I dont care if it's hardware or software. I've discovered some problems using spheres, because they apear somewhat strange when animated by a "motion path".
The deal is that I'll just use a semi-transparent red poly-cylinder with a glow-effect added to it to make the laser beam, and when the laser beam moves along a path, wich is planar on a "metal" surface, it's shooting sparks and stuff from a particle emitter, wich is animated by the same "motion path".
This is the simple part. (Really!).
The hard part is to make the moving laser beam leave a glowing trail as it moves across the metal plate. For those of you that have seen Matrix (I beleive most of you have), I'm trying to "copy" the effect used when the squid-creatures are cutting throuh the hull of the hovercraft. There you can see the cutted metal edges are glowing. White just where the laser beam was, and more yellow-ish on the edges that have cooled off some, and if you would watch the cutted edges over some time (more than the 2 seconds in the movie) you could see the glowing edges fading from bright yellow through orange and back to gray/black, and this would happen in a linear fashion across the time-line, so the beginning of the cut would be orange and the end of the cut would be bright yellow, because it has not cooled off as much as the beginning of the cut.
That's a simple...? description of what I want to animate. I have acheived this partially by using hardware-rendered sphere particles with a PPrgb ramp, and the emitter folowing the same motion path as the laser beam (or did I use SW cloud on top of the spheres..? Can't remember) The problem is when the motion path has a curve, that moves towards the camera, and then away from the camera, the particle closest to the camera apear as the first sphere in the row, so the geometry looks odd. (Try animating a particle emitter with speed set to 0 and density set high enough to make the spheres overlap (5-10 spheres overlaping eachother) and animathe the emitter with a curved motion path. It looks odd!
Blobby (SW) particles behave in a much more welding-like manner, but I'm unable to apply a per-particle color ramp to make the cooling metal effect that I want.
Ill bring some pictures later. (MAYA@home Internet@work)