Cinematography Mailing List - CML



Rain Effect

Published : 9th September 2009

I have a shot to execute where I have to create the shadow of rain on a window that is evident on the wall. Normally...if this were a "night" scene I would use a point source (or at least hard light) to get a crisp pattern projected on to the wall. Being that it is a "low key" day scene set during a period of rain I can't use hard light.

We don't have time to do elaborate "scrolling" effects with large pieces of plexi (or any other cumbersome rigs!).

I have a props guy spraying water on the window.

I am planning on blocking most of the ambient light and will use a 4k'chimera, possibly through a 6x6 frame, to create soft light through the window. If the source isn't "hard" enough, I’ll use just the chimera. If we still aren't feeling the pattern I will go direct through an opal frame, etc.

Any thoughts on how to get the rain pattern to read with soft light?

Dylan Macleod, CSC
Toronto, Canada

Hi Dylan...

I guess one could ask how far is the wall from the window? With soft light I would still say
Good Luck!!!!

Douglas Koch csc
Toronto on

Hey Doug

Thanks for the vote of confidence!

The wall is pretty close.

Another thought I had was to use a point source that is slightly "under" the exposure of the soft light coming in and soften the edges of that hard source, so that the hard window frame shadow won't be apparent.

Basically hard source and a soft source coming from the same direction...with the hard source slightly under exposed.

Dylan Macleod, CSC
Toronto, Canada


Could you maybe get away with a Source 4 (lieko) w/ a gobo pattern & mechanized rotator?

Just a thought.

Jared Hoy
Cinematographer || Gaffer
Los Angeles, CA

Hey Dylan...

Thought you'd appreciate my gallows humour!..HHHMMMM... maybe if the soft light is driven more downwards, toppy from window so it doesn't lower the contrast on the wall too much, combined with your idea of soft cuts on the hardlight hitting'll probably see some kicks off the water on window from the hard source if you've got it in frame.??

Also, hopefully no one walks thru the hard light beam...

Douglas Koch csc


I’d have to go with Douglas 100% with this, if you’ve no great separation with the window from the wall, & more importantly no separation from the set with the light source you’ll find it impossible for the effect to read, especially with a soft source.

I’ve tested numerous combinations & if you can pull it off I’d go with Douglas idea with using a strong effect for the wall. Best I’ve seen is a 6KW Arri X-Lite with a black reflector so the rain effect reads really well, using your prop guys spraying water on the glass. Then light the rest of the set/room softly with a directional soft source (Chimera with soft eggcrate or 6’ X frame with same attached) keeping as much off the window lit area or bleeding light into it to taste.


James Mc Guire

This is always a difficult effect to get right, just remember Conrad Hall and Cold Blood. In my experience, it's best to go with the hard point source idea and soften it up as you see fit. Blending it with a soft lighting will help as well.

Just my 2 cents...

Jim Sofranko

I hate to say it, but soft light alone is not going to create shadows of raindrops on a window on a wall that is more than a few inches away... you really need a fairly hard source . Another issue is that it is touchy to get drops to drip down a wet piece of glass... too much water and it will start sheeting... another cool look, but a different one. It will take a bit of experimentation... you might want to try a trough (rain gutter or cut-open piece of pvc pipe with holes in it)just inside or outside the window to create some stand-alone drops that maintain their globularity (is that a word?) since the shadow is thrown by the absence of light due to the water drop reflecting and refracting the light away from behind it.

Having said this, you might discover something that works, but I would drive the rain effect with a hard source - and in order to make that source harder, you might consider using a 4x4 mirror and hitting the light into the mirror from even further away so the light rays are as parallel as possible as they hit the front of the drops.

Good luck, and if you prove me wrong I will be just as delighted as you will be - please tell us if you come up with a good gag. I'm ignoring all the usual scene machine type scenic projector solutions to this. as you say there is no time to do that.

Here's a stupid idea - try milk or water with black ink in it...

Use a $12 little fountain pump to recirculate it if it works.

If the milk idea works, you can also use water that has a small amount of so-called "soluble oil" in it. This is available at any supply place that sells supplies for machinists or machine tools.. Soluble oil is the milky looking odd-smelling water solution used to cool milling machine, lathe, and similar machines. It is mostly water and acts like water in terms of surface tension, but is opaque.

Mark H. Weingartner
LA based

For those that are interested...

We shot the exterior shots and, thankfully for me, the agency and director wanted a "torrential downpour".

When it came time to reproduce the effect indoor, here is what I did.
I partially tented the window to control how much ambience was coming in, then use a 575 par with a fresnel lens well back from the window.

I "soft cut" the window edges so it wouldn't appear as hard light.(note the window was out of shot).
Big drag was that the window had the built in "mullions", I was worried that we would see the hard reflections of these, but when we hit the window with our "torrential downpour effect" the scattering water on the window softened the window mullion pattern and made for a lovely ripple water effect.
Worked out quite well and everyone was all smiles!

Bye for now.

Dylan Macleod, CSC
Toronto, Canada

Dylan - glad to hear that it worked out - a happy client is.....a happy client!

Mark Weingartner
LA based VFX DP

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