Even though I asked several times about how to pronounce his name, I’m sure I still butchered it the entire time we worked together. Luckily, he was gracious enough to answer to most anything that was even close. His name was Smilde, Berndnaut Smilde. He’s an affable Dutch fellow who just happens to make clouds – indoors. He was in San Francisco at the behest of Meg Shiffler, of the SF Arts Commission, to make some clouds – indoors. I repeated that because, as you can see, it’s quite remarkable. We met the day before to look over the room, talk about how we will proceed, and to try a few more variations on Berndnaut’s name. We were working in the Green Room of the Veterans Building near San Francisco’s Civic Center. The Green Room, I was told, is a replica of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. In the moment, I was impressed, not having been to Versailles. When I got home I looked it up. Let’s just say that if our beloved Green Room has any DNA in common with the Hall of Mirrors, it is only in the minds of the tour guides on the Duck Tours of the Bay. While the Green Room is quite lovely in it’s own right, the resemblance ends there. There was a mirror at each end, and it was indeed a Room, and it was in fact Green. Berndnaut was also gracious about that too. He’s probably been to Versailles, considering it’s only 275 miles from Amsterdam. The good news is that the people who manage the Green Room, unlike Versailles, are willing to have storm clouds made in our version.
The process goes something like this: After everything is is ready with the lights and camera, Berndnaut goes into action. He walks around the area where the cloud is to form in ritualistic fashion, and sprays a mist into the cold air. A machine spits out a burst of another mist and when the two mists mingle, voila – Cloud. I shoot for around 8 seconds until it begins to dissipate and turn into something that is not a cloud. We let the room clear and the process starts over again. During the room clearing phase, there is lots of talk about the merits of the previous cloud and how we might improve the next. Lots of concrete talk about the ephemeral nature of clouds. And so it went. More clouds, and more talk. A few more clouds and a little more talk. I must say here, that the image you see is what was really there. No fancy photoshop tricks – just makin’ pictures of clouds. In the end, the day goes by far too quickly. I don’t really want to stop. Turns out creating the weather is rather exhilarating.