I don't want to kill the actors, I just want them to look pretty
February 8, 2009 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Tips on theatrical haze machines.

Doing lighting design for my first time on a production of Ruddigore. Central to my design plan is the use of a haze machine (as in, not a smoke machine) so that I can create a light gauze of color with my side lights.

I'm looking for general tips for these (such as which machines are worth the money or not, how to get the best coverage, and so forth) but my immediate concern is about whether I should go with water or oil-based haze. My brief research shows that oil-based smoke (which is much, much denser than haze) can cause respiratory problems, which doesn't really mix well with a bunch of people singing in a not-particularly-well-ventilated auditorium. However, oil haze can hang for around 6 hours, whereas water haze has about a 1-hour time. We're looking at a runtime of a little over 2 hours, and I'd rather my lighting effects not die out at the end of each act.

Any tips would be very welcome. Thank you.
posted by Navelgazer to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can say with certainty, that even the water-based haze machines can affect actors. (I am not even particularly sensitive, but I always had a small coughing fit every night which I timed to be in the wings.) In that production, they let it go before the house came in, and then again at intermission.
posted by typewriter at 2:24 PM on February 8, 2009

If you have a main rag you can bring in, you could always run the hazer again during intermission.

And speaking as someone who accidentally got the oily smoke machine liquid on his hand (the machine had a leak, and I was wondering why there was "water" on the floor): it does not come out of anything. Use the water-based stuff.
posted by oaf at 2:54 PM on February 8, 2009

You want water based- no questions. Not only will your singers throw a fit if you use oil based, but it can condense on the stage and make things really unsafe- especially when people are dancing. Even with water based, they may throw a fit if you're planning on using haze throughout the show and really, they're in the right- their voice > your lighting effect (and I'm a professional lighting designer) so just be prepared to be flexible about it.

As far as units, I like the Le Maitre Radiance. You're going to want something that's DMX controllable so you can ride it throughout the show through the board. Also, put it on an inhibitive submaster so if it goes berserk you can have the board op pull it out right away. Make sure you're ready to put it in from day one of tech because you never know what the ventilation system (or lack thereof) will do. I've seen fog and haze get sucked into the pit, the audience, the back ally... it's nearly impossible to predict how it's going to pan out before you try it. And make sure to let everyone know you're going to do it- stage management and production management should be aware in case the fire alarms need to be disabled or there are asthmatics that can't be around it.

Good luck. Be patient with it.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 3:04 PM on February 8, 2009

Can't speak to safety of this, but I watched a lighting guy put plumber's flux paste into a ceramic cone with a heating element around it, with a regular screw-in edison base, like would fit in a dish-shaped room heater. Pointed up, the flux (available in any hardware store,) went in the cone and gave out a good theater-filling haze when it was heated.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2009

Doesn't plumbers flux contain sulfuric acid?
posted by Raybun at 3:45 PM on February 8, 2009

Even though most professional opera singers are covered by AGMA, many theatres abide by the more stringent Equity rules for safety. You can read them here. As you can probably tell, this is a sticky subject for many theatres, so you need to be really responsible about how you handle this. Don't ghetto-rig anything. Health and safety first.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 4:12 PM on February 8, 2009

I've used a hazer in a number of shows. Generally, you can throttle the amount of haze that comes out, or have a stagehand turn it on and off periodically during the act.

We used the water-based formula, and the actors had no complaints; our fog machine, however, with an oil-based formula, did cause some respiratory distress in one of our performers, and we had to stop using it.

Though they're expensive, I highly recommend a hazer. They give dimension to the lights, filling the stage with color to the top of the proscenium, and they can produce either a dreamy cinematic or rock-concerty feel for the show.

Other thoughts: I recommend pointing the nozzle away from the stage so it diffuses in the wings rather than visibly streaming onstage. A gentle fan can help it disperse better as well. Also, be aware that hazers are finicky, and can easily get clogged. Read the directions carefully: for our hazer, there's a specific set of steps to turn it on and off. Lastly, you will want to find out if the theater uses particulate-matter-sensing smoke detectors anywhere; I'd hate to have your show interrupted by a visit from the fire department.
posted by ad_hominem at 6:08 PM on February 8, 2009

Best answer: Haze is not Fog; Fog is not Haze. They are two completely different atmospheric products with two completely different atmospheric goals and effects. Fog is dense, it is thick; Haze is wispy, it is light, and it serves as a way to shape beams of light. It's easy to turn haze into something resembling fog when you use too much - and depending on the room you're in, it might be difficult to control it. Temperature makes a great difference in the atmospherics's "viscosity," if you will.

You know, of the hundreds of shows I've done in the gamut of venues all over the globe, I've probably used a hazer (or two, or three) in 65% of them. You're not ever going to win the argument as to whether or not it's a good thing - frankly, I am a huge fan of making the beams I designed in a show three-dimensional, because haze rocks. Products like the DF-50 use a cracked oil as the atmospheric product, and it is - in my opinion - the quintessential atmospheric. Using one of the cracked oil products isn't going to make you popular with video directors or video projectors because of the effect it seems to have on the guts of a DLP projector. Also, it has a tendency, after a little while, to leave a residue on everything that it touched. Water based haze products just are not as good. This is of course my aesthetic opinion - but it's an opinion with several hundred shows behind it.

I do find myself using water-based products pretty much on a regular basis nowadays - I've tried the LeMaitre G-300, which is a hazer/fogger with DMX control. LeMaitre also makes a smaller, cost effective device called the Neutron XS which is okay; I don't personally like the way that LeMaitre products haze, but this is my opinion, and tens of thousands of people love LeMaitre atmospheric products. I have fallen head over heels with a company called Look Solutions, and their water based, two-channel hazer - the Unique 2. DMX controlled, very good haze that is pretty easy to thin with a fan - and you don't have to clean the fluid out of it after you use it. I left one for 3 months without touching it, and I fired it up and it was golden.

Is haze good for you? Who knows. People like Monona Rossol will have the information, actors have gone on strike before to get the haze level in a show lowered, and yes - the performers' unions have regulations on how much can be used. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Monona Rossol speech, and she had informative things to say about haze. You can pull the MSDS for pretty much all of these products online to check the acceptable levels of exposure and PEL ratings. I can say confidently because I just had a cancer screen on my lungs (for an unrelated issue) and I have converted literally used hundreds of gallons of haze in my lighting design career. However, one thing to consider: when you put something that people can see in the air and make them breathe it, some of them are going to cough, choke, and hack. It's psychological, but I guarantee it's going to happen. Also, I cannot say that haze does not affect actors, but I've spent my career around thousands of pros, both in the acting/opera/dance/performer realm, and in the music business. I've never seen someone do anything other than bitch about the haze - not get sick, have an attack, etc.

I agree with ad_hominem - I normally try to vent the haze from somewhere else, or put a very powerful fan in front of the hazer that I can control, like a Jem fan.

@StickyCarpet: Are you sure it wasn't Sal Ammoniac? With a heater cone, Sal Ammoniac has been used for many years as an atmospheric. I used it as recently as the late 1990s for specifically that purpose. I cannot say it's good for you; it's a great atmospheric for lighting, but it's got a pretty acrid smell and taste.
posted by jimmyhutch at 7:28 PM on February 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

A friend and business partner is a lighting designer; I asked him this, and he says thusly.

"Running any haze for an hour straight is not going to be great on anyone's lungs, oil or water based, and running a hazer for an hour straight is going to get expensive (lots of fluid used every performance). Water based haze is the only thing that equity approves of, as far as I know (ask equity)."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on February 9, 2009

Doesn't plumbers flux contain sulfuric acid?

Google says that regular flux is zinc chloride or zinc ammonium chloride, however self cleaning flux is considered more hazardous and probably contains acid. The lighting designer who used this (in the Joyce theater, NYC) considered it a standard technique. It was quite definately a haze, as opposed to a fog, he ran it for a bit before the house opened and not after that, it created a space filling haze that remained throught the show.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:25 PM on February 10, 2009

When I took a class with Monona last September, she was down on both oil- and water-based hazes. Water-based is generally thought to be safer, but she implied that the safety of it still wasn't adequate. She also related a story about some high percentage of the musicians in the pit of a Broadway show developing brand-new cases of asthma over the course of a run.

We used a dry-ice fogger for a show in Colorado, but I know it's haze you're looking for and not fog. If you end up doing dry ice, I think there are some requirements that the heating element for the water has to have a timer attached so that it shuts off automatically. It was also true, like jimmyhutch said, that the weather affected how good the fog looked.
posted by lauranesson at 8:09 AM on February 11, 2009

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