An atomic explosion without special effects in Oppenheimer? How Christopher Nolan directed the bomb scene

If you have seen “Oppenheimer”, you must have been struck by this striking scene of the nuclear test. But do you know how it was directed by Christopher Nolan?

“We knew the Trinity nuclear test had to be a key moment in the film”Christopher Nolan tells us in the interview above, conducted around Oppenheimer, his new feature film. “It had to be one of the most important moments, because it’s the turning point of the whole story.”

It is even the pivot of the story led by the English director, which then switches to an intense and hectic last hour. Often highlighted during the promotion, the scene of the nuclear test is certainly one of Oppenheimer’s strong moments, a mixture of poetry and terror, which suspends time before blowing away the spectator like the characters on the screen.

But how was it made? If the option of synthetic images is essential from the outset, it is to misunderstand Christopher Nolan, who became famous, among other things, for his desire to limit digital tricks as much as possible. What he confirms here: “I asked my special effects teams to look for methods that would allow us to film something real, tangible.”

Like one of the two Prestige magicians, the screenwriter and director will not reveal his tricks to us. But information gleaned from other media makes it possible to assemble the tricks used by the man who admits that computer-generated images reduce the feeling of danger and put the viewer in comfort, which was not the goal sought with Oppenheimer.

In an interview given to Total Movie, the special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher (Oscar winner for Tenet and Interstellar) specifies having used the technique of forced perspective, which makes it possible to simulate differences in size between objects or characters intervening in the same scene. Like in Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings.

Large-scale experiences and small details

Except that he did not use miniatures but models as large as possible, while remaining within reasonable proportions: the closer these elements were to the camera, the larger they appeared and favored the impact sought by Christopher Nolan and his teams. But that was only one part of the challenge. Even the easiest.

Because it was then necessary to reproduce the explosion itself, without going so far as to use a real nuclear weapon. And this one was made with a mixture of gasoline and propane, the combination of which allows a massive pyrotechnic aspect, associated with aluminum powder and magnesium, in order to create this blinding flash typical of a machine of this kind.

Universal Pictures

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A mixture of large-scale experiences and small details, according to Christopher Nolan himself, intended to leave a lasting impression on the viewer while making them feel as if they were experiencing what Oppenheimer and his entourage experienced during the Trinity test. By going so far as to reproduce the famous mushroom typical of a nuclear bomb.

In an interview given to Empire, the director reveals that his teams photographed an explosion of TNT in all its facets to do compositing (fusion of image sources in a single shot) and add layers to the explosion created for the needs of the film. Who therefore used various techniques to reproduce this key moment in the history of Oppenheimer. And of the world.

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