Adding Ambience – Using Fog and Haze on Stage5 min read

fog and haze on concert stage
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When you want to add a sense of eeriness, wonder, or magic to a stage production, fog and haze can be great options. They let you alter the look of any scene to create certain types of ambiance and make specific lighting effects easier to achieve.

However, using fog and haze machines effectively can be surprisingly tricky. There are several points you’ll need to consider to ensure your production moves forward without a hitch. If you’re ready to add a new sense of atmosphere to a scene and want to make sure you tackle it properly, here’s what you need to know.

The Different Kinds of Machines

Fog Machines

Fog machines produce thick clouds that rise or spread as they are created. Usually, there are two main fog options available.

The first is basic fog. It will rise and spread, creating billowing clouds that can take up quite a bit of space on stage. Second, there are low fog effects. With those, the fog is chilled, causing it to stay closer to ground level until it begins to warm. As it heats up, it slowly rises.

Usually, the fog is heavy enough that lights may not penetrate it fully, giving you the opportunity to obscure certain areas of the stage, making them hard or impossible to view. In most cases, the fog lingers a bit. If it isn’t evaporating as quickly as you’d like, you can use fans to make the process quicker.

Haze Machines

Set of MDG ATMe Hazers in our shop

With a haze machine, you can produce a thin mist that tends to sit in the air. Usually, there are two primary types available: oil and water.

When you use an oil-based haze machine, the haze rises a bit more slowly, but it stays in the air longer. Water-based haze machines create a rising mist faster, but it usually dissipates more quickly.

There can be some cleanup issues with oil-based machines as well. Usually, the oil will build up over time, so you may need to clean more often. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a viable option.

Either kind of haze machine can be a great choice for achieving a range of lighting effects, including making beams visible or projecting gobos or patterns into a space. Plus, it can simply be used to create a dreamlike look on a stage.

Faze Machines

Faze machines are designed to create both fog and haze. However, many of them underperform when compared to specialty equipment. Still, if you need both effects and are on a tight budget, faze machines could be a reasonable option. Just make sure you look for a higher-quality unit, as it will likely perform better than cheaper ones.

Alternatives to Fog or Haze Machines

While fog and haze machines are popular, they aren’t the only way to achieve that look. One of the simplest approaches involves dry ice and hot water. Just fill a container with hot water and add pieces of dry ice to create the fog.

Safety Consideration for Using Fog and Haze on Stage

hazer being used for musician on stage

While fog and haze machines are largely safe, there are some safety considerations that you need to keep in mind. First, both fog and haze impact visibility. When used heavily, it can make it hard for people in the path of the effect to see objects clearly, increasing the risk of slips, trips, and falls.

Second, fog and haze can set off fire alarms certain kinds of fire alarms, particularly optical detectors. While you may be tempted to turn the alarms off for the production, that’s never a good idea. It’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do and may violate certain health and safety laws.

If you’re concerned about fire alarms, work with the alarm company or local fire departments to see what options may be available. Additionally, try to position the effects away from detectors, decreasing the odds it will be an issue.

Third, while the fluids used in the machines are generally considered safe, some people may experience different kinds of physical irritation or breathing issues when exposed to fog or haze. For example, the mist may trigger asthma symptoms in some people or could cause eye irritation in others.

If you’re planning on using these machines during a production, it’s essential to make sure that all participants can work around the fog safely. Additionally, inform audience members in advance that they will be in use, allowing those who may experience difficulties to either choose a seat away from the mist or skip the production.

Fourth, if you’re using dry ice, you do need to exercise caution. Touching it with bare skin can cause a burn that’s akin to frostbite almost instantaneously, and breathing in the fog (which is actually carbon dioxide gas) can be harmful.

Always wear heavily insulated gloves when working with dry ice, and use a face shield and safety glasses if you need to cut it. Also, only use it in well-ventilated areas to ensure the carbon dioxide gas doesn’t build up. Finally, be aware of HVAC systems. If an effects machine is near an intake, it could suck up the fog or haze, keeping it from staying where you want it. Plus, the haze or fog could potentially be harmful to HVAC systems, especially in large quantities, giving you another reason to keep the machines further away from the intakes.

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