Stories are not always sunshine and rainbows. Oftentimes you need to recreate heavy snowstorms, rain showers and other extreme weather to make a production feel more realistic. That’s where people like Jeremy Chernick of J&M Special Effects come in. We spoke with Jeremy to find out how various weather is recreated on Broadway, live shows, and film to look like the real thing. Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Whether you need a snow storm, a huge gust of wind, or a fake rain shower, this man’s got you covered. Some TV shows and movies film scenes in extreme weather to make the story feel more realistic. But there’s one big problem with that approach.
Jeremy Chernick: You can never count on the weather to work for you.
Narrator: Jeremy Chernick is a designer at J&M Special Effects in Brooklyn.
Chernick: You can’t schedule the entire crew around waiting for snow.
Narrator: So you often have to make it yourself. Jeremy’s company creates practical special effects for a variety of live shows, music videos, and other productions.
Chernick: All the Disney Broadway shows, “Aladdin,” “Frozen.”
Narrator: He made it rain on Shawn Mendes at the 2018 MTV VMAs. J&M also rents out equipment for TV shows like “Gotham,” and “Elementary.” Basically, any conditions you can imagine, he can whip up. But the trick to creating fake weather is that it just needs to look real in the camera frame.
Chernick: You don’t need all the weather in the world to know it’s raining in a shot this big. You just need rain in the background or rain on top.
Narrator: So what exactly does it take to create the illusion of weather on camera or on stage?
Chernick: There are a lot of different ways that rain is done. And it depends on whether you’re interior or exterior.
Narrator: Outside, you can get a permit to hook up a hose to a fire hydrant or a water truck.
Chernick: You can split that water out to a variety of locations, and usually high big towers go up that can spray water from unbelievably high.
Narrator: Indoors you need a self-contained system attached to water supply.
Chernick: Right above me is a rain bar. So we have rain that is pouring down in sort of a five-inch channel, so if you’re looking dead at it, it looks pretty three-dimensional because you have rain here and here, and plus we can add a level of sort of mist into that that will just give it an even larger depth of field. And you can rows and rows and rows of them. The systems in place to keep that rain from never ever dripping unless you wanted it to rain is actually more complex than the moments when it’s actually raining. It’s mostly fairly low tech.
Narrator: There are a number of different products that are used to replicate snowflakes.
Chernick: You can get pretty large paper flakes that are squares and they fall in a very beautiful and specific way, you can get shredded paper that falls sort of organically. You can get it shredded plastic, which has a different feel to it, and the way that you deliver that is through blowers that are blowing it far overhead and a long distance.
Narrator: They also have special soap-based products that won’t stain clothes or make the ground slippery.
Chernick: Essentially, it’s like tiny bits of foam and that is a machine that is pushing that soap through a filter that makes it into snowflakes. Environmentally, there’s all sorts of stuff that ends up in the air to fill a picture in terms of haze, fog, smoke.
Narrator: These effects are usually produced with a fog machine.
Chernick: The most commonly used interior fog is glycol based, which is a type of alcohol.
Narrator: Sometimes you want the fog to fill the screen, and other times you want low-lying fog, which requires a few special tricks.
Chernick: That is most often done now using liquid CO2, or liquid nitrogen to chill the glycol fog to a very cold level. And that coldness is what heats it low to the ground. The thing that’s funny about wind, to me, is that you don’t see wind unless it’s either moving clothing or hair, or if it has some fog or some level of fog in it.
Narrator: J&M has fans of all sizes. We have incredibly quiet fans designed specifically for live television.
Narrator: With any of these weather effects, you want to be extra careful to protect camera equipment and the actors.
Chernick: There’s a shield, there’s plastic bagging, there’s sometimes tents.
Narrator: There’s also a risk of flooding indoors.
Chernick: Often scenery is going to be built and designed with water catch underneath, so it will be raining on what looks like the floor, but it’s designed to collect water.
Narrator: While these weather systems may not be exactly like the real thing, they get the job done.
Chernick: You don’t have to do a huge amount of post work if your special effects are right and they look right. And they’re telling your story. And the realistic stuff, is you can tell it’s real.
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