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Why Oppenheimer's Nuke Explosion Was Filmed With Practical Effects And Not CG

The depiction of the Trinity Test "had to feel nightmarish and terrifying in a way that computer graphics never really is."


Batman director Christopher Nolan's next movie, Oppenheimer, tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb. The story will include a depiction of the Trinity Test, which represented the world's first atomic bomb explosion in the New Mexico desert in July 1945. You might think this would be depicted via CG in Oppenheimer, but Nolan wanted it to be as real as possible.

In a new behind-the-scenes featurette, Nolan said for the scene to look believable and "nightmarish" like it was in real life, it needed to be filmed practically and not with computer graphics.

"We did a lot of experimentation. We came up with some very interesting analogue methods of how to approach this, all of which was leading to the Trinity Test, which had to feel nightmarish and terrifying in a way that computer graphics never really is," he said. "What we were able to get into the finished film, to me, is extraordinarily beautiful but also frightening."

It's not immediately clear how Nolan and his team pulled it off, but in one scene from the video, you can see a crew member filling a 55-gallon drum with what looks to be gasoline. And just to be crystal clear, Nolan did not detonate an actual nuclear bomb for Oppenheimer, but instead an explosion that was meant to look like an atomic bomb had just gone off.

In real life, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan a month later, killing hundreds of thousands of people and contributing to the end of World War II.

Following the bombings, Oppenheimer reflected on his military mission and quoted from Bhagavad Gita, saying, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Oppenheimer the movie is based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. It stars Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, alongside a cast that also includes Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Josh Peck, Jack Quaid, Josh Hartness, Gary Oldman, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Alden Ehrenreich, Casey Affleck, and David Dastmalchian.

Oppenheimer comes to theaters on July 21, 2023, which is the same day that Greta Gerwig's Barbie arrives. It's Nolan's first new film since Tenet in 2020.

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