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Smoke machine advice

Posted: Thu, 11th Oct 2007, 2:00pm

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adamlightandmagic

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Hi folks.

It's been many, many years since I've posted anything here. Only recently have I managed to get back into some kind of "film-making". A week on Saturday, I'm shooting a music video for a dvd production and have just about all I need. However, I'm missing one vital effect - a smoke machine.

I've been looking at them on ebay and am happy to see they've dropped a bit in price since I was last looking at them! Here's the one I was thinking about getting:

http://www.soundmastersdirect.co.uk/cgi-bin/trolleyed_public.cgi?action=showprod_SCESMKSTR

Does anyone have any experience/advice when it comes to getting a decent smoke machine? I'm primarily going to be using it in a forrest area. Quite enclosed, but some will be open to the elements. I'm just looking to put some smokiness into the air and make it look a little more dramatic.
It's also a question of finding out how long a certain amount of fog fluid actually works for, too. How long per litre of fluid? I'll be buying it tomorrow, unless someone has a better idea! Anyway, I'll leave it up to whoever can help.

Cheers in advance!
Adam.
Posted: Thu, 11th Oct 2007, 3:43pm

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Jabooza

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Well, I've only got one of the the $20 you can buy at Wal-Mart around halloween and it works just fine for everything I need it for. It probably isn't as good as the one you're looking at though and it wouldn't work too well outside at all, the only way I can see any fog machine working well outside is if it has really good fluid or something that's made to stay low to the ground.
Posted: Thu, 11th Oct 2007, 3:56pm

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Arktic

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You might want to look into making a home-cooling unit; I think atom/ben3308 and TimmyD have made them. Basically, they're a cool box/ice box with holes either end connected by a pipe, and a system for pumping the smoke through the box. PM one of the guys or search for previous topics about them (I think they were in a 'haunted house' thread), or search the web for tutorials on how to make them.

What that does is it cools the vapour, making it stick round for longer, and also making it hug the ground a little more.

In terms of the amount of liquid you'll need - I'd go for the 5 litres deal that you get with that machine; 5 litres will last you AGES.

I hope this helps smile

Cheers,
Arktic.
Posted: Thu, 11th Oct 2007, 4:25pm

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adamlightandmagic

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Nice info! Well, I was thinking the 5 litres would be a "just in-case" factor. Good to know it's probably a good idea!

I did a search before posting and couldn't find anything useful, btw. But I'll definitely look at the Haunted house thing.

Btw, I should've made it clear that I want the smoke to actually float in the air, rather than fall to the ground. I've already read elsewhere that you can cool the output to get low-lying smoke. Not what I'm trying to achieve here. I'm just looking for smoke that will fill the air (a bit), then wave a board about to spread it around the forrest area. Just so it looks slightly misty around the area we're filming in.

So, it doesn't really matter what smoke machine I get, as long as it puts out smoke? If so, cool!

Adam.
Posted: Thu, 11th Oct 2007, 8:08pm

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pdrg

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Machines vary hugely in power, the cheap ones are crappy, the expensive ones very specialised.

For an open space, you'll want a good one, and that'll be a better bet to rent for a day - any lighting hire place (AFM, Lee, theatrical hire places, disco hire shops, etc) will rent you something beefy. Remember you'll need power, so may need a generator (with a silencer), so check the machine power (which relates more or less how much smoke it can make at a time before having to recover) and that the jenny can drive it.

You may also like to consider something like these http://www.smokemachines.net/pyrotechnic-smoke-grenades.shtml as they're more handleable for woods, etc, and don't need power. Remember, even the gentlest breeze will mess around with your smoke, so it may not even be worth trying if there's any wind at all on your planned shoot day!
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 2:21pm

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adamlightandmagic

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Well, I'd already picked out a generator for our work before this thread, so I knew that already, pdrg.

Anyway, I have a little extra time as the shoot has been pushed back for a week and a half at least. So, I'll delay getting one just yet.

Funnily enough, I have used smoke grenades before and they were very useful. Unfortunately, I can't see the ones I originally bought on ebay. They were very cheap and very good for adding smoke to an area. I think they were like £1 per one! I got to use them once for a video back in 2002. I'll keep it in mind as a cheaper alternative. It may be a better idea in that respect - who knows.

Adam.
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 3:35pm

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ben3308

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Rating: +1

That's a pretty decent price, and for 800-watts you're likely to get a decent thickness of fog. Ones you need to watch out for are ones from party stores that are like 2o to 25 bucks for 400-watts, as they most of the time either don't work or produce extremely thin greyish fog.

More expensive machines, like ones in the 120 dollar range, can go from 1000 to 2500 watts and are much more powerful. They produce thick, white fog, and the standby time between fog bursts is next to nothing.

With the 800-watt ones you're looking into, I suspect an issue might be warm-up/recharge time between fog bursts. You might want to look into a higher-wattage alternative. It'll be more expensive, but very worth it in the long run. Lower-end foggers just either don't last or don't produce effectively.

Smoke bombs, on the other hand, are cheap and can produce the same effect, if not thicker (check out this video). The only issue is timing, the length of the effect, and the amount, so purchasing several smoke bombs is a good idea. Fog machines generally create good haze, but as far as thick fog and smoke go, you'll have to really, really fill a room to get it to any thickness that a firecracker-like smoke bomb can produce. 'Redemption' was shot using two Lite F/X fog machines bought for around 30 bucks a piece at Target a year or two back, and they created thin haze that took 40 minutes and several heat-up sessions to fill a room.



Don't cheap out. Get a good fog machine or none at all. Trust me on this one, I've wasted hundreds of dollars buying cheap, ultimately useless machines. As for slightly thicker, lower-volume ground fog, look into building a fog chiller. Google the term, you're bound to find a multitude of instructions on the matter.
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 5:23pm

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Arktic

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I'd say it's less to do with the machine, more to do with the quality of fog solution you buy - last year I completely filled our front room with a single blast using some 'industrial strength' fog liquid. Not at all sure what the brand was, because I bought it in a slightly less than legitimate manner (the stuff was legit, as I saw the guy break the seal on the new bottle - but he was selling me only half the bottle, which isn't strictly legal).

But yeah, shop around and get the most high quality fluid you can afford, just make sure it's compatible with the machine you've purchased.

Cheers,
Arktic.
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 5:34pm

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ben3308

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See, Arktic, if the machine has a low-watt heater and/or fan, then not only will it heat slow, but by the time the solution is heated, the previously heated bits will have dissolved quite a bit already, resulting in lower-volume fog. Also, the times in between heating will be extremely large (at like the half- to one-hour mark), which can be detrimental for production.

Good fog solution is obviously necessary, but a good machine is also needed.
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 6:34pm

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pdrg

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adamlightandmagic wrote:

Well, I'd already picked out a generator for our work before this thread, so I knew that already, pdrg.
Good, good, just wanted to make sure you'd considered the POWER of the generator (cheaper ones may only give under 1kW when the good smoke machines tun at 2.5kW)
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 7:43pm

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adamlightandmagic

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pdrg wrote:

adamlightandmagic wrote:

Well, I'd already picked out a generator for our work before this thread, so I knew that already, pdrg.
Good, good, just wanted to make sure you'd considered the POWER of the generator (cheaper ones may only give under 1kW when the good smoke machines tun at 2.5kW)
It's 2.5kW funnily enough.

Nice info there, ben3308. But just remember I'm only looking for a smallish amount to fill the air around the place where we shoot. Not thick smoke at all. Just something that can still be see through, but adds a nice atmosphere to the music video. I think the Zoom powerfog looks good. I've seen a couple of demo videos and it puts out a good amount. Also, for me, time is not the essence so if a little bit of wait time is involved, I am a patient person!

Thanks,
Adam.
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 8:00pm

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ben3308

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If you're outdoors, or even indoors, a sub-standard machine will produce fog so thin that it won't be noticeable by the camera. It's that bad.

The thicker fog, however, when outdoors, produces a hazy sheen across the atmosphere, rather than a billowing white cloud. This is likely what you're looking for. If you cheap out, it won't look like you had any fog machine at all.

Trust me on this one. I've tried fog effects for movies back and forth, and cheap machines don't work how you'd think.
Posted: Sat, 13th Oct 2007, 8:50pm

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Arktic

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"at like the half- to one-hour mark"

?!?

My machine was a cheap-o nasty Wal*Mart style one, and it's heating was no slower than 5 - 8 minutes, maximum.
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 3:38am

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ben3308

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Your point demonstrates exactly what I'm saying, Arktic. It's a very 'hit-or-miss' thing wen buying a cheap fogger: you never know exactly what you're going to get. I've at times purchased two WalMart ones, only to have one work really well for about three hours and the other one not work at all.

Higher-quality machines can create better, more lasting fog, and I recommend them as you can use them for a variety of other things on different occasions. Honestly, cheap fog machines end up as ultimate wastes of money.

Buy what you think you want, I'm just trying to avoid you some pitfalls in the finance department later on, when you need a fog machine for more than one thing.

Time may not seem of the essence, but if filming outdoors, daylight and consistency of sunlight will surely be an issue. So think in terms of Murphy's Law for these kinds of things, you'll spare yourself trouble in the long run.
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 3:57am

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DaFlea

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Wouldn't it not be easier and cheaper just to use VisionLab Studio to create the fog effect... Or are we talking about two different styles of effect..

Doug
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 4:09am

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ben3308

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CG smoke would likely look ill-placed, fake, stupid, and would be near-impossible to keyframe correctly. Plus, real smoke/fog catches the light and glimmers, which I'm supposing is the desired effect for the scene the original poster wants.

Such effect cannot be achieved after-the-fact in post.

So whilst VisionLab is good for effects, it's not good for production elements that are necessary.
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 3:04pm

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pdrg

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Yep, the reason why you use a smoke machine on set/stage/location is so you can see the effect of the lights on the smoke - when you watch CSI or anything like that, they always go into a darkened room with torches (flashlights to my American chums), and you can see the beams - try it for yourself, you just can't see photons unless they're interacting with something!

Take a look at these pics of Madonna at Live Earth http://www.spinner.com/2007/07/06/live-earth-concert-photos/ and you'll see there's constant thin fog blown into the stage so the lights have something to react with so they look pretty. Fog can also create depth in a shot, giving you layers of light, and an ultimately more pleasing result.

I explain all this to explain why a post-production fog effect is less useful - it's a grey misty layer on top of the action, and so it's not really an interaction of particles in the air with photons, so it just doesn't give the same look or depth.

Hope this helps smile
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 7:17pm

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adamlightandmagic

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ben3308 wrote:

Trust me on this one. I've tried fog effects for movies back and forth, and cheap machines don't work how you'd think.
Look, I'm sure you know what you're talking about and it's great that you're giving all this info to us folk. But for me, I think that this decent machine will do the job that I want. I'm not looking for an amazing machine. Just something that will be useful enough to put -some- smoke in the frame on a small video shoot. Trust ME on that one. Thanks very much for the help.

Now, like I said, I've seen a small demo of what the Zoom powerfog does and it looks good enough for me.

Adam.
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 7:39pm

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pdrg

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adamlightandmagic wrote:


Just something that will be useful enough to put -some- smoke in the frame on a small video shoot. Trust ME on that one.
Now, like I said, I've seen a small demo of what the Zoom powerfog does and it looks good enough for me.
Adam.
Well, I'm sure it'll put some smoke on screen for you! Perhaps you could post some of your resulting footage up here - that way we can all see how this little (and what appears to be great value) machine performs so future filmmakers will know if it'll produce the results they're after

I think Ben and I are only advising you cautiously as filling an outside space (woods, etc) is quite different from filling an enclosed space (room/disco etc), and 800W is not terribly powerful for a fog machine (so you may get fog dispersing before you can build it up thick enough to look how you want). But hey, you know what you're after, it's entirely up to you what you hire, and as I said above, please prove our caution unfounded by posting your results!

P
Posted: Sun, 14th Oct 2007, 10:46pm

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adamlightandmagic

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I certainly don't mean to offend with my comments from before. I just like to think that it should do what I'm thinking it can. I truly believe I don't need an all powerful machine that's being touted to me. If I was shooting a film, then I'd probably get the higher grade that I'm being told I should. But for £60, I do expect a certain level of usability on what I'm trying to do.

Anyway, it's not all-important that I get the 100% correct results that you all think I should. It just needs to be evident that there is a certain element in the air. Not big wisps of smoke. Not ground crawling with smoke. Just an extra element in the air.

Again, thanks for the concern. So, let's go with what you've been saying and I need a higher grade machine. What machine to you suggest? How much would it cost? I'm curious as to what model is up to this kind of thing.

Thanks,
Adam.
Posted: Mon, 15th Oct 2007, 12:16am

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adamlightandmagic

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I found this:

http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/holy-smoke/how-to-do-a-red-smoke-hand-grenade-at-home-292180.php

Looks like it could be worth looking into. And made from general household items, too. Hmm...cheap and cheerful? I certainly like the videos and because of the costs involved, I could easily make loads for a few pounds at a time!

Adam.
Posted: Mon, 15th Oct 2007, 2:32am

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Serpent

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Also, with any fog machine, if you want low, creepy floor fog as opposed to atmospheric fog, check out this tutorial:

http://www.indymogul.com/episode/IMWE_20070803

It shows you how to make a fog machine produce low sitting fog.
Posted: Mon, 15th Oct 2007, 5:29am

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Atom

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Serpent wrote:

Also, with any fog machine, if you want low, creepy floor fog as opposed to atmospheric fog, check out this tutorial:

http://www.indymogul.com/episode/IMWE_20070803

It shows you how to make a fog machine produce low sitting fog.
After having laboriously tried different methods of low-setting fog for the 1,000+person haunted house Atomic Productions has done for the past 4-5 years, I can for sure tell you that method is utter crap. It hardly ever has worked for us, and you're better off hoping than doing if you want it to look low in a movie.

I'm not exactly sure the exact method we use now (some chiller-type thing that is similar, don't know for sure), so I'll get back on that part.
Posted: Mon, 15th Oct 2007, 11:35am

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pdrg

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adamlightandmagic wrote:


Again, thanks for the concern. So, let's go with what you've been saying and I need a higher grade machine. What machine to you suggest? How much would it cost? I'm curious as to what model is up to this kind of thing.

Thanks,
Adam.
Hi again Adam, you're entirely correct to go with what you know is right for your shoot - only you know your setup, what effect you want, etc, and a lot of the posts above are not trying to make you change your mind in the least, but rather to document options and other thoughts for anyone in the future thinking about smoke machines - in fact that's exactly why I asked if you could post back to this thread about your results, to prove us doommongers wrong, and find a good affordable option for low-budget filmmakers!!

Are you able to borrow/test an 800W machine for a couple of hours outdoors in the garden? 800W is pretty much what you'll expect from disco hire companies, and they'll probably hire you a machine to try out.

If you wanted something with more kick (eg if the fog from the smaller machine dissipates whilst the head is reheating) you could try http://www.smokemachines.net/buy-continuous-output-smoke-machine.shtml something like this (can be rented), although http://www.smokemachines.net/buy-mobile-smoke-machine.shtml and http://www.smokemachines.net/buy-exterior-smoke-gun.shtml look rather fun too - that last one may be overkill for you thoguh wink

Whatever you choose, I'm sure you'll get what's right for you - we're just guessing, only you can tell for sure. Hope this helps smile
Posted: Wed, 17th Oct 2007, 7:40pm

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indeecar

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Great answers to some of these questions.

I JUST bought on ebay a 1000 watt fog machine (buy yours their)...it is an awesome machine.

i loved my old machine, the one thing this lacks the old had was thickness of fog.

i hear you can add ice, not sure about that, BUT IS THERE something i can add to make the finger linger longer and stay before evaportating.

thanks
Posted: Fri, 19th Oct 2007, 5:29pm

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pdrg

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Without knowing the fine details of what you bought etc, it's probably your fog fluid. Cheap fluid has more water = more steam = faster dispersal, the good stuff is more polyglycol = more smoke.
Posted: Fri, 19th Oct 2007, 10:46pm

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indeecar

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thanks, right i have researched it...the more Propylene Glycol the thicker.

where can i get thicker fluid for a good price?
Posted: Sat, 20th Oct 2007, 2:28pm

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pdrg

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http://www.smokemachines.net/buy-smoke-machines.shtml#smokefluid you could start here...
Posted: Mon, 22nd Oct 2007, 9:50pm

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indeecar

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thanks for the link.

i saw my fog machine...but i need thick dense lasting fog juice.

thanks though.

do you or anyone know of a way to rwad a fog juice item and see if it says thick, thin or medium juice.