How Oppenheimer's Nuclear Explosion Was Filmed Without Using CGI

A bomb to burst the box office

How Oppenheimer's Nuclear Explosion Was Filmed Without Using CGI
Juan Carlos Saloz

Juan Carlos Saloz

There’s no doubt that, if he could have, Christopher Nolan would have blown up a real nuclear bomb for his next big movie: Oppenheimer. The filmmaker is a practical effects nut and not too keen on CGI, so considering his feature is about the creator of the atomic bomb, he obviously had to try his best to make his bomb real and not digital… and he’s more or less succeeded.

Although in the end they didn’t let him use a real nuclear bomb – not bad, I guess -, the director got away with it and used a bomb made from practical effects. That is to say, without using any CGI or after-the-fact effects beyond small details. The result, from what they are selling, has been spectacular. But how exactly did they do it?

Materials used for the Oppenheimer explosion

The film’s special effects supervisor, Scott R. Fisher, explained in an interview for Total Film how the sequence was shot, and his words make it clear that Nolan’s entire team is as crazy as he is… or even crazier.

“It’s like an old-school technique. We don’t call it miniatures; we call them gran-aturas [‘big-atures’ in English],” he explains, putting to rest rumors that scale models were used. “We make them as big as we can, although we reduce the scale to make it manageable. It’s about getting it close to the camera and making it as big as possible in the environment.”

Explosión nuclear sin efectos especiales en la película Oppenheimer de  Christopher Nolan | Computer Hoy

But what was that bomb made of that they detonated for the film? Fisher has also explained it:

“It’s mostly gasoline, propane, any of that kind of stuff, because you can get a lot with your budget. But we also put in things like aluminum and magnesium powder to enhance the shine and give it a concrete look… We did it because we wanted everyone to talk about that flash, that shine. So we tried to replicate it as best we could.”

The explosion recreates the U.S. attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan) in August 1945, which ended World War II and caused disastrous consequences for decades. But this is not the first time Nolan has done something like this. In Tenet, his previous film, the director blew up a real Boeing 747. And in Dunkirk, much of the tanks, planes and so on were real.

Oppenheimer will be released on July 21, the same day as Barbie, and will star Cillian Murphy. It is undoubtedly Nolan’s most ambitious film, as well as the longest (2 hours and 50 minutes), thus joining other proposals such as Killers of the flower moon.

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Juan Carlos Saloz

Juan Carlos Saloz

Cultural journalist specialized in film, series, comics, video games, and everything your parents tried to keep you away from during your childhood. Also an aspiring film director, screenwriter, and professional troublemaker.

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