Simulate a neuron firing effect?

I need to simulate the effect of a neuron firing, as seen in this video Neurons and What They Do ~ An Animated Guide - YouTube. Basically, light shoots through the object and out of its “branches”, it’s a pretty hard effect to describe. I have no idea where to even begin to accomplish this in a dynamic way that would work for any object or shape.

I think a shader might be the correct way to do this. I’ve been looking high and low at shaders all over the internet, but all of it is completely beyond me. Any guidance on this would be greatly appreciated.

The link appears to be down. Just a Shader probably won’t be enough. You can make a glow effect with shaders of course but you have to spoon feed it the data you want to render. Here is what I’d try (note that all of that is based on the YouTube videos I found, I’m not sure if it’s the effect you want):

  1. Perform Dijkstra’s algorithm on the mesh to calculate the distance of each vertex to the origin of the effect along the edges of the mesh. As long as you don’t change the Mesh significantly, you only need to do this once.

  2. Normalize the distances so that they are in the range [0;1]

  3. Store the distances you calculated in the mesh (e.g. as vertex colors or as a secondary uv set, it doesn’t really matter)

  4. Write a surface shader: In the vertex program you calculate how close the value you stored for the vertex is to the current time. Pass the result to the surface function. In the surface function, set the Emission depending on that value.