Lightning burn reference

If a character or environment object in your scene is struck by lightning, you’ll need some reference for the jagged burn pattern that will visibly emerge after the strike. The burns from a lightning strike aren’t just random lines—they follow a specific type of pattern. Lichtenburg figures, besides providing a great lightning burn reference, are works of art in their own right.

Electrical discharges tend to flow in the same type of jagged pattern regardless of whether the discharge or object is large or small. An electrical discharge into a clear acrylic block, for example, creates an artistic pattern reminiscent of lightning. We see similar patterns in the skin of victims of lightning strikes, and on other objects that are struck by lightning.

Lichtenburg figure in acrylic

Such a pattern is called a Lichtenburg Figure or lightning tree.

Lichtenburg Figures are useful for plotting out realistic lightning burn patterns for animation or art. They are also beautiful works of art all by themselves. The Internet has numerous videos on creating your own Lichtenburg Figures, or for inspiration in your own animation design.

You can learn more about lightning in the Environment chapter of Physics for Animators.

Post Author: Michele Bousquet

Michele Bousquet is the author of Physics for Animators. A longtime animator, teacher, and writer, Michele has written more than 20 books on computer graphics. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from McGill University.