A realistic flame effect can be obtained with orange coloured lights shining on white pieces of silk fluttering in the air above an electric fan. This is an old theatrical trick that is still convincing today. It’s suitable anywhere you want a realistic flame effect without the inherent danger of using real flames. It is ideal for theatre, parties or special events.
Steps in creating a realistic flame effect
The following steps are a general guide only and each situation will be different. The basic principles in creating a realistic flame effect remain the same.
A metal fire cradle is first constructed to look like a typical fireplace. The dimensions will depend on your particular application. This fire was designed to fit inside a moveable timber fireplace that was used in an OA production of “La Voix Humane” in 2005.
The success of the effect depends on a quiet electric fan. A large volume of air is needed to blow several pieces of silk. Computer fans are quiet but are only suitable for a small piece of silk. Using two car dashboard mounted 12V cooling fans running on a reduced voltage is the best solution. The motors don’t turn as fast so are much quieter but they still move lots of air. Mount the two fans in a box beside each other blowing up. Cut two holes in the box above the fans and fit a short 200mm diameter tube over each hole. This directs the air up. Make sure the bottom of the box is open and there is plenty of room for air to be sucked in by the fans. To disguise the box paint it matte black or cover it in black wool fabric.
Just above the fans are mounted five yellow and orange halogen lamps. Three of the halogens lamps are connected to an electronic flicker circuit. These are available in kit form at many Electronics shops. This animates the light to look like a real fire. A box with an open top fits over the lamps. The top of the box is covered with a metal mesh where you can attach pieces of silk.
The photo on the right shows a view looking underneath the box that fits over the halogen lamps. You can see the irregular slots that have been cut into the front side which are covered with orange gel. This simulates the heart of the fire. In front of these slots is an array of real bits of wood to make it look like an actual fire. When the lights are on you can see bits of orange slots through the wood.
Several pieces of silk in the shape of an isosceles triangle about 12-15cm long are attached to the mesh above the lamps. Making the top of the silk pieces long and thin makes them act like small whips and they flick around in the airflow from the fans. They look like real flames when they catch the light. If the silk is attached to a pencil you can move them around on the metal mesh to find the best position before attaching them. Add another 3 or 4 pieces of silk to get a real crackling fire effect happening.