Hard Light

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Hal Jordan can make a Big Freaking Gun out of green glow with his mind.

The Flash: (faced with half a dozen clones of Luminus) "This is supposed to scare me? They're just illusions."
Luminus: (starts beating the crap out of Flash) "I can make light solid, chump."

When ordinary light, whether it comes from science-fiction projectors or a magic spell, seems to have (or really does have) actual substance, it's Hard Light. Hard Light objects behave like any other object—chairs support weight, bullets kill, razors shave, and so forth. An illusory person made of Hard Light can pick up real things and interact physically with real people, even though they don't technically exist.

Strictly speaking, Hard Light is not holography. A Hologram is a sort of three dimensional projection. It is not solid. If something is solid, it is, by definition, not a hologram.

That said, it's easy to imagine holography being used in tandem with some other technology (Deflector Shields, perhaps) to produce a projection which seems solid to observers. The Holographic Terminal in its "real world" form comes to mind.

People will usually refer to these constructs as "holograms" for the sake of convenience. If the holograms only seem to manipulate reality because Your Mind Makes It Real, see Cyberspace. Can be used to create a Virtual Training Simulation. See also Hologram Projection Imperfection for when holograms don't work properly and have visual static or other glitches.

If your ray of light is not only hard, but also hot and has incredible cutting powers, you've got yourselves a Laser Blade. See also Pure Energy.

Examples of Hard Light include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Duel Disk systems in Yu-Gi-Oh!! use this, but it very rarely matters since the monsters are mostly just fighting each other. Still, when monsters attack the opposing player directly, it actually hurts.
    • Which makes it even weirder during a scene in GX that actually shows objects going through a monster hologram.
    • Early on it was explained that this was a feature of the Duel Disk itself (it would create a bit of feedback to make the duels more realistic). Now that the duels are pretty much just excuses for each successive Big Bad to show how much badder he is than the last, the running explanation is something to the effect of "Who the hell cares?"
    • One also has to consider that more than half the duels involve some way in which the monsters become a reality.
    • Explained more in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, in the duel academia episode. Lua/Rua/Leo was commended for having good acting skills instead of good dueling skills. The psycho duelists however...
      • Then there's the duels with the Dark Signers, the Three Emperors, a ghost...
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V it has gotten to the point where the Solid Vision holograms can be interacted with by the players; for example, Yuya can ride his summoned Performapals as mounts, while the Action Duel arenas have platforms and bridges that are solid enough to stand on.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! SEVENS this is taken even further. Minor character Sushiko Maki uses a sushi-themed deck with Trap Cards that use a variety of effects that, as a cost, increase the opponents' Life Points, the Solid Vision interpreting this effect by creating sushi that is fed to the opponent. When used against Romin, this effect seems so real, she is even able to taste them.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha‍'‍s Ground Battlefield Simulator, which seems to have taken a page from the X-Men's Danger Room and expanded it to the size of a city.
  • Sixshot in Transformers Headmasters is adept at creating holograms that can fool any human or robot. They are perfectly capable of fighting, and even shooting real lasers.
  • Folken in the Vision of Escaflowne movie attempts to persuade the heroine to his side twice projecting his image to distant places with his (or possibly Sora's) psychic powers. The second time he does this he grasps her hand quite physically.
  • In the Future Arc of Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Mukuro, Ken and Chikusa appear as solid illusions to help Chrome in her fight against Glo Xinia.
    • This is initially Averted Trope, however, as without the Vongola Mist Ring, Mukuro was only able to simulate physical illusions by hiding rocks in them.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion example here at 3:40... poor, poor Shinji.
    • Also, in Evangelion 2.22 after having it's arm cut off, EVA 01 makes a new one made out of light.
  • Averted by the Logia User Kizaru in One Piece: when he attack he briefly turns his legs solid in order to deliver a super-powerful kick.
  • The Lightwave Barrier in Gundam Seed.

Comic Books

  • Marvel Comics was doing it years before Star Trek: The Next Generation with the X-Men‍'‍s Danger Room, using the term "hard light" to describe the Shi'ar technology it used.
    • Producing various kinds of light, including the Hard variety, is the superpower of the X-Men's Dazzler.
    • Bishop's sister Shard once existed as a being of hard light, before heroically sacrificing herself by letting herself be absorbed into him to help him escape from Fitzroy.
    • Spider-Man villain Lightmaster uses solid light to make hammers, sharp axes, and concussive bursts. He can also use it to fly.
  • Transformers Generation 1 have sometimes employed holograms to depict fake drivers at the wheels of robot vehicles. IDW's Transformers took this a step farther by allowing the driver to interact with objects and describing them as hard light.
  • The various Green Lantern characters have always been able to create structures like this with their power rings. Originally, it was just simple structures of green light, but they've gotten more complex and multichromatic as time goes on.
    • Pre Crisis, this was called "psychoplasmic energy" eg. energy that responded to the will of sentient beings. Post-Crisis, it's actually a form of psionic energy that's visible as colors that represent particular emotions or drives for... some reason. See Green Lantern Corps.
  • In the Justice League of America comic, one story arc features two light-themed villains developing tangible constructs of light to torment the heroes.
  • Additionally, Dr. Light II of DC Comics (Kimiyo Hoshi) is a light controller, able to create hard light constructs.
    • The original Dr. Light, a villain, could do it as well, but with gadgets.
  • Back in Marvel, Quasar's Quantum Bands have the power to create solid light constructs.
  • Cyclops' Eye Beams.
  • The Wildsiderz wear suits with projectors that gives them "holographic powers" of animals.
  • This is how the Invisible Woman's powers work.
  • The Marvel Comics heroine Songbird does something that is equivalent to this, using a device to create constructs out of "Hard Sound".
    • Note that her powers resemble those of the older villain Klaw, to the point of being the same color (red). Most likely, the same technology was used.
  • The Falcon's Wakandan-made costume has hard light wings.
  • Megalex features a few examples, most notably a sinister Sapient Ship personality named Shalise. Shalise is a holographic projection but is able to attack people in the real world with seemingly physical claws.

Fan Works

  • From the Worm/Luna Varga crossover fic Taylor Varga, the Tinker Vectura builds a multiform vehicle which uses hard light to produce its various forms as part of her PRT testing. The first form she demonstrates with it is a TRON lightcycle.


  • Much of Ecoban's technology in Sky Blue makes use of hard light. At the very end, Shua is able to plug a physical device containing the self-destruct code into an entirely holographic terminal.
  • In the 1936 Flash Gordon serial, a "bridge of light" can be turned on to walk from the roof of one Martian building to another.
  • In the Soviet sci-fi two-part film Moscow Cassiopeia, the the relativistic starship ZARYa is equipped with the so-called Surprise Chamber, which allows the teenage crew to recreate different Earth locations. While they aren't as perfect as Star Trek: The Next Generation holodecks (the sides are slightly reflective), the sights, sounds, and smells are pretty realistic.
  • TRON does this with the Light wall/Ribbon and Light Staff.


  • The Culture drones' fields: They manipulate force fields with a very high degree of precision and control. Skaffen-Amtiskaw, in Use Of Weapons is seen using fields both as incredibly sharp "blades" and blunt objects, medical instruments (sucking blood away from a wound and performing surgery), and supporting pillars. Other drones carry objects and make mirrors from fields, and the gun in "A Gift From The Culture" extends one to "field-anchor" its wielder's arm for a steady shot. The field are generally coloured to depict the mood of the drone - for example, red is "the colour of drone pleasure". This is helpful, as a drone has no facial features or body language to interpret. In Consider Phlebas they use the word "soligram" to refer to this concept.
  • Used, but not described as such, in the Skylark of Space novel series by E. E. "Doc" Smith, written in the 1930s. His "projectors" could send out other "projectors" of pure "force" that could manipulate material objects, transmute substances, act as remote "television broadcasters" and "spy-rays", and even manipulate objects at the core of dwarf stars (that's how lenses are created for the highest level of projectors). The in-novel justification for all this was that the hero was originally using matter to channel forces—the sufficiently advanced aliens simply did away with using the matter, and channeled the forces directly.
  • John W. Campbell's 'Arcot, Morey and Wade' stories (originally written in the 1930s, and collected in book form in the 1950s) feature lux metal, for occasions when neutronium just isn't super-sciencey enough. It's "made of light -- photons so greatly compressed that they were held together by their own gravitational fields."
  • The pulverized supercomputer in Life, the Universe, and Everything manipulated tricks of light, and was shown to be able to at least make a good semblance of a couch.
  • Seen throughout The Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix. The Chosen make use of sunstones—growing crystals that absorb the sun's energy—to do everything, from building, making music, weapons, to creating suits of armor and rainbow-colored stairs to escape a large pit. Sunstones are even used as decoration, heating, and jewelry. Since the sunstones are never described as anything more than powerful battery packs that store energy, which is used in the form of light beams, it falls under this trope.
  • "Shaped energy" in the Perry Rhodan universe. Most famously used by the first aliens to successfully invade and actually conquer the Milky Way Galaxy, who even built their ships out of the stuff. (Which came back to haunt them several decades later when their recharge stations suddenly up and left.) The technology has been around ever since.
  • John Brunner's Traveller in Black carries a walking-staff made out of light.

Live-Action TV

  • The idea was popularized by the holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation, although they weren't responsible for the standard "hard light" Hand Wave. Strictly speaking, Star Trek holograms are not hard light as the physical part comes from the use of forcefields rather than being an intrinsic quality of the hologram. The EMH Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager often refers to himself (or fellow holograms) as "photons and forcefields" (as opposed to flesh and blood). Sentient holograms tended to refer to themselves and others as photonics.
    • They even lampshaded this in one episode. Neelix's lungs were stolen (... yeah) and the Doctor proposed that they be temporarily replaced with holographic lungs. As seen in this video, when Tom Paris pointed out that it couldn't work, as light was intangible, the Doctor slapped him. Some holograms such as the doctor also had the ability to switch between solid and non-solid by deactivating the force field portion of their program separately to the hologram.
    • It is All There in the Manual: holodecks use both holographic projections for visuals, and force fields for physical effects that can vary from touching something to running into a wall—also include allowing people to walk while still remaining in place.
    • At least one episode mentioned similarities with replicator technology, indicating that holodecks could produce real objects as well. This could come in handy for holographic restaurants etc.
  • Automan became solid simply via the application of large amounts of power. It actually makes some sense, given relativity's mass-energy relationship, but would require the entire world's energy consumption over about 6 days.
  • In the later seasons of Red Dwarf, Virtual Ghost Rimmer became tangible via a "hard light drive". In this case the hard light drive is not only better than his old soft light drive but better than regular life itself, since it makes him more or less indestructible and immune to aging—well, aside from the human aging of actor Chris Barrie. Downside: extremely power intensive, so it cannot be done indefinitely.
    • Another downside is that he can still feel pain, despite being practically indestructible. Hence Rimmer still acting like a coward despite being (basically) immortal.
  • SeaQuest DSV featured an alien race with the technology of "silicon holography" -- "holograms" which were projected on silicon particles suspended in the air to make them solid. They left a pile of sand behind whenever they disappeared.
  • The guardian holograms created by the Ancients in Stargate SG-1 are sort of a borderline example—solid objects pass right through them, but getting hit by one hurts. And they can be "killed" with entirely holographic swords, which are wielded by real characters.
  • Heroes: An apparent secondary effect of Emma's synesthesia power is turning the sound-light she sees into a concussive blast.
  • In the Farscape "Look at the Princess" trilogy, the royal family possess a machine that can show what any potential child would look like and allows you to hold and interact with them.

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

Tabletop Games

  • This is one of the ways that the "Solid Energy Illusions" power from Villains and Vigilantes, a generic power which can be used to emulate any number of published characters, can be defined.

Video Games

  • The '95 PC game The Dig employed Hard Light in the form of bridges activated by Boston Low, the main character. If the player contacted Maggie about them, the two exchanged "light" puns (a "light" salad, "light" beer, etc.)

Boston: If they can make bridges out of light, you have to wonder if they can make anything ELSE.
Maggie: You mean -- light beer?
Boston: I was thinking more of a light house.

  • The index keys from Halo are a kind of Hard Light construct. They exist physically most of the time, and can be handled by ordinary humans and Covenant, but digital constructs like Cortana and Guilty Spark can download an index and store it as electronic data. Plus, y'know, the Light Bridges.
    • One mission in Halo 2 features holograms that can wield weapons and be hit by projectiles.
    • Halo Legends showed Hard Light Guns as being The Forerunner's weapon of choice.
      • Apparently, this was an extremely common aspect of any Forerunner structure (some ships are almost exclusively hard light, even). The Halos were unusual in that they didn't incorporate the technology as much as in other structures.
  • The light arrows in Zelda series seem to be composed of solid light energy.
    • The stairs in the Temple of Time; also the bridges in the Twilight Realm as well as the bridge to the Twilight Realm.
    • The access to Ganon's floating castle in Ocarina of Time is a bridge made of light (created by the sages Link awakened).
    • And some stairs and platforms in the Tower of the Gods, in The Wind Waker.
    • Not all of the Light Arrows are like this. The ones in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and The Minish Cap are just arrows infused with light energy.
    • Deku Seeds and Deku Nuts, when you throw them, look like balls of light and explode in a bright flash when they make impact.
  • From the Mega Man series, the Robot Master Astroman had his abilities based on this, primarily sending forth a storm of Hard Light meteors and creating a holographic copy that hurts just as much as crashing into the real thing.
    • Gemini Man's Me's a Crowd ability is stated to work like this.
  • Mass Effect has what initially appears to be an example of this in the form of the ubiquitous omni-tools that everyone carries, which generates a holographic display over their forearms. In reality, the device isn't actually generating Hard Light in the traditional sense, but rather the display is interacting with either gloves or special subdermal implants in the user's fingertips that creates the illusion of tactile contact. Other apparent instances of Hard Light, such as the attack drones or the tech armor on Sentinels or enemy engineers, are simply glowing mass effect fields created by devices that resemble "hard" holograms. The third game also introduces a weapon called the "omniblade" that resembled Hard Light but is actually just a flash-fabricated, disposable blade the omnitool assembles and deploys.
  • The elevators in all the 2D Metroid games. They're just a glowing platform in a tube, and if the power goes out or something, said platform just disappears.
    • Making things even more confusing, in Metroid Fusion, the power is indeed cut... while Samus is standing on one. Oddly, she doesn't fall like you would anticipate. Apparently the future averts No OSHA Compliance. The Federation elevators may be technology that's different from but similar in superficial (read: game-graphics) appearance to the Chozo elevators on Zebes.
    • It's possible they're actually solid, and not just light, but merely glowy. Metroid Prime has clearly solid elevators.
  • Sonic Unleashed contains an example shown near the beginning of this video
  • The Combine from Half Life have light bridges in their Citadel, as well as selectively permeable light gates to keep citizens out of Combine-controlled areas.
  • The first Mega Man Star Force game pokes with the concept, and by the third game things like this are all over the place.
  • Ratchet and Clank character Dr. Nefarious uses hard light holograms in the third game, as does Ace Hardlight in the fourth. Ratchet himself employs Hard Light armor in A Crack In Time.
  • Unlike previous games, illusory creatures in Heroes of Might and Magic 4 act just like real creatures. The flavor text in the library implies it's a case of Your Mind Makes It Real.
  • The Ixian Projectors from Emperor: Battle for Dune can project hard light copies of units, which can even deal damage. The downside is, being solid holograms, touching enemy units or being shot at instantly destroys them. Still, it allows one to Zerg Rush with an army of glass cannons, so all in all, not bad.
  • Fury Technology in Super Robot Wars J; materializing energy into a crystalline state. Coustwell Brachium ups the ante by actually generating temporary clones of itself.
  • In Final Fantasy XII, in the Great Crystal, entire pathways are made out of nothing more than solid projections of light.
    • Final Fantasy VII has a prequal, Crisis Core, in which Shinra has training programs that are essentially holograms. What makes that this Trope is that the holograms can completely imitate the physical qualities of the object. For example, Sephiroth's sword will actually cut you, even though it's not the real Sephiroth. Also, somehow, it creates its own arid desert.
  • It may seem like it would be so in Fallout 3, but it isn't: Laser weapons have no physics impulse in their impacts.
    • Additionally, in Fallout: New Vegas DLC "Dead Money", the Holorifle averts this too, as it has no physics impulse on impact either. Dead Money also features hard light holograms of humans serving as casino staff and security, the latter being able to fire deadly lasers should the player get caught.
  • Portal 2 features platforms made out of hard light as a gameplay element, which can be redirected through portals to gain access to unreachable areas or block turret fire.
  • Shielding from many FPS games (shield belts from Unreal Tournament, "active defense" from Battlefield 2142) takes this form, usually to allow players to see and be seen, but not shot from outside (even when laser weapons are used).
  • In Okami, you can literally swim in stardust, or fragments of light, at the start of the game. You even need to draw it with Rejuvenation first.

Web Comics

  • Dr. Disaster's simulations in Gunnerkrigg Court combine holograms with tactile feedback suits. Also, the shadow men are able to manipulate matter, making Hard Darkness.
  • The Boscis in Banished! take pride in their Hard Light technology, which is indistinguishable from an ordinary person, er, bird. Except, of course, they can't be attacked.
  • In Life of Riley, hard light generators are used in the battle against evil Dan as DDR platforms. It's... rather complicated.
  • In The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, the heroine meets a hard-light replica of herself—who is merely depressed because she can't drink. She eventually gets her kicks by mooning the city.
  • In Heist, Geist the protagonist steals a hard light generator from its current owner (on whose behalf he had recently stolen it from someone else) in order to infiltrate the satellite headquarters of a Darker and Edgier Justice League of America Expy.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Jimmy Neutron's holographic butler.
  • In Superman: The Animated Series, Luminus masters making holograms feel solid by manipulating electromagnetic forces, allowing him to almost kill a depowered Superman with hologram copies of himself.

Superman: Are your holograms supposed to scare me?
Luminus: Holograms are made of light. So are lasers.

  • Later in the same episode, he claims that "with the proper application of laser fields" the holograms can seem solid, so much that he can create a holographic clone of himself with a sword that is able to rip the hero's cape.
  • In Justice League, Luminus escapes from prison, and uses his technology to surround Flash with holograms. Flash, used to this trick with Mirror Master, thinks that they're just holograms and apparently doesn't fall for it, except, as those who've watched STAS would know, they're pretty solid. Ass kicking ensues.
  • In Code Lyoko, the Polymorphic Specters (and the translated heroes in Season 4) are also a form of Hard Light. This is confirmed by the William Clone's self-description in episode "Down to Earth":

William Clone: I'm a digitally-generated random polymorphic energy field controlled by a basic non-evolving behavioral program.

  • Tankor in Transformers: Beast Machines used a hard light hologram as part of a scheme to fake his own death.
  • Doctor Light in Teen Titans.
    • He met his match in this trope's polar opposite: Raven's hard shadows. And the soul-crushing abyss within her cloak they dragged him into because she was so pissed she tapped into her demon heritage, but that's another story.
  • The holographic training simulator in the Hall of Justice in DC Super Friends runs on this. Things go bad when Joker decides to take over the home base while Superman and Batman are visiting it.
    • Also, an episode of Challenge of the Superfriends went a step further in one episode, where scientists were somehow able to create liquid light. At least, that's what they called it.
  • Liquid rainbows appeared in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. They're edible, but ridiculously spicy, and sticky enough to be used as war paint.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 had an episode where Shredder created a couple of "solid holograms" to fight the Ninja Turtles.
  • In Rollbots, Botch has a Hard Light Grappling Hook Pistol.

Real Life

  • The book Secret Weapons of World War II reports one non-scientist military type suggesting that research be done on "solidifying" searchlight beams to grab planes and smash them into the ground.
  • Very slightly Truth in Television: light does exert a certain amount of force on solid objects. This is why engineers and science fiction writers have come up with the concept of solar sails.
    • The Japanese IKAROS probe is propelled by a solar sail.
    • Radiometers, at one time, were thought to work this way: when put in energetic enough light they spin, supposedly because the dark sides absorbs the energy and momentum of the light while the light colored side reflects the energy and momentum. The reflector has a 2x momentum change while the absorber has a 1x momentum change. Though that is true, the spinning is not caused by light pressure, but rather by light heating the dark side of the panel the good old-fashioned way. Thus warmer than the light side, the dark side heats the air molecules in the bulb a little more than the light side, thus they kick away a little harder, and the cumulative effect is a little more push on the dark side, thus driving it as a little spinner. It's not in a vacuum, either, but rather a gas at a special pressure. The light pressure hypothesis arose from the erroneous belief that the early radiometers were entirely evacuated; they were not, and there just barely enough gas left to create the effect.
    • Powerful enough lasers can exert a significant force on objects placed in their path.
    • Optical Tweezers apply the force from a laser to manipulate very small objects.
  • Laser Cutting, through solid metal
  • Japanese Scientists Create Touchable Holograms.
    • Is there anything those guys can't do?
  • Though it isn't an actual floating panel of light, this keyboard can project an infrared touchscreen that allows mouse and keyboard activity on almost any opaque surface merely through contact. Not exactly Technology Porn levels of awesome, but still pretty neat.