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Non pyro smoke effect using powders - Inhalation hazard?

Discussion in 'Special Effects' started by Silicon_Knight, Aug 4, 2017.

  1. Silicon_Knight

    Silicon_Knight Member

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    I am involved in a children's production of Mulan Jr. this month, and we are looking for a small smoke puff effect for when Mushu tries to breathe fire, but can't.

    Due to budget, scale, involvement of children, my experience level, etc. non-pyro is definitely the best route.

    I've been searching around the forums and it seems like there are some interesting ideas around using a variety of powders that could produce a great effect (maybe squeezed out of a rubber bulb or something). I've seen 4 common powders mentioned in discussions: baby powder (talc), Rye Flour, Fuller's Earth and Diatomaceous Earth. (Any better ideas?)

    However, researching the MSDS sheets for all of these powders indicate there is potential inhalation hazard for all of them. Are there any "safe" powders that might work for something like this, or is the small amount (1 Tbsp?) we will be using on stage not really a concern for a short-run show?

    TIA
     
  2. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Just having the actor wheeze with no special effect at all is a viable option.

    Have a look at "smoke-in-a-can". There are several varieties, most non-toxic. It can be routed via tubing.
     
  3. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Rye Flour is THE most non-toxic, hypo-allergenic powder for use in this situation. Despite Other recommendations I cannot recommend "Smoke in a can"; I find it noxious and other than the "Fantasy FX" most versions are highly toxic.
    Do NOT use Talc, Fullers Earth, or diatomaceous earth all of which can cause mild to severe respiratory distress.
     
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  4. Silicon_Knight

    Silicon_Knight Member

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    Thanks for the input. Do you know why the recommendation seems to be Rye Flour compared to Wheat Flour that is finely milled (e.g. Cake Flour or 00 Flour)?
     
  5. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Van likes this.
  6. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Exactly what @sk8rsdad said. I had occasion to produce smoke effects in several productions at Equity houses Rye flour is the only product approved, and as stated, it is the most hypo-allergenic. Wheat flour can cause several allergic reactions in actors or Audience members and don't forget, glutens... ;)
     
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  7. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    & / or gluttons! ;)
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 4, 2017
  8. teqniqal

    teqniqal Active Member

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    One must remember that flour is a cellulose product, and cellulose dust can be explosive under wrong circumstances. This is what causes grain mills to explode. In June of 2015 at the Formosa Fun Coast water park in Taiwan 498 people were burned when a flour-based powder was dispersed over the audience of a show at the Color Play Asia event. The powder ignited and the cloud of dust burst into flames engulfing the audience near the stage. 200 of the victims were classified as 'severe' burns. Many of the injured had respiratory injuries as the fire was ingested due to the dust being ingested.
     
  9. Silicon_Knight

    Silicon_Knight Member

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    Agreed, this type of flammability/explosion risk exists with any organic finely divided substance (and some non-organics, too!).

    Researching this a bit further, it looks like the LEL/MEC (Lower Explosive Limit / Minimum Explosive Concentration) for flour is about 60g/m^3. Since a Tbsp of flour weighs about 7g, it looks like a volume larger than about an 18" cube would be below the LEL/MEC. Based on a few experiments, the cloud disperses to a volume larger than this within a few seconds.

    Fortunately, for the ~tablespoon quantity we are considering using, it would likely need to be a very closely positioned open flame within a few seconds of the effect to be a real risk.

    So, as a final experiment (with sufficient controls and safety gear), I tried blowing the small clouds from 1 Tbsp of the flour across both a butane lighter and propane torch and never was able to successfully get the small cloud to light - likely indicating that the concentration was never quite right.

    At the "End of the Day" [ :) ], this is all academic because we decided to go another direction with the effect.

    Thanks for everyone's input!
     
  10. Silicon_Knight

    Silicon_Knight Member

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    Thanks. However, since Rye flour still contains gluten, I'm curious as to why Equity preferred one over another. Maybe it's the lower concentration of gluten in the Rye flour makes it a "less-risky" alternative.
     
  11. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Silicon_Knight For no good reason, other than possibly your mentioning of a butane lighter, you've reminded me of a time when one of the double bass players in the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra, [Chas Elliot] used to attempt to light his pharts with a Bic lighter he kept on his music stand for days when he felt the need. One performance day, Chas "felt the need" and flicked his Bic. I don't know if you call screaming mid performance while burning the bum out or your tux' successful or not. I guess it depends upon your desires and perspective.
    Thanks for the memories [And the 'flash-back' so to speak]
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard. ( @GreyWyvern You'll like this one Dave.)
     
  12. Silicon_Knight

    Silicon_Knight Member

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    I remember seeing kids try this many times while growing up - I've never understood the interest in potentially setting oneself on fire...

    Thanks for the story!
     
  13. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Silicon_Knight Another tale in a similar vein; People inserting the supplied extension tube into the spray nozzle of their WD40 then holding their lit Bic just below the tip of the extension and depressing the top.
    I once attended a piano burning party when an upright piano became water-logged one spring when the sump pump in the orchestra pit of a summer barn theater had been unplugged by someone who felt they had a greater need for the extension cord and the pit filled to barely below keyboard level totally ruining the piano.
    Getting a water-logged piano up out of the orchestra pit and over into the center of the open campfire pit was a piece of work in itself and then there was attempting to get the water-logged piano to catch fire.
    Paper, cardboard and all manner of kindling had been tried but, time and time again, the kindling would burn out and still the piano hadn't caught hold. Eventually one of the painters doused the piano with all manner of flammable liquids then someone stood back and used their Bic / WD40 flamethrower trick to set the now flammably soaked piano on fire.
    Finally, eventually, the piano dried out and caught fire.
    You don't get many opportunities to attend a piano burning soirée and people were shooting photos with everything from cardboard box cameras to one lad churning through rolls with his motor-drive.
    Again, @Silicon_Knight thanks for the memories and @GreyWyvern there's another one you can safely open at work.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
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  14. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Primarily, from what I could tell, it's purely an hypo-allergenic / inhalation issue. They certainly weren't expecting that folks would be ingesting it therefore I don't think Gluten was a deciding factor.
     
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  15. Silicon_Knight

    Silicon_Knight Member

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    So, the final result was just them "wheezing with no smoke effect." It's adorable and the actor (well, actress) does a great job of playing it up.

    Thanks all for the lively discussion!
     
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