Boy Advance game. The "camera" flies across the ocean before panning up to reveal an island. It continues to fly up, giving us a lens flare, then the title screen.
  • Vectorman might be the first video game to feature a lens flare.
  • Wipeout 2097 had a fairly convincing (for its time) star-shaped flare effect applied to your hovership's plasma exhaust. The sequel Wip3out, with its much more minimalistic and clean design, simplified the lens flare to... four flat triangles sticking out from the exhaust.
  • Battlefield 3 has some really bad ones. Trying to assault the TV Tower on the Sharqui map can be an excercise in frustration as you get cut down by people you simply can't see properly because of the massive lens flare that comes directly from behind the building.
  • Mass Effect has this for any light or computer screen, creating a the "imaginary line" version of the flare, and being a techy sci-fi game, this is practically everywhere...


Webcomics


Web Original


Western Animation


Other

  • The simple presence of lens flares can be a useful aid in constructing a scene in 3D. Given most light sources on computers are points and have no actual size, having something show up there can be a big help when positioning lights.
  • At the Iron Editor competition of Anime Central 2006 (think Iron Chef with AMV's). One of the competitors included the comment on his AMV of "Lens Flares = More Points!" As it was true that special effects added did have a merit for the purposes of judging. The audience witnessed him place a liberal number of lens flares on a large Mecha shot. The MC for the competition foolishly stated that "at least they aren't lens-flare nipples" 5 minutes later...not hard to see what happened.
  • This is not merely an animation or CGI trope. Modern movie cameras are perfectly capable of completely eliminating lens flare, but it's generally left in (or added in post-production) because the audience thinks that films "look fake" without it.
    • Apple's iMovie editing software actually has a lens flare effect. Presumably other editing software does as well.
      • There are also many types of lens flares. One of the most famous is the one produced by anamorphic lenses, used to shoot movies in Cinema Scope format. These have a very special type of lens because of the curved lens and the old Panavision tended to be blue. They look like this and tend to feel big budget. The reason comes from that most movies shot anamorphic (at least tended to) be very big budget productions.

Notes

  1. Unless it's flat. Which an increasing proportion of televisions are.
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