Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Tip #47: The art of filming rain

By Dan Parkes (Director)

For some reason there is nothing like a good rain scene in a film! It often serves as a dramatic juncture in a character or plot development. One may think you only need to wait a few days before it rains in England... however a little known fact is that natural rain does not show up well on film, other than making surfaces appear wet. Which of course can be a good thing if there is light rain when you don't want it -although it depends on the shot, chances are you may be about to get away with it. But what if you want rain? How did we film our dramatic rain scene on such a low budget?

To start with we made a make-shift 'rain machine' which simply consisted of a garden sprinkler on the end of a long pole. The water becomes more realistic the higher above the actor or area it is, giving it enough distance to fall evenly. Obviously a proper rain machine would have been better...however this was easily accessible and even better... free!

Our boom operator/sound recordist Colin Bradley became our 'rain operator' which also made sense, since were unable to record live sound anyway due to the sound of the sprinkler water -which because of the hose and large droplets did not sound like realistic rain. So in post we added the sound effects of real rain and recorded the actor's lines separately (ADR).

The next and most cricual factor is that rain will not show on screen sufficiently unless it is back-lit. We placed a large 2K light behind the actor just off screen and found it was enough to light the rain.

Of course, having large lights around with falling water is a health and safety nightmare and a recipe for disaster, not to mention ensuring you have towels and a change of clothes for the actors. In our case we have the added danger element of filming in January when it was near enough snowing let alone raining, with ice forming in the puddles we were creating and sometimes blocking the hose pipe, then our young actor realising that his actor parents were 'splitting' in the scene and getting upset, plus a growing audience of local youth intent on interrupting the shot.... so in fact the simple trick of back lighting rain pailed into insignificance!


  1. That was informative but what do you do if you have tracking scene of a man running in the rain?

  2. If you have a tracking scene of a man running in the rain then you will have to move the rain along with him. In fact our scene above begins with a reverse tracking shot of the lead character bursting through a gate and running to the car. We filmed this handheld with the rain always above the actor like a personal rain cloud! The length of the pole meant this was feasible. You do not need to have rain falling over the entire area -only on the main subject and foreground. Just make sure that any surfaces that do not have rain falling on them in the background are wetted down prior to the shot and the illusion will be fine (if not wet it will look obvious). Of course much care must be taken to ensure the rain does not get on the camera or lights!

    Hope that helps!

  3. great advice! i've always wanted to shoot a rain scene and now i will try with your info. thanks!

  4. Good article and good pictures. I made a rain machine once by using a garden weed sprayer connected to a 2 metre legth of plastic pipe with a cork in the end. I got out my hoppy drill and made small holes. When I pumped out the water, - hey - presto Rain! but it would be suitable for a car.

    We also always wet pavements if we are shooting a t night.

  5. Thanks for that Elliot and glad you could drop by and enjoy the blog. We've heard of similar make-shift rain machines and yours sounds like a more even spread of rain. Although one advantage with ours is that it requires no drilling etc, all the pieces are accessible and also usable afterwards. Anyway, thanks for the tip and I hope others find it useful too. All the best with the festival this year!

  6. Hello Guys, good information overall.
    I have 3 questions - I was wondering,
    1. If you are not a DIY person where could you get these rain machines? or anything like them?
    2 Where do you store the water if you are on location and how do you spray it out (from some type of mobile solution, which is?
    3 and most importantly, would there be a trick to an establishing shot to such a scene then?

    Thanks so much

  7. Hi Seven

    1. I don't consider myself a DIY person... so I don't think it is too difficult to attach a garden sprinkler to the end of a pole and turn it upside down (took us a few minutes to create). But if you wanted to hire the real thing check rental and FX companies...but expect it to be probably expensive and also may need an operator and health and safety considerations etc. You could try Snowboy Systems in the UK (
    2. Rather than store the water it would be best to make sure you are filming near a water supply...a tap for a garden hose is ideal.
    3. For a wide establishing shot the trick would be to (a) wet as many surfaces as possible and then (b) only have the rain machine preferrably covering the foreground area (viewer's won't notice the background) or on the action itself.
    Hope that helps!