On the Set — Behind the Scenes of Special Effects Production

Special effects in TV and movies have come a long way from the early days of King Kong scaling skyscrapers and Godzilla mowing down towns and villages. Technology can make virtually anything happen on screen.

But sometimes, there’s no substitute for the real thing.

That’s why a well-known production company contacted Sunbelt Rentals: The film crew wanted to create a water vortex for a movie in production, and they wanted it to take shape on set, in real life.

The company knew it would need a pump system to create the vortex, but as with most large-scale, complex projects, it wasn’t going to be that simple. The solution needed to be able to fill the movie set tank quickly from two frac tanks — and drain it just as fast. It needed to be able to fill a custom sluice box built on site. It needed to be able to create the vortex, while staying flexible enough to change the level of flow within the set. And it needed to do all of this with the pumps running consistently and simultaneously; there would be no time to cycle through turning some pumps on and others off to create the desired effect.

With all the parameters in place, the sales and management team at Sunbelt Rentals started to piece together a plan — one that would involve pulling together equipment, building custom apparatus, and bringing in experts and resources from across the country. Then, we got to work.

We brought in four 6-inch Atlas Copco Contractor Pumps, which were pumped through a/c duct openings to feed into the two frac tanks. Two 6-inch Mody Submersible pumps were used to create the vortex itself and drain the set tank. A 12-inch HDPE pipe was fused on site, with a black rubber suction hose and 27 butterfly and ball valves of varying sizes from 4 inches to 12 inches. HDPE pipe discharge headers were fabricated to run over a 25-foot span, from the top of the frac tanks to the ground. Discharge stingers were built with flanged 90-degree bends to allow the production team to change the direction of the flow as needed. And it was all done while maintaining full access to the fire lane and production routes — a priority for the film crew throughout the project.

Every day, multiple times a day, the process and the progress were reviewed to ensure we were making exactly what the customer needed. The end result was a project built to perfection, a happy film crew and a Hollywood-worthy vortex.

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