ESTA INTRO TO MODERN ATM
INTRODUCTION TO MODERN ATMOSPHERIC EFFECTS
|Publication Date:||1 January 2015|
"The spells of the hero, beneath the castle, conjure up volumes of vapor, which at first, float dimly in the air, thicken into a film, and then a mist, till the dark masses of clouds roll over and melt into each other, and the stage is entirely enveloped, like the summit of some sky-clearing mountain."
So reported the New York Mirror about a dramatization of Ivanhoe at the Bowery Theatre in 1831. Atmospheric effects have been part of theatrical productions since long before this show, almost since the beginning of theatre. The Greeks used burning pitch and resinous torches, and in Shakespeare's time the smoke from black powder charges blew across the stage of the Globe outside London. Over the years a wide variety of methods have been used to make something that looks like smoke, clouds, haze, or mist on stage. Many people working in the entertainment industry today can remember loading electric heater cones with ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac), pumping a bee smoker, or lighting smoke cookies or pellets to gain the desired effect. Titanium tetrachloride, which produces thin white smoke when exposed to the air, has been used, even though contact with moisture produces corrosive hydrogen chloride gas as well as a cloud of white titanium dioxide. With the exception of steam, the early atmospheric effects techniques offered very little control over where the effects would go and could not be easily stopped and started on cue. Many of them were unacceptably toxic by modern health standards, and many of them were fire hazards
Today's widely used atmospheric effects are fundamentally different from most of the earlier effects in that they are almost always fog effects. The fog might be shot from a machine in a big burst that looks like smoke, or it might roll across the floor as low, white clouds, or it might float almost invisibly in the air as a thin haze, but almost all modern atmospheric effects are fogs: tiny droplets of liquid floating in the air. Glycol-based fog systems (often called a "smoke machine") produce a fog in which the droplets are a mixture of water and glycol or glycerin. The familiar dry ice fog machine produces a fog in which the droplets are water. The machines known as "hazers" produce a thin haze of highly refined mineral oil, glycol, or some other fluid. All of them produce aerosols of liquid droplets suspended in the air.
Besides the burning pitch, black powder, and fumed sal ammoniac mentioned above, there are many non-fog machine ways of making smoke on stage, but they are outside the scope of this book. These methods include smoking tobacco in cigarettes and pipes; vaping e-cigarettes, e-cigars, and electric hookahs; burning incense; igniting firecrackers and gerbs; blowing dry pigment or other dust into the air; and other technologies not specifically detailed here. These all put visible aerosols into the air, but are not widely used to create atmospheric effects, and are not technologies covered in this book. This book is about modern atmospheric effects that are produced by machines specifically designed to create "smoke" or fog effects on stage.
The ease with which atmospheric effects now can be created by machines designed to produce them has made fog effects routine, but important information about the effects-how they work, how to use them effectively, what to avoid-has been scarce. This book describes modern atmospheric fog effects in simple terms. From each section, you will get a basic understanding of the technology, its effective use, as well as benefits and cautions. The established exposure limits for the chemicals used are included when they are available. Next, there is a brief discussion about how to work with a fog once you have put it in the air, and a table that summarizes the technologies. Near the end of the book, there is a brief glossary of terms. The technologies of modern atmospheric effects have grown beyond our current vocabulary to describe them. This glossary will help everyone speak the same language in the field of entertainment atmospherics. Finally, a list of additional reading material is provided.
This book is not a substitute for the operator's manual that fog machine manufacturers include with their products. All fog machines are not the same, and rules of thumb or the instructions for one machine may be completely wrong for another. If you do not have an operator's manual for your particular machine, get one. The manual includes important details of the fog machine's operation, which are beyond the scope of this book. Be sure you read the fog machine operator's manual carefully and follow the manufacturer's recommended operating procedures.