Controlled smoke / haze
Simple smoke generators are relatively cheap, but those that are DMX controlled, make the smoke cling to the floor, and/or light up the smoke tend to be quite expensive and difficult to justify unless they are used regularly. There are some things you can do to improve a cheap generator.
  • Remote control the various functions using DMX relays (see data sheet). Most cheap generators have a plug-in switch that lets you know when the machine is ready and a button to release the smoke. A DMX relay can be wired across the switch contacts to control smoke release. This is essential when controlling the smoke from a remote effects desk.
  • Aim the smoke using a tumble drier hose. Simply taped to the front of the generator it aims but doesn't restrict the smoke. It has the advantage of cooling the smoke, which has the affect of making it cling to the floor more. It is not a substitute for dry ice or chilled heavy fog, but is a cheap alternative.
  • Disperse the smoke using remotely controlled fans, again using relays. A couple of equipment fans suitably placed near the smoke exit can help aim and disperse the smoke in a controlled manner. We have one fan mounted inside the exit port of the hose.
  • Light up the smoke. Smoke machines that do this tend to have small LED spotlights built into them aimed near the smoke nozzle and this does emphasise the smoke. HOWEVER that is not what smoke / haze is normally used for. It is for highlighting light beams that are aimed at other things, the smoke is a medium to pick out the light path.
  • Reduce the noise of the generator while it generates smoke by extending the nozzle as described above and placing the generator in a box (with air vents). Extending the nozzle using a pipe also delays the appearance of smoke, so the sound can be edited out before smoke can be seen,

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A special effect used in 'A Throne of Shadows' where the floor on which the King's throne sits appears to be floating and smoke and lights appear from underneath it. (See also the example video)

The context is that the King is told not to venture outside his confinement space and the flashing lights are an alarm because he tries. If he succeeded he would fall into an abyss.

The 'floor' is a thin sheet of black plywood overhanging a platform, under which smoke has been piped and directed by fans. The evenly spread flashing colours (red in this still) are provided by a LED lighting strip stuck to the underside of the plywood. The blue ambience is from overhead and side stage lights.

Implied pyrotechnics
Real pyrotechnics (flames, explosions, sparks etc) can be very expensive and dangerous. There is no substitute for the real thing and a lot of lower cost implementations look cheap (for cheap read naff). However there are some tricks we have tried that work. The main factor in their design is to think of what primary impressions the real thing gives in terms of sound and light.
  • Thunder and lightening. First always remember a fact of nature. Lightening comes before thunder (if they are at the same time you are in real trouble). Fork lightening is less common than sheet lightening and have the same effect unless you are looking at it. So forget trying to emulate fork lightening unless you really need it (it is best done by projection). Use a string of LED lights out of direct audience sight but long enough to provide a wide light source. Thunder is a rumble. Use a sound effect through good sub-bass 'speakers if you are working live.
  • An open fire. Unless it is part of the plot open fires can be implied by a good flicker lamp out of sight. If it is supposed to be a wood fire it will need a sound effect which will need to appear to come from the same place as the light. I have never seen a convincing bonfire on stage, and on film it can be either 'after effect' generated or filmed outside.

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