Stage Visual Effects

Written by anne hirsh
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Stage Visual Effects
Creating the look of lighting on stage requires special effects. (lightning image by blaine stiger from

Visual effects for the stage can add flare or realism to a performance. A nearly endless variety of effects are available to those working on stage productions, limited only by budget and imagination. There are three primary types of visual stage effects that can be used–lighting effects, physical effects and pyrotechnics. Each requires a different type of technician for the set-up and operation of the effect.

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Lighting Effects

Lighting effects are common across a variety of stage performances, including drama, concerts and even presentations. Lighting effects may be a simple strobe light or black light, or may require specialised lighting instruments and computer programming to create effects that travel across the stage or mimic natural occurrences such as lightning, rain or fire. These effects are generally decided on by the lighting designer, prepared by the lighting crew and carried out by the light board operator during the performance.

Physical Effects

Physical effects include any physical items that appear on stage for special effects. Fog and haze are common physical effects, and are often referred to as a subcategory of atmospheric effects. Haze is a fine mist of particulates that creates a smoky look in the air, while chemical fog produces a thicker fog that rises. Dry ice produces a fog effect that stays low to the ground and can spill over the edge of the stage. Another common physical effect is the creation of falling snow, either through wax flakes that drift down over the stage or tiny soap bubbles that are blown from a special machine above the stage. These effects may be a joint effort of the lighting and set designer and are prepared and operated by the stage crew.


Pyrotechnics are fire effects, which are most commonly used in rock concerts. Only a licensed pyrotechnician should design, set up and operate pyrotechnic effects. These effects may be similar to standard Fourth of July fireworks or may include rings of fire, fountains of flame or sparks or sudden flashes that mask the entrance of a performer. Safety is a major concern when pyrotechnics are involved, and all fire effects must follow federal, state and local guidelines. Performances that include pyrotechnics may need to hold special insurance and provide proof of training for the operating technicians.

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