The Mist
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By Ron Magid, Special to The Times

When director Frank Darabont needed sentient fog to star in his latest Stephen King adaptation, he didn’t rely on high-tech visual effects. Instead, he called his longtime special-effects coordinator, Darrell Pritchett (“The Green Mile,” “The Majestic”), and asked him to figure out a way to wrangle some actual ethereal condensation for “The Mist.” “This was not an expensive movie, so everything we could do practically was definitely a bonus,” Pritchett says.

Although visual effects are generally executed after production has wrapped, special effects must be achieved on set, often while crew and actors wait. Pritchett has made a career of making real-world elements do the impossible on cue, supplying such events as natural disaster -- rain, wind, snow, fire -- and war on demand. He and his handpicked crew have traveled the world wreaking havoc, “but only on film!” he says. (Ralph Nelson / The Weinstein Company)
Conjuring Darabont’s “Mist” meant brewing a miasma that was actually the title character of the film, and making it work in three different environments. To do that, Pritchett cornered the market on fog juice -- the chemical cocktail that, when mixed with water, clouds the air. “I don’t know how many hundreds of gallons we used,” he says. “The mist comes in early on and stays throughout.”

For one nail-biting sequence, Darabont wanted the creature-laden fog to congeal by a loading dock door and then stop dead. The pressure was intense as Pritchett’s crew got on set three days before the shoot, and pressure is what they figured would do the trick. Forcing air into the sealed set increased the pressure just enough to halt the vapor (CO2 mixed with fog juice) on cue. “It was trial and error,” Pritchett says. “If it didn’t work, I was in big trouble.” (Krause, Johansen /)
Most of the drama occurs in and around a supermarket, where the mist fills the parking lot, pressing ominously against the store’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Pritchett used centrifugal fans to blow dry-ice fog through plastic tubing riddled with holes, which spread the fog evenly throughout the set built in an abandoned Shreveport, La., convention center. “We kept adding [fog], which was constantly dissipating,” he says. “Frank wanted the audience to be reminded that it’s not a piece of canvas out there, but a living, moving mist.” (Van Reddin / The Weinstein Company)
For “The Mist’s” finale, wherein the vast vaporous sea is dispatched, Pritchett mounted large foggers fed by 55-gallon drums of liquid on flatbeds, along with big wind machines, in the woods surrounding a National Guard base. “It was all about timing,” he says. “We were literally fogging as far as you could see, and we wanted the mist to clear slowly. So we got a nice breeze going, and let nature do the rest.” (Johansen Krause)