boom! clap!

Christopher Nolan Makes His Nuclear Bombs the Old-fashioned Way

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic and Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

When Christopher Nolan made his previous film, 2020 buddy-time-cop flick Tenet, the action centered around a weapon of mass destruction the likes of which the world had ever seen, one so bad that it would wipe out all of humanity past and future, even Elizabeth Debicki’s son. Nolan’s next film is the thematically aligned, though less fantastical, Oppenheimer, starring Cillian Murphy and telling the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb. Nolan aims to use practical effects in Oppenheimer, even for large-scale detonations. “I think recreating the Trinity test without the use of computer graphics was a huge challenge to take on,” Nolan tells Total Film, referring to the first nuclear-weapons test at the Trinity site in New Mexico.

Nolan’s visual-effects supervisor Andrew Jackson looked at how to accomplish the movie’s effects “practically, from representing quantum dynamics and quantum physics to the Trinity test itself, to recreating, with my team, Los Alamos up on a mesa in New Mexico in extraordinary weather, a lot of which was needed for the film, in terms of the very harsh conditions out there — there were huge practical challenges.” Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema also worked with Imax and Kodak to develop a new type of film stock that can shoot black-and-white for Imax. Nolan doesn’t specify how, exactly, his team will pull off this non-computer-generated explosion, but we expect it has something to do with papier-mâché and baking soda.

Christopher Nolan Made a Nuclear Bomb the Old-fashioned Way