July 25, 2023
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Weather Special Effects & The Right Permits

Shiv Rajagopal
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With the rise of VFX and CGI over the last two decades, telling stories set in unique weather has become a lot easier. While these post-production tools are essential in enhancing weather effects, many filmmakers still choose to create these effects practically. 

This article will break down the equipment and planning required to create weather effects for movies by the books. We will also review the required communication with local offices, location agreement details, and the permitting process.

What are ‘weather special effects’?

Weather special effects refer to weather conditions such as rain, snow, or heavy wind that filmmakers can practically recreate during production. 

Given how advanced CGI has become, you might wonder why producers use practical weather effects.

The first reason is that the time of a CGI effects house has become increasingly hard to get.

The second reason is that practical weather effects in movies bring out better performances from actors who can experience it in real time. 

You might think, “This is easy for a studio, but what can I do as a producer working on a tight budget?” Well, you’d be surprised! Weather special effects are much easier to pull off than most people think. 

How do you create windy conditions?

Wind weather effects for movies can be created indoors and outdoors using custom-built equipment. They are often used to enhance scenes that already feature rain or snow. 

Get the best equipment

The wind machine is essential for recreating windy weather effects for movies. Imagine it as a giant industrial-size fan. Special effects rental companies carry different sizes and specs based on the scope of the scene.

Let the Rain Fall - Wrapbook - Wind Machine
Wind machines used to create weather effects for movies. SOURCE

Additionally, the effect of wind machines can be hard to see on camera if no actors are present. In these situations, using a fog machine creates the illusion of mist flying across the frame. 

Obtain the location agreements 

Like all weather special effects, wind machines must be disclosed as part of the location agreement with the property owner. Wind is not a dangerous weather special effect, but it can be disruptive due to the noise it generates. 

Filmmakers must obtain permission from nearby residents and occupants as part of any permitting process. Even if this isn’t required, it is good practice to do so as it reduces the chance of a noise complaint during production. 

Download Wrapbook’s location scouting checklist to help you lock down the ideal location for your film or commercial. 

Apply for a permit

The local film office will usually require a signed location agreement and a list of signatures from nearby residents as part of the permit application. You must disclose the use of wind machines on the application as a weather special effect. It is best practice to disclose the following:

  • What is happening in the scene?
  • The number of wind machines.
  • The length of their usage.
  • A detailed description of their usage.
  • A location map highlighting the wind machine's location.

Prepare for production 

Wind can also be challenging on set. Recording dialogue, in particular, becomes a complicated process. Some rental houses carry quieter wind machines, but these units can be more expensive.

Let the Rain Fall - Wrapbook - Wind Operator
Wind Machine and operator on set. SOURCE

Productions should plan to do clean takes of dialogue without wind effects if the budget does not allow for luxuries. Otherwise, you will have to commit to dubbing in dialogue during post-production.

How do you create snowfall?

Creating snowy weather effects in movies has a long history. Christmas classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood experimented with different materials to create faux snow. Fun fact, asbestos was commonly used as fake snow before we understood the severe risk it posed. 

Choose your equipment

Today, you can choose between paper, plastic, and soap-based options to achieve this weather special effect. Paper or plastic snow can be bought in bulk and fed through industrial-grade blowers to create the effect of snowfall. These are also great for covering the ground and other objects in the frame.

Soap-based solutions are becoming popular today as they are silent. For example, the Silent Storm, an artificial snow machine, can provide a similar snowfall effect but is silent. 

Obtain location agreements

The property owner must approve the use of the snow materials and machines. As plastic and paper snow involves blowing thousands of tiny pieces, it could pose a cleaning issue. 

If production occurs in a public location, it can be a nuisance to nearby residents or pedestrians. We advise using contained locations when creating this particular weather effect for movies. 

The location manager or production coordinator must collect signatures from nearby residents and occupants while notifying them about creating weather effects for movies. Make sure to disclose the type of snow machine and its impact on nearby residents' day-to-day activities.

You must describe the scope of the snowfall. If you choose plastic or paper-based solutions, highlight the loud noise of the wind machines and blowers. Failure to do so could result in a delay to your shooting schedule on production days. 

Apply for a permit

Snow-based special effects can be messier than other weather effects in movies. Therefore, be upfront and as thorough as possible in your permit applications. Vague descriptions and incomplete information will only delay the process.

Be sure to include the following information: 

  • What is happening in the scene?
  • What type of snow weather? (snowstorm, blizzard, light snowfall, etc.).
  • Type and number of snow machines being used.
  • Plan of use (how often will the machine be used, set up/break down days, how will it be contained, etc.).
  • A location map highlighting areas of use and placement of machines.
  • Cleaning plan.

Prepare for production

There are some safety concerns when using paper and plastic snow, as they tend to be slippery and could lead to accidents. Using soap-based snow is ideal from a production standpoint as it dissolves and does not stain. Like windy weather special effects, recording dialog may be an issue if snow blowers are in use. 

How do you create rainstorms?

Rain is a complicated weather effect to achieve for an indie or commercial production. It is time-consuming and might even require communication with the local water department. 

If you are short on time or money, several DIY options are available to create rainfall. But, if your scene calls for a rainstorm covering a larger surface area, we have you covered!

Choose your equipment

Rental houses carry different types of rain machines depending on the location. Rain Bars are used to create rain for most indoor or stage locations. In comparison, Rain Towers are used in outdoor locations intended for larger weather effects in movies. A standard package would include the rain machine, hoses, and a hydrant wrench. 

When it comes to rain weather effects for movies, there are two potential sources of water: water trucks or fire hydrants. Water trucks are expensive and should only be used when there is no access to a hydrant nearby. 

Hydrants, of course, require special permission to use. More on that in a minute.

Outside the special effects equipment, productions must also coordinate with the local water department and rent a meter to track the gallons of water used. You may also require adapters from the rental house to fit the meter.

Obtain location agreements 

The use of rain machines must be specified and approved in the location agreement. 

While using rain machines, beware of the risk of stagnant water. You do not want to cause any environmental issues during your shoot. To ensure you run an environmentally-friendly production, be upfront with the property owner and ensure there are drains during your first tech scout.

Let the Rain Fall - Wrapbook - Rain
Rain bar rigs are used to create rain inside a studio. SOURCE

Similarly, the amount of water used to create a rainstorm can be loud and thus a nuisance to the neighbors. Location managers must notify nearby residents or occupants of the noise while collecting signatures. 

Apply for a permit

Some film permits will ask if you have water or rain-related weather special effects. But it is good practice to include the information to keep things moving smoothly.

For the film permit, include the following information: 

  • What scene is being filmed? 
  • What type of rain? (thunderstorm, drizzling, heavy rain, etc.)
  • Type and number of rain machines.
  • A location map highlighting the areas of use, fire hydrant location, rain machine placement, and rain coverage area.
  • Plan of usage (how long will the machines run for?).

Apart from a standard film permit, a special use permit (for the hydrant) is also required. The local Department of Water issues this permit. 

Some cities will have an online portal to apply for a hydrant special use permit, but most will not. The standard procedure is to call them and ask about the process.

Let the Rain Fall - Wrapbook - Rain Machines
Rain machines used to create a rainy day. SOURCE

Then, the water department will require a written letter justifying the use of the fire hydrant. Include the following information in the introductory letter: 

  • Production details (Name, type, production company, etc.).
  • Fire hydrant location and number.
  • Filming dates and times.
  • Scene description and shooting details.
  • Description of the weather special effects.
  • Any additional information to make your case.

Sending a personalized letter is often the best way to introduce yourself and make a case for using a fire hydrant. After establishing contact, the next steps will depend on the local codes and regulations. 

Prepare for production

Creating rainy weather effects for movies requires preparation and planning during pre-production. You must coordinate with different government offices to obtain all the necessary approvals. 

On set, ensure that the equipment is protected. Underwater housing for all camera equipment is a must! Inform the crew beforehand about the special weather effects so they are appropriately dressed.

Get insurance for weather special effects 

To rent the necessary equipment, you must purchase production insurance and provide a COI to the rental house. Apart from the General Liability insurance that covers production, some special effects rental houses will require additional coverage. 

Additional coverage for the equipment, and their use can be purchased as add-ons by many film insurance companies. There is no rule of thumb, as different locations and rental houses have different requirements.

Check out Wrapbook’s Essential Guide to Film Production Insurance for more information.

Wrapping up

Creating weather special effects practically isn’t that hard. Even on a limited budget, achieving rain, wind, or snow is possible. Hopefully, this article can be a jumping-off point for producers and their pre-production team. 

For more information, Wrapbook has you covered with a definitive guide to pre-production. And once you’re ready, head to our Insurance Quote Builder to purchase your plan!

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Shiv Rajagopal

Shiv Rajagopal is a filmmaker based out of Hong Kong & Los Angeles. With a background as a producer of indie films, music videos, and commercials, he writes about the entertainment industry at large. He is also the Co-Founder of Forgotten Films, an indie film company with a slate of films revolving around superheroes from the golden age of comics.

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