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class="style1">Shooting Visible Breath

>Published :  3rd June 2007

>For an image film coming up we want to shoot a runner in a cold, arctic environment. CGI backgrounds inspired from the Caspar David Friedrich painting 'The Polar Sea'. The runner will be shot as bluescreen element.

>What is the best way to achieve visible breath in a studio environment. Any tricks?

>Or shoot the breath separately in a cold room in front of black and composite it in.

>Many thanks.

>Holger Seidel
Cinematographer/Berlin


>I've heard that if you have someone suck on ice cubes and the studio is fairly warm, then you'll see visible breath. Humidity in the studio may be an important factor. I would think it should be very dry, but I'm no scientist and it may be the reverse or not matter at all.

>Try it at home!

>Also, obviously, smoke and steam are most visible when back lit.

>Steve Hullfish
Verascope Pictures


>The last time I did this - we rented a refrigerated truck - and shot your

>Plan B - in front of black and composited it in.

>I kept the original shoot - and we have used the "breath" footage on several spots since then.

>Kirby Hamilton
office - 904 396-1964
fax - 904 396-2050
cell - 904 910-3148
www.kirbyhamilton.com


class="style2">>>[...]if you have someone suck on ice cubes and the studio is fairly >>warm

class="style2">>>it may be the reverse

>The reverse. Hot breath and a cold environment is what's needed. And backlight . . . Lot's of backlight.

>Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.


>I remember reading about "2010" that they discovered when shooting the scenes on a refrigerated set that it helped to have a high humidity to see the breathes.

>David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles


>The most OBVIOUS solution is shooting in a cold environment, but I've seen my kids' breath on a hot day while they were eating a popsicle or after drinking a Slushee. And you've probably seen visible frosted air when you open the beer refrigerator at the liquor store and cold air spills out into the warm store. This is also essentially the same effect you see with dry ice (cold source, warm surroundings)

>If you want to actually shoot in a studio, then cooling that so much that you can shoot visible breath will be hard. It'll also be harder on the crew and the equipment. My solution just causes brain-freeze in the actor.

>I was just trying to figure out if a hot humid day would be better to reproduce this effect than a hot, dry day.

>If you can get this to work at home (ice cold breath in a room-temperature room with lots of back light and a home video camera) then you know you'll be able to pull it off in a professional shoot without having to air condition a massive studio to 30 degrees F or renting a refrigerated truck and trying to light inside it properly.

>Steve Hullfish
Verascope Pictures


>Living in Canada's Yukon the best visible breath we get is in cold and dry conditions.

>My suggestion would be to shoot in a large walk-in freezer like some of the big box stores have. You should have enough room to setup and light perfectly.

>Werner Walcher
Whitehorse, Yukon


>Quick advise:

>When I shot breath elements, we built a small visqueen room with two refrigeration units pumping air in (one might have worked fine) and cooled the room to 32 degrees. I backlit the breath with an ellipsoidal and had black velvet for the background. When footage was projected, we saw a lot of dust floating around. The next day we took every precaution we could, including wetting down the entire room and things where fine - no dust.

>Christopher C. Pearson
Director of Photography
Sherman Oaks, Ca.


>Oh yeah, we had the actor sip hot tea before every line of dialog.

>Christopher C. Pearson
Director of Photography
Sherman Oaks, Ca.


>They can also be added in post fairly inexpensively these days, if too big a pain to shoot live.

>Tim Sassoon
SFD vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA


class="style2">>>My suggestion would be to shoot in a large walk-in freezer like some >>of the big box stores have. You should have enough room to setup >>and light perfectly.

>I don't know what a "box store" is, but I think I did something similar. I got an ice company in Culver City to let me shoot in their refrigerated room, draped duvateen behind the actor (the associate producer, in my case) and dressed her in a black coat. One backlight flagged off the lens. I still have and use those breath elements.

>Mike Most
Chief Technologist
Cineworks Digital Studios
Miami, Fl.


>Didn't they use little cages in the extra's mouths with a chip of dry ice in them in Dr Zhivago? Or is that film folklore?

>Patrick Cady
DP/LA/600


class="style2">>>Didn't they use little cages in the extra's mouths with a chip of dry ice in >>them in Dr Zhivago? Or is that film folklore?

>I think it was the 1930's version of "Lost Horizon," set in the Himalayas, but shot in a studio in Hollywood.

>As I remember the story, one of the actors got tired of the wire cage in his mouth, and just tossed the piece of dry ice down his throat, permanently damaging his vocal cords, then sued the production company.

>I'll do some research and try to find some details.

>It's a great story, if true.

>Doug Hart
1AC, NYC


class="style2">>> I think it was the 1930's version of "Lost Horizon," set in the >>Himalayas, but shot in a studio in Hollywood.

>---It was an earlier Frank Capra movie, 'Zeppelin', which takes place in the Antarctic.

>Exteriors were being shot, probably, on the Columbia ranch in the San Fernando Valley. It's a cold day in hell, when one can get visible breath there. Because of that incident, the snow scenes in 'Lost Horizon' were filmed in a large refrigerated warehouse.

>Capra did the same for the end of 'Meet John Doe' and, maybe, scenes in 'It's a Wonderful Life'.

>Also you can't get usable dialogue with a cage in the actors mouth and I suspect that there is cold, dark section in hell for sun bathers.

>Leo Vale
Pgh PA


>Dry ice chip cages were also used with The Governator in Conan the Destroyer. he and his cronies walk through an ice palace spewing condensate.

>Eric j. Nelson
Heavy Visuals
Madison, wi


class="style2">>>Didn't they use little cages in the extra's mouths with a chip of dry ice in >>them in Dr Zhivago? Or is that film folklore?

>OTOH there can be the problem of getting rid of visible breath!

This happened on Full Metal Jacket with Becton Gas Works in east London standing in for Vietnam. We used huge industrial heaters whenever we came in for close/mid shots of the actors. Most of the sequence was shot in February, hence rather cold!

Brian Rose
UK Based


>I saw "Poseidon" and in the last scene where characters are out on the ocean in the dinghy ... their breath can be seen - all added digitally in post.

>Glen MacPherson ASC
Los Angeles


>Thanks to all for the answers.

>We decided to add the breath digitally in post.

>Holger Seidel
Cinematographer/Berlin