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Metro In Focus: Snow business like show business (at the movies)

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

On a film set the weather is frightful;
But on screen it’s so delightful;
And since snow in July is a no go;
Let it fake snow! Let it fake snow! Let it fake snow!

Are those beads of sweat on Santa’s brow? It just might be. Movies set at and released during the Christmas season are usually shot when most people are wearing bathing suits, not parkas.

So how do you make it look a lot like Christmas? Fake snow — i.e. cellulose flakes, snow sheets, snow blankets, acrylic icicles — and lots of it. Here’s a look at how Hollywood creates sleigh ride in summer.

1. Snow Business Hollywood, a leader in providing fake snow for film production, says they have 168 products used to create screen snow. What’s the advantage to filmmakers of using artificial snow on a film set? “You can control it,” says owner Roland Hathaway. “Also, you’re never dealing with the cold weather.”

2. To create the sound of swirling snow heard on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, Foley Artists recorded surf sounds and tinkered with the sound by raising and lowering the volume. The Empire Strikes Back was shot at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England, the same film studio where The Shining was made. As a result, much of the fake snow used for Kubrick’s film was also used for the Hoth scenes.

3. Asbestos was often used as fake snow in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s. The White Christmas sequence in Holiday Inn — showing Bing Crosby singing the classic tune amid the falling snow — exposed the cast and crew to asbestos fiber.

4.  The “snowy” maze near the conclusion of The Shining consisted of 900 tons of salt and crushed Styrofoam.

5. Fake snow was also used during the uncharacteristically snowless Denver shoot for Die Hard 2. Huge air fans had to be brought in to replicate snowstorm conditions.

6. Fake snow is obvious in The Santa Clause when a SWAT officer slips and falls on a set of steps, causing the snow to warp. It’s obviously a snow blanket and not snowflakes, either real or fake.

7. It’s a Wonderful Life was shot in the sweltering heat of a Los Angeles summer in 1946, necessitating the need for fake snow. Instead of using cornflakes painted white — which was loud when stepped on — director Frank Capra and RKO studio’s head of special effects Russel Sherman invented a quiet — and sprayable — version by mixing foamite with sugar, water and soap flakes to create the winter wonderland of Bedford Falls.

8. The usually snowy Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport was chosen as the location for the field and terminal scenes in Airport but the film’s producers had to use bleached sawdust as a supplement, to make up for the lack of falling snow, until a snowstorm hit the Twin Cities area during the production of the film.

9. A “beginner” model movie snow machine will set you back about $1,584.02.

10. To create blowing snow for a scene, throw laundry soap flakes or instant potato flakes in front of a powerful fan. Be warned! Soap flakes can make the set slippery. To make a snowy ground, mix 1 1/3 cups of liquid starch, 4 cups of laundry soap flakes and several drops of blue food colouring. To add a sparkling effect, add glitter.

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