Christopher Nolan Recreated Oppenheimer Atomic Bomb Explosion Without CGI

Christopher Nolan is taking practical effects to the next level.

While “Avatar: The Way of Water” director James Cameron is in a race against Marvel movies in terms of VFX digital effects, Nolan opted not to use computer-generated effects for the upcoming atomic bomb origin story “Oppenheimer.” That’s right: Nolan literally blew things up.

“I think recreating the Trinity test [the first nuclear weapon detonation ever] without the use of computer graphics was a huge challenge to take on,” Nolan told Total Film (via Games Radar). “Andrew Jackson — my visual effects supervisor, I got him on board early on — was looking at how we could do a lot of the visual elements of the film practically, from representing quantum dynamics and quantum physics to the Trinity test itself, to recreating, with my team, Los Alamos up on a mesa in New Mexico in extraordinary weather, a lot of which was needed for the film, in terms of the very harsh conditions out there – there were huge practical challenges.”

Known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer was head of the Los Alamos Laboratory and helmed the “Manhattan Project,” which first developed nuclear weapons for World War II. He also supervised the Trinity Test, in which the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated in New Mexico. Cillian Murphy stars as the titular scientist, with Emily Blunt playing his wife, biologist and botanist Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer.

Matt Damon portrays General Leslie Groves Jr., director of the Manhattan Project, and Robert Downey Jr. plays Lewis Strauss, a founding commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Florence Pugh plays psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, Benny Safdie is theoretical physicist Edward Teller, Michael Angarano takes on Robert Serber, and Josh Hartnett plays pioneering American nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence, amongst an all-star cast.

Nolan noted that “Oppenheimer” is a “story of immense scope and scale.”

“It’s one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on in terms of the scale of it, and in terms of encountering the breadth of Oppenheimer’s story,” the “Tenet” helmer said. “There were big, logistical challenges, big practical challenges. But I had an extraordinary crew, and they really stepped up. It will be a while before we’re finished. But certainly as I watch the results come in, and as I’m putting the film together, I’m thrilled with what my team has been able to achieve.”

Frequent Nolan collaborator Hoyte van Hoytema (“Interstellar,” “Dunkirk,” “Tenet”) serves as the cinematographer for the upcoming film, which uses a new kind of IMAX film stock.

“We challenged the people at Kodak photochem to make this work for us,” Nolan said. “And they stepped up. For the first time ever, we were able to shoot IMAX film in black-and-white. And the results were thrilling and extraordinary. As soon as Hoyte and I saw the first tests come in, we just knew that this was a format that we were immediately in love with.”

“Oppenheimer” was shot on a combination of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large-format film photography including, for the first time ever, sections in IMAX black and white analog photography. This will be Nolan’s 12th feature film and his first with Universal Pictures.

For all the details on “Oppenheimer,” click here.

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