Need Better Smoke Effects? Here's a Cheap DIY Way to Get Thicker, Sexier Fog

Do you need to shoot a scene that needs a smoking engine? How about one with decayed zombie hands reaching up out of their fog-laden graves to grab the ankles of unsuspecting victims?

Then you're going to need some smoke -- or fog -- or whatever you usually call that heavy white vapor that always makes scenes look so good. We've talked about the benefits of using smoke on-set before, how it's a great cinematographic tool that can add depth to your shots, diffuse light, or simply create a stylistic atmosphere.

However, if you're looking for cheap, DIY solutions for smoke effects like the ones named above, then you'll want to check out this video by Film Riot. In it, they show you how to make super dense, low-hanging fog by combining a smoke machine, a styrofoam cooler, PVC pipe, and a block of dry ice.

I love this set up so much, because not only am I a lazy fool, I'm also a lover of both MacGyver and dry ice. We posted a video back in May of a DIY solution to cooling fog so that it thickens and hangs low on the ground, but it was admittedly a little too labor-intensive for my taste. It also used ice cubes instead of dry ice, which, I'd assume, would melt quickly under the heat of all of the lighting equipment -- then you'd have to constantly be having to replenish the cubes in order to cool the fog and it'd just be a huge, wet, stupid mess.

The only issue I can see people having is being able to procure a smoke machine. I know that I could go rent or purchase one at any number of stores in my area, but I also know that not everyone can. If that's you, dry ice can give you at least some of the effect you're looking for, though it's by no means a substitute. Also, it's messier and more dangerous and would require a lot of receptacles. If you do have access to smoke machines but they're a little outside of your budget (a good one costs about $150), renting one is a good option, too -- though after you see what it can do for your shots you'll want to use it all the time. You'd eventually end up spending the same amount of money (or more) on rental fees anyway.

Like we've said before, these things can do wonders for your shots and is certainly an area of cinematography that is well worth your time to experiment with (and become the lord of) it.     

Your Comment


Can anyone recommend a cheap fog machine that does not break after a few uses? I've had several - Chauvet 700 and a few from the party store - and they worked great for a month or so, then just stopped working. I also clean them with distilled water + vinegar to keep it from getting clogged.

So yeah, if anyone has any suggestions for a fog machine that won't break so quickly, I'd appreciate it.

December 21, 2014 at 10:18PM

Gene Sung
DP / Director

I have done this very trick for a metal music video, or rather a variant of the idea. Worked well keeping the fog low to the ground. But it's fog. Don't bank on it staying low forever.

December 21, 2014 at 11:05PM


Be aware that there's a hidden danger with dry ice in that it's carbon dioxide, and being cold will sink to the floor. Someone lying on the floor therefore does run a genuine risk of asphyxiation. It's also CO2 vapour, not gas, and the crystals can damage tissue. Be careful. ;-)

December 22, 2014 at 1:40AM

Karel Bata
Director / DP / Stereographer

Forget low lying fog. I need a proper low budget hazer. Very useful.

December 23, 2014 at 3:10AM, Edited December 23, 3:10AM

Jonathon Sendall
I bought a smoke machine from these guys over a year ago for $35 and it's still going strong.
A few months ago, I got a hazer from them, too. More expensive but, seems hazers are more complicated and bigger. Been working great, though.

December 23, 2014 at 6:39AM

Richard Krall

I personally like making smoke bombs. You don't get the same look but it does add that "production value" you may be looking for. Plus it's stupid cheap. You only need two ingredients: saltpeter and sugar. It cost me about $15 total for a 10b bag and the sugar.
If you have a camera capable of high frame rates even better. Just proceed with caution as it is somewhat explosive if you get the measurements wrong.

December 24, 2014 at 8:58AM

Ryan Espinosa

I'll second the warning about the CO2 poisoning. This is NOT a danger you want to put your crew and actors in. There is no better way to piss of SAG-AFTRA than to put their members in danger.

Cooling air from the fog machine, however, is definitely a much safer alternative.

December 26, 2014 at 12:32PM

Jeremy Parsons
Director of Photography / 1st Assistant Camera / Crane Tech