Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Scarab Labs’ Star Filter 2.0

by Jeremiah Hall (doddleNEWS)

A few days ago I got an email asking me to take a look at Scarab Labs’ Star Filter 2.0 plug-in for After Effects. Scarab Labs is located in Croatia. Never having heard of Scarab Labs, I went to their website and took a look around. I found Star Filter 2.0 for After Effects in both Windows and Mac, Star Filter 2.0 for Photoshop in both Windows and Mac, and a free Windows application called Scarab Darkroom – a RAW photo editor (a paid version of Scarab Darkroom is in the works).

Scrab Labs’ Star Filter 2.0 is exactly what it sounds like – a plugin mimicking the effect of a lined glass filter in front of the camera lens, giving light sources in the picture a star-like twinkle.  Star filters come in various types, from four-point to sixteen-point. There are also other special star-filters, such as the Hollywood Star Effect and the North Star effect, which adjust the type, placement and intensity of light streaks coming from the center of the star.

The problem with special effects photographic filters, once you’ve shot with it you can’t go back. That’s why it makes more sense to add some types of filters later in post, so you have more control over the final image. Star filters fit into that category.

I downloaded the filter from Scarab Labs’ website. Installation was simply dragging the filter into my plug-in effects folder for After Effects. I fired up AE and found a shot with several highlights to work with.


There are several parameters to work with, all of which are keyframable. First off is the type of star. You can choose between 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, or 16-point stars. You also can choose to use Hollywood, Hyper, North, or Vector. Click the pictures below for a larger example.

Hollywood star.

Hyper star.

North star.

Vector star.

Next up is Source Blend which controls how much of the source image is blended in.  Then there is Effects Blend, the amount of the effect to be blended.

Following that is Boost, which boosts the highlights in the image to make them brighter. According to the manual, “These pixels are usually much brighter in reality, but are often clamped in the footage. This allows you to make these highlights brighter again, so the star filter works better.” The manual also says to only use this with 32-bit footage if it has been upconverted from 8-bit with no changes in brightness.

Star Size is next, followed by Cutoff – allowing you to set the brightness level to be used by the filter. Next up is Angle, for rotating the star. The manual does an excellent job of explaining the Frequency parameter:  ” A real optical star filter produces this effect by a series of thin lines etched into the surface of the filter. This parameter basically controls the spacing of these lines. You can often observe a rainbow like effect on the star streaks, this also affects the frequency of this pattern.”

Color Shift gives you control over how different color frequencies are handled by the plug-in. Color Filter sets the color of the streaks.

Alpha gives you control over the alpha channel. It can either be Opaque, which is the default, or Original. Opaque erases the layer’s alpha channel. If you need the alpha channel to remain intact, use the Original setting.

This is the second version of the Star Filter from Scarab Labs. They say they have tweaked the defaults, “potentially improved” multi-core CPU performance, upped the blend factor to 500%, made star size proportional to the width of the aspect ratio, made it possible to make streaks go past the layer boundaries, and have made the plug-in so it can be added to text layers.

I had no problems getting the look I wanted out of it. Scarab Labs says they were concerned about optical realism, and they’ve delivered. Check the results below. I used it to make a transition between two shots.

The downside to this plug is price. If you don’t use a star filter look often, $59.00 could be a little hard to cost-justify. But if you do use the look frequently, or you are working with plug-in sets that have no star filters included in them, or are unhappy with the final look you’ve been getting from your usual plug, give Scarab Labs Star Filter 2.0 a look. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ll be interested to see what else comes out of Scarab Labs in the future.

Check them out at their website.

About Jeremiah Hall

I am a videographer living in the Cincinnati, OH area. I have over fifteen years experience, with my name on a couple of Emmys and a Murrow or two. When I'm not in front of After Effects or teaching editing techniques, I like to play with camera equipment and as much tech as I can find the time for.


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