Snow Business (company)
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Snow Business is the world's leading provider of artificial snow to the movie, television and entertainment industries. The company was founded by Darcey Crownshaw in 1982. Crownshaw was working in the paper industry when a production unit filming The Last Days of Pompeii for ABC-TV placed an order with his employers for three quarters of a ton of shredded grey cellulose paper to use as artificial volcanic ash. The firm would not deliver less than 20 tons so Crownshaw fulfilled the order himself using the padding from Jiffy bags. Crownshaw later supplied the same production unit with paper snow, and spotting a gap in the market established Snow Business.
The company produces over 160 different types of artificial snow as well as frost, ice, snowballs, snowmen, icicles, igloos and icebergs. Film credits include Band of Brothers, Die Another Day, The Day After Tomorrow, the Harry Potter series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Golden Compass.
On 23 November 2006 Snow Business International set a Guinness World Record for the largest area covered with continuously falling artificial snow, covering the New Bond Street, Bond Street and Old Bond Street areas of London simultaneously. The area measured 12,462.78 m2 (134,148 ft2).
Artificial snow in the movies
'1920-1970 Cornflakes, Salt, Marble dust & Asbestos '
In the 1920's, cornflakes, laboriously painted on both sides were used for both falling and dressed snow. They were still being used as late as 1931 and can be seen in Laurel and Hardy’s "‘Below Zero’". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Below_Zero_(film). White sand, gypsum and salt were now being introduced; in 1933 "‘Elmer the Great’". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmer,_the_Great_(film). used 46 tonnes of a mixture of all three to cover one street. Similar amounts were used more than a decade later for "‘It’s a Wonderful Life’". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Its_a_wonderful_life_(film). (1946).
These products however were not ideal. Gypsum became a mess when it rained. Salt washed into the ground to poison the soil, and dissolved into stonework marking it and corroding it. All three products could only be used for snow dressing on the ground and were too heavy to be used to dress trees and foliage. ‘It’s a Wonderful life’ (1946) pioneered ‘Wet foam’ as a falling snow substitute and the effect in the air was good but as soon as the snowflakes landed on actors or cars the effect revealed itself to be very wet, sloppy and blobby.
In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s white asbestos became a popular substitute for both falling and dressed snow. It could even be bought in shops, specially packaged, as fake snow for people to take home for dressing their Christmas trees. White asbestos can be seen in some of the most famous films of that era. Photographs show it being shovelled in to the air stream of large wind machines to create a blizzard over a winter scene.
Many tonnes of white marble dust were laid over the warm Spanish Plains to create the frozen Russian wastelands for David Lean’s ‘Dr Zhivago’ (1965). For the cavalry charge across a frozen river, an area of ground was bulldozed flat, the waste material being pushed up to form ‘river banks’. Steel plate was then laid over the flat area and covered with marble dust. The end effect allowed horses to gallop and slide in a safe environment but as if on real ice. When Omar Sharif is wading knee deep across a snow covered landscape, he was in fact carefully negotiating a 3’ trench with only the thinnest layer of marble dust on either side. The ice palace was created using cotton wadding, paraffin wax and Urea-formaldehyde foam (a two part chemical foam mix).
'1970 -1980 Formaldehyde,Polystyrene bead & Crushed ice'
Urea-formaldehyde looked good as dressed snow; it was light and could be used to dress anything including foliage but was very difficult to remove. It was also used extensively for the maze hedge and other off ground dressing in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ (1980). Stanley Kubrick also used salt and for the falling snow, Polystyrene bead.
Polystyrene bead was also used for the falling snow in ‘Gorky Park’ (1983). Polystyrene falls nicely but is very difficult to clear up and does not degrade at any appreciable rate so causing a severe and enduring litter nuisance. Legend has it that it still ‘snows’ on the Swedish Gorky Park lot every time the wind blows.
Crushed Ice was popular in the USA where ice manufacturing was still a major industry, and is still used occasionally even today. The handling of such heavy blocks, the heavy equipment used and the distribution of the tonnes of crushed ice over the set make it a very wet, intrusive and labour intensive material. The fact is that it can only be used for ground dressing, and that out of season freezing of soil is harmful to plants and soil organisms.
'1980s Plastic snow & Magnesium Sulphate'
Plastic snow made from cut polythene sheet was introduced as a snow material in the 1980’s and was used extensively in ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ (1985). It remains popular for falling snow in the theatre but has the disadvantage of being able to stick to eyeballs and so has to be used with care. Display Snow, the modern, alternative plastic based snow is a three-dimensional ‘puff’ of snow rather than a piece of flat film, and so overcomes the medical hazard, whilst at the same time creating more realistic snowflakes.
All plastics however, have the potential to create the same enduring litter problem as Polystyrene and so have to be used with care out of doors. Light plastics such as Display Snow are however, ideal for laying over heavier or bonded materials to allow wind machines to create blowing snow, ‘skeet’, just above and across the snow surface to create that arctic feel, as in ‘Day After Tomorrow’ (2004)
By the 1980’s, the problems with salt were well recognised and salt had generally been replaced by the more expensive and better looking Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom salts). This material still dissolved under rainfall but did not corrode. It did however dissolve and enter porous stonework where it could create an ugly white ‘tide mark’ that would take decades to work out of the stone.
'1980 - 1990 Paper Snow, Cotton wadding & Wet Foam'
In 1982 the first realistic paper based snow (SnowCel) was developed by Snow Business. This snow was sprayed to settle realistically and was temporarily bonded to anything it touched simply by spraying it within a high pressure water jet. It could be sprayed on to roofs, trees, bushes, and even used as falling snow. It did not dissolve making it weather durable and harmless to plants and stonework. Although paper had been used for snow before, SnowCel was torn, not cut, giving it furry natural edges that locked together so that when the wind blew, instead of scattering like confetti, it locked together to form natural ‘snow’ drifts.
The first movie production to use SnowCel was ‘Company of Wolves’ (1984) and since then it has been used in hundreds of Productions around the world, including three movies that won Oscars for ‘Best special Effects’ including ‘Gladiator’ (2000), ‘The Golden Compass’ (2007) and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (2008). The modern paper snows have to be made to meet Class 1 fire ratings, SnowCel FS and HS can even be used as a spray fire blanket to put out small fires.
White cotton wadding was used as fake snow patches in the carnival scenes for ’Groundhog Day’ (1993). The problem with cotton wadding is the same as all snow blankets, they are unrealistic under action and are vulnerable to high winds. Even when used as background dressing they look like an artificial unless perfectly laid with all straight edges removed.
1990 - 2000 Dry Foam & Starch
Batman and Robin (1997) used a high expansion foam similar to that used in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ fifty years earlier. The wet foam can be seen slushing up under the Batmobile wheels. Wet foams for snow dressing are originally derived from the regular fire fighting foam. This material became very unstable when it drained, so unless freezing conditions prevailed, the foam drained, became superlight, and then lifted with even the most gentle of breezes to float about as giant snowballs. plaguing not only the set it had been used on, but every other set within the studio complex unfortunate enough to be downwind. Hybrid systems were developed by Snow Business to deliver this foam in a lower expansion form making it much more stable all the way through its decay process.
Foams were used to good effect in ‘101 Dalmatians’ (1996) and ‘Hamlet’ (1996). When this low expansion hybrid is used in freezing conditions, it is impossible to tell the frozen foam from real snow ‘Winter Guest’ (1997). Many Dry foam systems have now been developed by Snow Business to simulate falling snow and the professional versions of these delivered by SnowForce falling snow generators create the most realistic falling snows yet seen on camera IMAX ‘The Nutcracker’ (1997) and in a soon to be released 3D (2011) blockbuster.. ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002) used a white industrial insulation material that contained all sorts of fireproofing and anti-infestation chemicals that under the heavy rains washed out into the soil and caused many issues with plants and trees. Starch based snows were popular for a while, particularly in Canada ‘Little Women’ (1994) but as fire regulations become ever more onerous, this highly combustible material had to be relegated to outdoor use only. When used out of doors it is a good biodegrader but if exposed to rain becomes incredibly slippery before drying out and turning into a very difficult to remove glue hated by all departments .
'2000 - present Celulose snow, Polymer & Snowsticks'
Cellulose snow, made directly from wood pulp, evolved from paper snow. Pure cellulose has many similar properties to paper, but differs in two major ways, it is not as bright and it is not as water resistant. This means it can only be used on shorter term sets and locations. SnowBase and its finer cellulose variation PowderFrost can be seen in use together on films such as ‘Defiance’ (2008), Nottingham’ (2010), ‘Way Back’ (2011).
The most recent addition to the snow arsenal is Polymer snow. This is a superabsorbent powder that expands 4000% when water is added. Depending on the amount of water added it can be a super fine crystallised surface, regular snow, or slush. It takes perfect prints under foot or tyres and if laid on a smooth surface has the quality of being slippery enough for realistic ski or sledge action. Snow Business, the innovators and world leaders in artificial snow and winter effects now have over 200 types of artificial snow. On today’s movie winter sets there are usually several different specialist snow materials in use for dressing on any shot. SnowCel for regular dressing, super fine paper snow for foreground detail, Polymer snow topping for fine detail tracks and prints, SnowSparkle for realistic sparkle, Paraffin wax for ice detail or an icy crust on the snow, Display Snow for the heavy traffic entry and exit points.
Falling snow is created using small pyrotechnic devices (SnowSticks) that burn paper to a superlight ash to simulate snowflakes that both rise and fall with the gentlest breeze ‘Gladiator’ (2000), ‘Band of Brothers’ (2001), and ’Wonder Boys’ (2000), or dry foam technology via SnowForce snowflake generating equipment ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (2005), ‘Golden Compass’ (2007), ‘Way Back’ (2011) As for the future, digital techniques simply increase the opportunities for making bigger and more spectacular scenes in films which in turn increases the demand for the highest quality practical interactive snows.
Snow Business Innovations and Landmarks
1983 To 1999
1983 - SnowFX. The first eco-friendly snow made from recycled paper was invented. This artificial snow had very special qualities over its rivals, it looked like snow, it could be sprayed to settle naturally like snow on trees, bushes, buildings, it even made good tyre tracks and footprints just like real snow. It soon replaced the traditional materials of salts, urea-formaldehyde, polystyrene, mica, marble dust and high expansion foam.
1985 - High pressure spray heads. This system pushed a very small amount of water at very high pressure through the snow as it was sprayed bonding it to anything it touched (whilst still leaving it ‘touch-dry’. This allowed the snow to be built up to a much greater thickness on trees or props but still left it easy to wash off afterwards. SnowFX could even be sprayed in thick layers on to vertical and inverted surfaces. The very small moisture content also meant that the fake snow could now be made into realistic snowballs and thrown just like real snow.
1986 - Weddings. Snow business completed their first ‘White Wedding’ in Ealing, London. It caused a sensation because guests had entered the church on a lovely summers day and when they came out an hour later, everything had been silently covered in a thick layer of snow.
1991 - PowderFrost. Developed initially as a ‘super-fine’ scale snow for the TV series ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’, it was soon realised that this product (a pure cellulose) would be ideal as a winter dressing for large sensitive locations such as SSSI sites. The super-fine material can simply be rinsed into porous land (by water hose or rain) leaving the location clean. The pure cellulose acts as an organic fertiliser and can even be used on organic land.
1992 - ‘Half Size SnowFX’. This finer grade of SnowFX was developed for close up camera work on ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’. The product had the quality of settling with a semi-translucent top layer that meant no matter how closely you examined it, you actually had to touch it to check it was not real snow.
1994 - ‘GoldenEye’. The first of many James Bond (007) movie contracts for Snow Business
1994 - BAFTA – Winner – Best Production Design - Madness of King George. Awarded to Ken Adam for whom Snow Business completed all the snow dressing and winter effects.
1995 - Flash Barrandov Effects, Prague became the first non-UK based Snow Business distributor.
1996 - SnowEx rig. This non-pressurised rig was developed to remove the risk presented by the pressurised air receivers used to produce low expanded foam snow dressing at that time. The SnowEx rigs are much lighter, faster and can be refilled whilst in use allowing non-stop operation.
1996 - ‘Hamlet’. Snow business covered over 100 acres of SSSI parkland for this Kenneth Branagh film. This is still the unofficial world record for the largest area ever covered with artificial snow.
1996 - SnowSticks. A pyrotechnic device developed to create super lightweight ash that acted as floating snow. These were subsequently renamed SnowSticks.
1998 - SnowGun. A light portable backpack that quietly produced dry foam falling snowflakes. Developed to meet the needs of filming with Steadicam systems.
1998 - Starch snow. Developed and introduced to the UK.
1999 - Very large-scale ‘dry foam’ falling snow devices were added to Snow Business's fleet of falling snow machinery. These devices delivered huge amounts of artificial falling snow, blowing the snow in relative silence to a distance of up to 30m.
1999 - Snow Business Hollywood was established in Los Angeles.
1999 - Snow Business Deutschland was established in Germany.
1999 - 007 Polymer was introduced to Snow Business's range of snows, this very special polymer with its 4000% expansion always stole the show.
1999 - ‘The Snow Mill’. A derelict 1730’s water mill in Gloucestershire was purchased for conversion into Snow business’s international head office and training center with workshops, libraries, warehousing, test areas and refrigerated room.
2000 To Present
2000 - Oscar – Winner – Best Visual Effects - Gladiator Awarded to Neil Corbould for whom Snow Business completed all the snow dressing and falling snow effects.
2001 - Special mention given by the UK Dept of Trade for Snow Business exports of fake snow to Siberia.
2001 - Display snow. An impact resistant low dust artificial snow. Developed to meet the needs of visual merchandisers and event organisers who needed a fake snow for areas under very heavy footfall. Display snow received its Class 1 fire rating in 2003.
2002 - Wax rigs. Computerised, ultra safe, efficient, high-speed hot-wax spray technology designed to dress the huge areas required for ‘Day After Tomorrow’. This equipment was the culmination of years of development, and was so precise the temperatures could be set to within 1 degree allowing the equipment to be used to dress actors and delicate props.
2004 - SnowForce. Large, powerful and very quiet dry foam falling snow machines were perfected and put into production.
2004 - BAFTA - Winner - Best Visual effects - Day After Tomorrow. Awarded to Neil Corbould for whom Snow Business completed the snow and ice dressing and falling snow effects.
2005 - Professional status. Recognition of national professional training and grading for snow technicians by BECTU and PACT through JIGS.
2006 - English Heritage sites and film management conference. Held at the Tower of London this conference received its first ever snow lecture from us.
2006 - Guinness World Record. For the largest area ever covered with artificial falling snow. The record was achieved by covering the New Bond Street, Bond Street and Old Bond Street areas simultaneously for the ‘Bond Street Association’.
2007 - Oscar – Winner – Best Visual Effects - Golden Compass. Awarded to Trevor Wood for whom Snow Business completed all the snow dressing and falling snow effects.
2008 - Remote station falling snow machines. These machines have all the mechanics situated in black boxes that can be positioned tens of meters away from the snow head allowing for quiet snow delivery on set. Full DMX and computerised control mean that whole stages can be rigged with instant and infinitely adjustable falling snow.
2008 - Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – Winner – Outstanding Visual Effects – Prime time Emmy Awards - John Adams. Awarded to Roland Hathaway, Snow Business Hollywood.
2008 - SnowStorm. Giant output falling snow generator, probably the largest (dry foam) falling snow machine in the world, quieter than any wind machine and with a portable moving head. Capable of pushing large amounts of dry foam artificial snowflakes vertically to heights of 40m.
2009 - The quietest falling snow machine in the world. Although Snow Business already has the quietest falling snow machines in the world, Snow Business enlisted the help of Salford University’s Acoustic Research Department to develop an even quieter version using the latest motor and air movement technology.
2009 - Oscar – Winner – Best Visual Effects - Curious case of Benjamin Button. Awarded to Burt Dalton for whom Snow Business Hollywood completed snow dressing and falling snow effects.
2009 - 10th Anniversary of Snow Business Germany
2010 -Vancouver Winter Olympics opening Ceremony. Snow Business Hollywood supplied the Display Snow ground cover for the arena, as well as the materials for the falling snow. Display snow proved itself as the perfect snow for use under huge arena traffic and as a high quality screen for CGI projection.
2011 - The quietest falling snow machine in the world. Snow Business R&D produced, with help from Salford Universities Acoustic Research Department, two ‘super silent’ falling snow generators that are now the quietest falling snow machines in the world. The SnowForce Stealth, and the SnowBuster super silent.
2012 - Oscar – Winner – Best Visual Effects – Hugo. Awarded to Joss Williams for whom Snow Business completed the snow dressing and falling snow effects. Snow business developed the processes and techniques for effective 3D falling snow effects in the first 3D movie to contain falling snow.
2012 - Snow Business International is awarded the internationally recognised environmental standard ISO14001.
2012 - Wildlife Trust Award to Snow Business for 'Outstanding contribution to nature in Gloucestershire by a business leader'. Presented to Snow Business by Nature Works 2012.
2013 - 30 years of Snow Business. SB, the new generation of falling snow machinery launched. Eco-friendly, vegetable based packaging introduced.
Snow business Filmography
- Miles, Lucy (16 April 2000). "Snowman's fake flakes a real winner". Sunday Mercury (Birmingham): p. 15.
- "No business like snow business". London Evening Standard (London): p. 27. 28 September 2001.
- "How Darcey's idea has just snowballed: Everyone loves that first magical snowfall - so imagine earning your living from creating winter wonderlands for film and television.". Gloucestershire Echo (Cheltenham): p. 6. 21 August 2010.
- Crewe, Candida (9 December 2000). "Someone's got to do it". The Times (London).
- Sweet, Matthew (22 December 2001). "THE SNOWMAN: Want to Turn Oxfordshire into a Winter Wonderland or Carpet St Pancras in Virgin Powder? Call Dave Crownshaw, the Movie Magician Who Makes It Snow All Year Round". The Independent (London). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-5215923.html. Retrieved 27 December 2013. Template:Subscription required
- de Bruxelles, Simon (18 May 1999). "Movies pay millions for the right sort of snow". The Times (London): p. 15.
- "There's Snow Business Like". Western Mail (Cardiff). 30 December 2002. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-95918459.html. Retrieved 27 December 2013. Template:Subscription required
- Greenbaum, Hilary; Rubinstein, Dana (17 February 2012). "Who Made That Artificial Snow?". The New York Times (New York). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/who-made-that-artificial-snow.html. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Movie world experts make the first snowman of the season out of real snow". Western Daily Press (Bristol): p. 10. 19 October 2013.
- Varma, Anuji (10 January 2010). "ICE bit of business". Sunday Mercury (Birmingham): p. 4.
- Elliott, Caroline (22 December 2011). "There's no business like Snow Business". Engineering & Technology (London). http://eandt.theiet.org/explore/students/2011/snow-business.cfm. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- Burke, Maria (20 December 2011). "Let it snow...". Society of Chemical Industry. http://www.soci.org/Chemistry-and-Industry/CnI-Data/2011/24/Let. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Largest area covered by artificial snowfall". Guinness World Records. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-5000/largest-area-covered-by-artificial-snowfall/. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "List of Films and Tv Snow Business has worked on". http://www.imdb.com/company/co0127910/?ref_=fn_al_co_3. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
- "There's no business like Snow Business". BBC. November 2002. Article about the company's work on James Bond movie Die Another Day. http://www.bbc.co.uk/gloucestershire/films/snowbusiness.shtml.
- "No business like Snow Business". BBC. April 2014. Interview with Darcey Crownshaw. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/business/volvo-business/10337106/snow-business-profile.html.