Special effects have become a great way to razzle-dazzle your crowds, and create lasting images for viewers. From lighting and audio, to fog and make-up and everything in between there is a wide variety of “eye candy” available for every production.
First off, if you are new to the special effects arena…welcome to our highly imaginative world of strange, yet acceptable behavior! The key to successful special effects, is familiarizing yourself with the apparatus that is available, then mixing & matching the apparatus to achieve the look, or shall we say… effect…you are wanting. Your imagination is your only limit…other than budget!
Let’s start with a few old standbys. Smoke, fog, and haze, are very commonplace, but still get the crowd’s attention. These are three very similar, yet very different effects. Depending upon with whom you talk, the terms differ between smoke and fog. These are strictly our explanations.
Smoke is a puff or cloud of smoke that is dispensed from a smoke machine. The smoke substance dissipates and lingers for a few minutes in the air. Smoke is great for “disappearing” acts, fire pits, and makes a great effect when shot into a flat laser beam.
Dry ice fog is the kind that “crawls” along the ground. It is the best to use when you want the performers to appear “on a cloud.” Because the fog that is produced stays on the ground and wants to travel to the lowest spot, it is great to use at the top of stairways for a dreamy waterfall effect. Low flying fog is normally created by dry ice being dropped into extremely hot water. Special fog machines are made to perform this effect. The standard design consists of a container which is filled with water, a heating element that will bring the water to the correct temperature, and a basket for dry ice that is attached to a lever, which extends to the outside of the unit for operation. By manually lowering the basket filled with dry ice into the hot water, the low flying ground fog effect is created.
Haze is produced by a unit which dispenses a “smoky” substance that has already dissipated when it enters the air. It takes a little time to fill a room, but gives the area plenty of texture and atmosphere without the noise, puff, or cloud of a smoke machine. Haze can be used to create wonderful effects for underwater, forest, and dungeon scenes.
Black light is yet another great and versatile effect. It can be used in total darkness to accent fluorescent colors, causing the items to appear to be floating in mid air. Another application can be the use of translucent paint on set pieces to give the effect of light shining from the windows of buildings, or moonlight shining through the forest onto the leaves.
Here’s our latest lightning concoction. Multiple strobe tubes can be controlled from one controller in a chasing pattern, giving a lightning bolt effect. We wanted to make it look more realistic, so here is what we did. (For those of you who have seen our original lightning bolts, we simply modified them.) We took a 4″ x 8′ PVC pipe and cut it in half-length wise. Using a router, we cut out lightning bolt patterns from top to bottom. We lined both of the tubes with aluminum foil, making it highly reflective. The strobe tube was mounted inside, then the 2 halves were hinged together. We capped both ends, and ta-da!! Instant lightning bolts!
While we’re on the subject of strobes, there are all sizes and shapes of strobe lights. Egg strobes are effective, but are not controllable. By placing these fixtures randomly under the seats of the viewing audience, you can engulf them into the scene, making them feel like a part of the action. Egg strobes are also great to use around the edge of a space ship.
Speaking of space ships, need to land one on your stage? Just dropping it out of the ceiling with some smoke and lights won’t work, you need to add in the audio portion. With a good sub woofer system, and the right sound track, your audience will not only see, but also “feel” the landing. Want to add even more realism? Hide some large fans to blow air gently across the viewers.
Another new addition to the MULTI-TECH special effects shelves in the warehouse, are flames in a bowl. When it came time for the annual Easter production, one of the temple scenes was looking a little flat. What did we do? We added in some fake flame units created by a fan, lights, and cloth. We placed them in flower pots which we painted to look like stone, and hung them from the ceiling. The fake flames added such depth to the scene, and of course they collected their fair share of “oohs & ahhs!”
Spinning gobo holders have been around for awhile. Even so, they are still effective in adding movement to any scene. By inserting the portable unit into any Ellipsoidal fixture, you can make your stationary gobos come to life. One of our favorite ways to utilize this toy is on a campfire scene. We use an Ellipsoidal fixture with an L158 gel, and a spinning gobo holder containing two campfire gobos. When the soldiers sit down at the campfire, they appear to have the flicker and glow of a campfire reflecting off of them.
Looking for dry water? We were, we found it, and so – yet another “toy” has hit the shelves at MULTI-TECH! A specialty light, called a Shimmer, produces the effect of looking into a clear pool of water with the sun shining into it. The lower priced units come with colors that change, or rotate, continually. If you are looking to choose a color from the rotation and hold it, the price goes up. This will be the first year we will be using that effect. At the ascension, it will be shining straight up to the white ceiling above Jesus’ head, giving the scene movement and “oomph” – both of which the scene has been lacking for years! Another effect we are looking to try with a dry water light, is having the river in Egypt turn to blood when Moses does his thing.
Make-up and costuming play well with special effects. Blood capsules, stage blood, latex body pieces, scars, scrapes, and warts are all special effects that add to the realism.
If you are looking for a new twist, try painting some transparent masks, and having the performers wear them on the backs of their heads, and choreograph the routine with the performers facing the back of the stage. It’s really cool!
Costumes can sometimes hide the distracting operational gear of effects. When angels are flying overhead, if the costumes are eye catching enough, viewers will never notice the cables.
Painting costumes with translucent paint then using a black light with the regular lighting gives the costumes a whole new look in mid performance.
The use of gobos helps enhance “movement” of performers. As they pass through the light, the gobo pattern will seem to move over the costumes.
Special effects are what we like to refer to as the bells & whistles. They should not recreate the message, they should simply be used to enhance the presentation of the message.
The general public has actually come to expect special effects. Due to ever increasing and rapidly changing technology, people have come to enjoy the adventure of seeking out the next latest and greatest audio-visual stimulation.
Don’t let your church fall victim to thinking that this stuff is only for the “big guys.” If you want to get involved in special effects, but are not comfortable with how to introduce it, where to begin, or what basic items you should invest in, call us- we’d be glad to assist you in getting started.
We hope the best for you in your technical journey and as always – keep it fun!