We can tell you how to deliver rain the way the pros in Hollywood have done for nearly a century. It’s the method the pros use on remote location shoots and on the backlots of the studios to deliver great looking rain.
I mention the pros method because I have some surprising news—there’s no such thing as a portable rain machine. (It sure sounds like a real thing, I agree.)
There are a lot of ways to create rain on set. The basic approach the pros use is highly adaptable. The approach can easily be scaled down for even the smallest production, and it can be set up nearly anywhere. There are many variations, but the principle is always the same—spray droplets of water UPWARDS from off camera or above the shot, so the water falls naturally through the shot.
There are five parts to a rainfall rig:
- A water source like a water truck or fire hydrant (smaller shoots can get away with a ¾ inch garden hose in some cases)
- An elevated position for a rain head or rain bar like a rain tower, crane, scaffold, rooftop
- A rain head or rain bar.
- Fitting adapters
In short, connect the water source to the rain head or rain bar. Raise the rain head or rain bar above the shot, and turn on the flow of water.
There are several ways to place the rain-bar above the shot. A rain bar can be flown on a crane. Rain towers can be placed around the shot. There are also hand held fill in wands that can be precisely placed and quickly moved.
THE FINER POINTS
There are a few additional things that experienced rainmakers know, of which you’ll want to be aware.
- The rain head you use will affect the look of rain on camera
- You may need fitting adapters to connect the various parts
- If you’re using a rain tower you may need a counter weight since the flow of water out of a rain head can tip over the rain tower.
- For medium and close up shots, you’ll probably need to add rain with greater precision. The pros frequently use a watering wand or pump sprayer to “fill-in” their shots.
The rainhead you use will affect the look of rain on camera. We sell an Adjustable Rain Head, a Bird’s Mouth Rain Head, the 3 Hole Body Rain Head, the 4 Hole Body Rain Head, and a Spinning Rain head.
- The Adjustable Rain Head has a collar on it that can be adjusted to create a finer spray.
- The Spiral Rain Head on its own it can create a 360 degree rain pattern. You can even run a Spiral Rain Head from a garden hose with an adaptor that connects 1” National Pipe Thread to ¾” Garden Hose Thread.
- The Bird’s Mouth Rain Head comes with a set of inserts that deliver variations in rain drop size.
- The 3 Hole Body Rain Head seats 3 Bird’s Mouth Rain Heads to deliver omni directional rain.
- The 4 Hole Body Rain Head seats 3 Bird’s Mouth Rain Heads and one Spiral Rain Head. The combination of different rain heads leads to a less uniform rainfall which helps create greater realism.
- The Spinning Rain Head rotates as water shoots through it. The rotation causes the rainfall to change slightly on camera for a more natural, realistic look.
Hydrant WrenchLarge volumes of water tend to be controlled by fairly large valves and you may need a big wrench for some of those fittings. You may also want to pick up a Hydrant Wrench (spanner). Hydrant Wrenches are specifically designed for turning the big nuts used to control the flow of water. Hydrant Wrenches also have fittings for tightening the couplers between pipe. They’re worth having around (and they’re not too expensive).
Hog’s Hair / Rain Mat
Rain causes a lot of noise when it hits the ground. The ambient sound of rain spatter can make your audio unusable. Our Hog’s Hair / Rain Mat can reduce and even eliminate the sound of rain hitting the ground.
Low Budget Portable Rain Machine
Technically speaking a lawn sprinkler is a portable rain machine, but the droplets produced by most lawn sprinklers are too small to show up on camera. You’ll get better results using any of the rain heads listed above.
I have a friend who shot an indie short that featured rain. He put several watering wands on the roof of his house and two or three in the trees—aimed the wands at the talent, and then turned on the water. It was a very time intensive set up. He would have been better off with one bird’s mouth rainhead. It would have taken far less time to set up and it would have produced better looking rain.
A Bit of Trivia
When movies were shot in black and white, effects departments used to use milk instead of water to recreate rain. Apparently water-based rain didn’t show up on camera and milk looked more realistic.
Given that you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you performed a search for the term portable rain machine. We're curious to know if you were actually looking for methods of making it rain for a movie shoot.
If you do a search for the string “how to make it rain like in the movies” there are a few demonstration videos you might find helpful.
If you have questions about creating rainfall for a motion picture, give us a call at 818-994-3049.
P.S. If you do use a water truck, you will have actually created a portable rain machine given that your setup is portable, produces rain, and that the truck is technically a machine.