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Nolan explains why Oppenheimer recreates nuclear explosion without CGI

The British director has been working with his special effects supervisor to use practical effects, which he says is a huge challenge.


Oppenheimer is just a few days away from being released. The new film, directed by Christopher Nolan, chronicles the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II, a process done against the clock, with the threat of Nazi Germany getting it first. The Trinity Test of the Manhattan Project appears in the movie and was not done with CGI. Nolan himself explained this in statements to Collider.

“One of the first people I showed the script to was my visual effects supervisor, Andrew Jackson. He’s very well-versed in CG, but he’s also very well-versed in practical effects and understands the value of that,” he said. " I showed it to him very early on, and I said, ‘Okay, what we need in this film is a thread between the interior process of Oppenheimer, his imagining, his visualizing of atoms, molecules, those interactions, those energy waves. We need a thread that runs from that right through to the ultimate expression of the destructive power when that force is unleashed.’”

The atomic bomb, one of Oppenheimer’s great challenges

In another interview, this time with TotalFilm, the filmmaker acknowledged the enormous challenge of doing so. “I think recreating the Trinity test without the use of computer graphics, was a huge challenge to take on. 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,” said the director.

According to Nolan, this is a story of immense scope and scale. “And 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. 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,” the director continued.

Oppenheimer will be released in theaters on July 21.