July 29, 2019

Haze, Fog, or Steam? This Video Will Tell You Which Is the Best

Almost everyone loves the look of a hazy backdrop, but getting that effect can be a challenge.

It's an element that comes into play so often on professional film sets, you might not even notice it all the time. But subtle touches like haze or fog in a project can do several things for a filmmaker.

Sometimes filmmakers are adding fog/haze in order to achieve a creepy aesthetic. But fog/haze will also act as an in-air diffusion, spreading your light and carrying its color all through a set. It also adds dimension to your shot, softening the background and making the foreground subject appear crisp and sharp. Overall, it can help make your shoot feel more cinematic and sexy, rather than flat and boring.

Just take a look at the movies of Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott. Those guys love a smoky set.

Crimson Engine takes a look at some of the most common tools used to create in-air diffusion, and what you should consider with each one. Watch their video below.

Haze

Haze is a thin, smoky diffusion that hangs like a screen in the air. The benefit of haze (instead of fog) is that it is a thinner, lighter effect that works quickly and stays in the air for long periods. This is great for long shoots.

For this shoot, Crimson Engine is using the Reel EFX DF-50. It's an expensive and heavy piece of equipment, costing anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500.

Another option would be to rent, or find a lower-cost hazer like the ones made by CHAUVET.

Haze in E.T.
Credit: Universal Pictures

Another benefit is that hazers are sometimes water-based, making them safe to use and breathe for long periods.

Fog

Fog machines are much cheaper, and their effect is a heavier, denser smoke that hangs in the air with less consistency. Fog tends to "swirl," so you can always see it moving. It also settles and dissipates quickly.

Fog machines are often used to create the look of smoke on set.

Another downside of fog machines are that they require what's called "fog juice" or "fog fluid." These are oil-based liquids that can puddle on set and can be irritants. So if you're shooting for long periods or have children on set, keep that in mind.

Steam

Crimson Engine also got decent diffusion effects with a couple of humidifiers. Humidifiers use water alone to create safe, cheap vapor.

Of course, with this lower-budget option you run into time issues. Humidifiers will need to run for hours to get the appropriate amount of steam in the air for your shoot. Once that's accomplished, you'll need to work quickly and have a closed set so the effect isn't lost.

Blade Runner 2049 - Denis Villeneuve
Credit: Warner Bros.

Other options

If you're working outside, you can use real smoke as an in-air diffusion. Try using a slow-burn smoker with wood chips. Remember that you have to consider wind on outdoor sets, so you'll have to wait for a calm day.

Crimson Engine also suggests "haze in a can" as a potential easy fix. This is obviously only something that can be used for quick, small shots, but might work as a last resort.

What's next? Check out more tips for creating smoke effects

Learn more about the differences between fog, smoke, and haze with some great examples. We've also got tips for how you can use dry ice to create sexy fog, or how to creatively use a smoke machine. And here's one household item that will get you powerful fog.

Do you have any tips or tricks for getting great haze or fog on your sets? Let us know in the comments.     

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