There is a considerable amount of largely ‘invisible’ visual effects work in Christopher Nolan’s work Oppenheimerbut over a month after its release, that’s still not clear to everyone.
Leading up to the film, headlines spread after Nolan mention there were no computer-generated images in it Oppenheimerbut that’s very different from saying there are no visual effects images in the movie.
“Some people have picked up on that and assumed there are no visual effects, which is clearly not true,” Oppenheimertells Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Andrew Jackson The Hollywood reporter. “Visual effects can encompass a lot of things.” That includes computer-generated imagery and special effects created in-camera on set.
One VFX moment is the scene recreating the Trinity Test, in which scientists led by J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) detonated the first atomic bomb in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. According to Jackson, who won an Oscar for Nolan’s Basic principlethis was done by layering filmed elements via digital compositing. In other words, the team at Nolan’s favorite VFX company DNEG took filmed footage — such as smoke and explosions — and used a computer program to stitch them together to create the shots. “(Nolan) didn’t want to use CG simulations of a nuclear explosion. He wanted to speak in that kind of movie-age language…using practical filmed elements to tell that story.”
About the visual approach to the film, which was shot in 65mm film on Imax cameras by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Jackson says they weren’t trying to replicate what the explosion would have looked like, and that they also didn’t want anything. too stylized. He says they opted for something in between, “a kind of loose artistic interpretation of the ideas rather than an accurate representation of the physics.”
For the filmed elements, special effects supervisor Scott Fisher directed the shooting of large hands-on explosions and other elements using a variety of lenses and cameras, including Imax and high-speed cameras. “They used four 10-gallon barrels of fuel and a few explosives underneath, making the fuel light and blasting it into the air,” Jackson says of the largest practical explosions.
In the end, the team compiled a library of about 400 individual elements that it used to create the multiple layers in the composition process.
“We had some with very close-up details of the blazing explosion,” says Jackson. “We had a lot of material that we could pile up and build into something that had the look and feel of something much bigger.”
For lighting the actors in shots where they watch the explosion from miles away, he adds, “there were some where there was a (practical) explosion in the background and others where we added the explosion. … Some of them had some kind of lighting effect on the actors before the flash when the explosion went off. To underline Nolan’s love of working with film, Jackson reports that they used optical, not digital, color timing during post-production.
In total, the film contains about 200 visual effects shots, including the practical effects shots. This included removing modern elements from locations.
Jackson also recognized how the story is still relevant today. “The topic of nuclear bombs is something we worried about in my childhood,” he says.
And on the current thorny subject of artificial intelligence, he agrees that there is a certain resemblance to the message. “We are on the verge of a revolution, not just in our industry, but across the board. I don’t think people have fully grasped the reality of how much is going to change,” he says.