Christopher Nolan Didn’t Use Any CGI For Oppenheimer

By Robert Scucci | Published

cillian murphy
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer

Collider reports that Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Oppenheimer biopic boasts something unheard of these days: the total use of practical effects in favor of computer-generated imagery (CGI). Considering that Nolan tasked himself with recreating the 1945 Trinity nuclear test for production, it’s safe to say that quite a bit of clever camera work had to be utilized to pull off such a stunning feat of cinematography.

Christopher Nolan used practical effects and camera work to re-create the 1940 research site setting of Oppenheimer.

If you’re worried that the Insomnia director’s practical approach involved setting off actual nuclear bombs, then you can sleep easy knowing that Nolan’s methodology was, just like the effects that Oppenheimer, quite practical in its execution.

Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s thirteenth film and centers around the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who headed the Manhattan Project during the height of World War II. This biographical film highlights the development of the atomic bomb, and its story is told through Oppenheimer’s point of view, giving it a more subjective nature than other biopics you may have seen in the past.

Cillian Murphy was cast to portray Oppenheimer and said that he had do quite a bit of reading to prepare for the role.

robert downey jr
Robert Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan implemented a number of different techniques to pull off the look he was going for in Oppenheimer, including the combined use of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large-format film. Additionally, Nolan and his production crew had to create their own technology in the form of developing their own film to be able to successfully capture the black-and-white sequences in a way that resembled analog photography while using IMAX technology.

The team behind Oppenheimer developed new film to bring the striking black-and-white images to life on an IMAX screen.

But perhaps the most ambitious aspect of Oppenheimers production was Christopher Nolan’s decision to recreate the Trinity blast without the aid of computer enhancement. This sentiment has been a common through line in Nolan’s films, as he wants to portray a real sense of urgency and danger in his sequences, which he believes CGI fails to capture.

Though real explosions were used to portray the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in Oppenheimer, they were used on a much smaller scale than you would think.

How Oppenheimer Recreates The Atomic Bomb

In order to make the blast in Oppenheimer look convincing, a miniature scale model of an entire 1940s-style town was built from scratch by the production crew. However, these weren’t ordinary miniatures, and special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher has referred to his crew’s designs as “big-atures” when proudly describing the size of the model towns they constructed for the Christopher Nolan film.

Through clever camera work and miniatures, we are presented with a forced perspective that makes the scaled-down explosion look larger than life but more importantly, convincing in its delivery.

It’s evident that Christopher Nolan pulled no stops in making his vision come to life with Oppenheimer. In addition to the technological innovations that needed to be realized and Cillian Murphy’s striking resemblance to J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, we’re blessed with the presence of an all-star cast that includes but isn’t limited to Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., and Florence Pugh.

Oppenheimer wrapped production in May 2022 and is slated for a July 21, 2023 release.