Spotlights on a hazy stage Thinkstock by Getty Images

AV Answers: Cutting Through the Haze on Haze

Things you’re not thinking about (but your production company should be) when employing this special effect.

You’ve got a big conference coming up, and a lot on your plate. The general sessions are in the main ballroom and you’ve handed over the responsibility of the production to your AV vendor. You assume that everything is in place to make your show a success.

However, there are several things that your vendor might think you are handling, or the venue reps assume the vendor is handling—things that can easily slip through the cracks and derail your show, cause last-minute headaches, or cost you unexpected money 

Let’s look at one that involves… haze.

Getting Atmospheric
Hazers, sometimes erroneously called smoke machines, are machines that provide a soft, smoke-like cloud, using fans to disperse it evenly in the air above the stage and out over the audience’s heads. The main goal of haze is to put particulate in the air, which allows your audience to see light beams. Instead of just seeing what is being illuminated, haze allows you to see the beam of light itself as it travels from the lighting instrument to the illuminated subject. 

Haze gives your room a far more theatrical and exciting look. If you have live performers, award-winners, or other big, important moments in your show, being able to see light beams move about the stage and room can make all the difference. Even the most basic ballyhoo (where light beams move around) is nothing but blinking lights without haze.

The use of gobos—cookie-cutter discs inside the lighting instruments—allows the lighting designer, or LD, to create a wide variety of beam patterns in the air, turning the air in your room into a veritable canvas of colors and patterns.

For many years, haze was made using an oil-based liquid. When used in large quantities, it could create a harmless-but-uncomfortable burning sensation in the throat for those who breathed in a lot of it. It also left a fine, oily sheen on metallic, glass, and other smooth surfaces. These days, haze is mostly water-based and nontoxic, and is completely safe. It has no ill effects on people or surfaces in the venue.

One key to making haze work well for you is to make sure your AV vendor’s LD has tested the product in the room, while the air circulation system is active. Once the movement of air in the room is anticipated, the LD can position the machines and fans to accommodate for airflow. If air movement is not checked, you could get a big, thick cloud of haze parked in front of your screens, blurring the images. Or it could have the opposite effect, and all the haze disappears up into the vents. So, preparing for haze use is critical.

If you can use it, do. It makes a huge difference in the look of your show without substantially raising your AV costs.

Haze Use Implications
While it is an excellent addition to your show, the use of haze means you will not only need to have the system tested in the room early on, but you’ll have to take some additional steps in advance. And don’t assume your AV vendor has taken these steps. 

Every public venue has a fire detection and suppression system in place. Haze typically does not set off alarms for systems using standard smoke detectors. However, many modern facilities use laser beams that crisscross the ceiling using emitters, mirrors, and detectors. If smoke (or haze) causes enough of the detectors to indicate they are not seeing a requisite amount of a signal, it triggers the alarm. There are two ways to avoid this problem.

1. Haze schedule: This all-too-often can be one of those “I thought you were handling that” items. The venue has to be provided, in advance, with a schedule of the exact times haze will be used in the room. This includes your shows, rehearsals, and times during set-up when the LD needs to focus and aim the light beams. And haze doesn’t disappear the moment the machine is turned off. It can take a half-hour or more depending on the air circulation system in the room, so account for that. They need a haze schedule so they can arrange for the second way to avoid the problem…

2. The fire watch: Some newer facilities can simply turn off the fire detectors in the specific rooms for the specific times that haze will be in use. However, many cannot, or are unwilling to do so. They want a body in the room who can talk, usually via walkie-talkie, to the fire-suppression control room operator and tell them that the alert they see on their panels is false, that there is no fire in the room. They are also there to quickly call in a real fire, should one happen, in case the control room operator thinks it’s just a haze-induced false alarm.

Every venue is different. You can spend about $18 per hour for a security-guard-turned-fire-watch, or you can spend $200 per hour for professional fire watch personnel, and everywhere in between. Ask about this early in your conversations with your conference/event manager at the

Do You Need a Permit?
You probably applied for a fire marshal permit once all your seating plans were finalized, or the venue rep did it for you (another “But I thought you were dealing with this” issue). Some local fire marshals do want to know about your use of haze. This can be as simple as providing the haze schedule with your initial application with your seating diagram. Or, in rare cases, the FM will want a separate permit for the use of haze. Either way, it’s not complicated, but it is something you’ll want to know about in advance, especially if there are fees involved.

Haze can truly turn up the “wow factor” for your shows. You just need to know how to prepare for its use in the venue you’ve chosen. Asking questions of your venue representative early and often can save you last-minute scrambling and unexpected fees. 

Now go get hazy!

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