It's a Wonderful Life Phony Snow

I was recently involved in a water cooler discussion about the classic holiday film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and while dissecting what was good and bad about it, mentioned the phony snow. My coworker seemed genuinely surprised and didn’t seem to realize the snow on screen was fake. The coworker in question recently moved here (to Michigan), but spent much of his life in Georgia and claims to have seen snow on more than one occasion.

As someone who has lived most of his life in Michigan, I’m quite familiar with what real snow looks like, and assumed that anyone who has seen snow in person would know that it doesn’t usually adhere to vertical surfaces in quite the way one sees in that film. Don’t get me wrong - the snow in that film looks more realistic than snow in other films from the era, but it’s still plain (to me anyway) that it’s not real snow. It simply requires the audience to engage in a bit of voluntary suspension of disbelief.

Dopers, were you aware the snow in that film was fake? I mean, did it ever momentarily enter your consciousness ‘yep, that’s fake snow’ or does it come as some kind of surprise?

I’m also from Michigan: It isn’t so fake as to have ever made me notice it looking fake.

I’ve never seen IaWL but I’ve seen plenty of fake snow in movies. Did you mean your coworker was not aware of any fake snow or just in that movie?

Here’s a snow scene from the movie. It actually looks pretty decent to me. I would not have noticed unless it was pointed out.

That snow got his creator Russel Sherman the only Oscar for that film.

If you have 9:30 to spare here is a link to an interesting story narrated by Mike Rowe about why this snow was created.

Mike’s story also reveals the fate of Mr. Sherman and WHY “It’s a Wonderful Life” is even known to people today much less a perennial classic.

I’ve seen the movie many times, but I guess I never noticed the snow looking fake. It might be because it’s in B&W so the detail isn’t as noticeable. Born, raised and still living in Minnesota - it looks real to me. Certainly more real than the awful “snow” that’s used in almost every Hallmark-type Christmas movie!

This statement strikes me as strange. As a born and raised north lander, I’m also quite familiar with “real snow”, and I discovered through experience that it simply doesn’t look or behave in just one way. Snow varies amazingly because of the weather conditions that produce it. It varies in size, texture, water content, and how it adheres to various things upon which it lands.


I’m well acquainted with snow and it looks pretty good to me.

I much prefer that type of fake snow to the type that is added to the print after the scene is shot. Snow falling like a MFer, but the people don’t seem to try to avoid getting it in their faces, and none of it seems to accumulate.

+1 on this. I’ve seen snow adhere and build up on vertical surfaces, the undersides of overhangs, be thick and solid, thin and wispy… there are so many variations on what “real snow” looks like that I couldn’t just point at any particular “fake snow” and say REAL SNOW WOULD NEVER DO THAT!

Colorado resident for over 40 years here. The last 26 in the mountains.

The snow looked pretty good. And yes, snow comes in all types. One of the oddest is Graupel. Not quite hail, not quite snow. Consistency of heavy styrofoam.

Wow, thank you for that link! Very interesting. Well worth the time, and more.

I’ve seen a lot of fake snow that drew attention to itself. It’s not a good thing. But it looks like the OP picked the wrong movie to rag on phony snow about.

Just that they hadn’t noticed it was fake snow in that movie.

Perhaps so, but for some reason I remember watching the film as a child and noting there was something amiss about the snow. I had some difficulty putting my finger on why precisely, but the sense of falsity has stuck with me, and I think it has to do with how the snow looks ‘sprayed’ onto some of the vertical surfaces. Maybe it’s just me.

24 years in WI. Snow looked fine to me.

Did I believe it actually snowed on the soundstage where it was filed? Not after I learned how movies were made.

How many words for fake snow does the English language have? :slight_smile:

Or it could be the extremely convenient timing of Jimmy Stewart saying “God” and the snow falling immediately - and somewhat unrealistically - in the background at the 26 second mark of the vid linked in post #4.

Decent enough it won a technical award from AMPAS.

I have probably seen more snow than a Southerner ought, from the deep South to far north of the Arctic Circle, and the stuff comes in an amazing variety. I’ve seen it piled an inch deep on the side of a vertical signpost, drifted in the concave wall of a wind-battered fuel tank, and even in a pile of little naturally-formed balls. I always assumed the snow in the movie was fake, but never saw anything that made it obviously so.

The suddenness of the fall, and the way it progresses across the screen, may be the most unrealistic-looking elements. He is on a bridge, with structures above him, and a little wind associated with the flurry that’s starting could dislodge loose snow from the upper parts of the bridge and produce such a pattern, but it does look a little odd. I think it would look just as odd with real snow, however–insofar as it looks fake, it’s not the fault of the fake snow, but the way the effects guys distributed it.

Real Snow! (just not enough, yet)

Keep a sharp eye out and you’ll see me now and then.