Getting starting on my first VFX (Laser Beam)

Hey gang, I’ve been lurking since the beginning but I’ve only recently started doing mobile VFX professionally. On the downside, my company doesn’t have an engine but on the upside the only graphics on-screen are VFX. The compute story is greater-than-or-equal-to-A9.

Anyways, I am tasked with a totally vanilla laser beam. I just wanted to sanity-check my options here. In order of complexity, it seems like I can do:

  1. line (with MTLPrimitiveType.line) in beam direction
  2. cylinder mesh along beam direction
  3. screen-facing quad along beam direction
  4. two quads at right angles to each other along beam direction
  5. raytraced volumetric primitive along beam direction

Does this sound right? Am I missing an option? The only thing going on on-screen will be these lasers composited over a video texture so I can really spend 100% of my compute budget on them. I am keen to get started but I want to make sure I’m not missing a newer and better technique.

I am leaning towards options three and four but I am kind of stuck on how to create the texture mapping and the texture. It seems sometimes glow is baked into the texture, sometimes it is achieved via post-process bloom and sometimes there is a secondary glow-only texture placed on top. I can’t find a great reference on drawing the texture.

Also, just as a point of curiosity how are movie lasers created? Is it all 2D NUKE comping of hand-drawn shapes?

Lastly, what are some of the best realtime VFX lasers you have ever seen? On a raster screen! Vector arcade games don’t count, Tempest would run away with all the votes.