22 May 2018

Remembering the Breath Effect: Aggreko’s contribution to Blockbuster Movies

Aggreko and the Breath Effect

From superheroes, to astronauts in space, to seeing dead people, Aggreko played a major role in bringing ‘cool’ special effects to life.

Ever wonder how movies managed to make cold-breath vapors look realistic before Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) hit the industry? And perhaps more importantly, have you ever wondered how producers made it look so real? 

Creating a realistic scene of air escaping someone’s mouth in cold temperatures had long been a struggle for movie producers, particularly in the days before computers were brought in to make everything look that much more real. 

This technique is known as the Breath Effect. Most of the time, movies aren’t filmed in the places they depict; someone climbing the steep peaks of Everest is probably not being filmed on Everest at all. Instead, the scene will be shot in a studio or sound stage somewhere that has considerably different temperatures then what you may find on top of the world’s tallest mountain. 

So how do movie makers work around this? How do they make something as simple as a character’s breath look real?

As part of our Events Services, Aggreko pioneered the ability to cool down the studio where a scene was being filmed in order to create this Breath Effect. We designed and installed temporary cooling equipment that would recreate colder temperatures so that the Breath Effect was real. We did this by lowering the air temperature inside the movie set to 35-50F (or 1-4C). At this temperature, the water vapor in our breath condenses and causes the visual effect. 

This meant that, whether it was the height of summer or the depths of winter, movie producers could create a realistic Breath Effect. The first movie where we implemented this innovative solution was Batman Returns, in 1992. The technique has since been used in other several commercials and films, including ads for 7-11 stores, Coors, Miller Lite and blockbusters such as Under Siege, Broadway Bound, Apollo 13, The Sixth Sense and the very recent Tarantino release, Hateful Eight. 

Can you catch the cold breath from character Selena Kyle in this scene from Batman Returns, when she turns into Catwoman? 

Creating the Breath Effect is not just a cooling job. Besides having the sound stage at the right cold temperature, we also need to ensure enough humidity exists in the atmosphere for the vapor to be formed. Once the climate is set with the right temperature and moisture levels, we need to coordinate with the lighting crew, so the vapor is visible to the naked eye and captured by cameras. It may seem like a lot of work, but it pays off in the end to create successful audiences enjoy. If we consider just Apollo 13, Hateful 8, Batman Returns, Sixth Sense and Under Siege, the total worldwide box office gross was over $1.6 billion USD. 

Failure is Not an Option


This is why we have been setting the stage for huge events around the world for more than thirty years. Our Event Services have powered the likes of the major league football halftime shows, global sporting event venues, and blockbuster movie sets. With our years of experience and high-quality equipment, we’ve been able to put producers’, promoters’, and event organizers’ minds at rest and make sure the show goes on. 

Think about it: events and movie sets involve hundreds of pieces of equipment. If any one of the working parts fails or has a power outage, the whole set-up is put on hold until it’s fixed. With our Remote Monitoring (ARM) units, we can remotely keep an eye on our power, cooling, heating and compressed air equipment while our Remote Operations Center (ROC) team monitors the performance of equipment 24/7/365. 

But it’s not just movies and commercials that rely on uninterrupted power and unfailing equipment. 

Our menu of Events Services span all manner of different shows, concerts, and sets, and we make sure each and every need is tackled individually. As well as providing the heating and cooling services that make creating the Breath Effect possible, we also offer planning and logistical support, power generation, electrical distribution, cooling and heating, compressed air, remote monitoring services, and contingency planning. 

There’s a very fine line between getting special effects right and getting them very, very wrong. Special effects can make or break a film. We’ve all seen that one forgotten blockbuster that makes us cringe when we see attempts to make fake things look real, which is why we know just how important it is to get it right.

Today, the advancement of CGI means that most movie producers can add most effects in post-production, but that wasn’t always the case. As they say, ‘old is cool’, and the Breath Effect used to be one of the ‘coolest’ special effect of the entertainment industry. With our technical expertise, we were able to create a simple but powerful technique to produce the Breath Effect, and our method has been seen in countless blockbuster films over the years. Just another way Aggreko went Beyond the Rental and played a role in creating movie magic.

Speaking of ‘seeing things’, who remembers this scary scene form Sixth Sense?