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How did Christopher Nolan film Oppenheimer atomic bomb scenes?

Christopher Nolan delivers hugely impressive atomic bomb scenes in Oppenheimer, and we've delved into the tricks he used to recreate the blast on camera.

Christopher Nolan recreated the atomic bomb sequences in Oppenheimer

How did Christopher Nolan film Oppenheimer atomic bomb scenes? Sometimes, you just have to bow down to a genius. And when it comes to blowing stuff up as realistically as possible, filmmakers don’t come much better than Christopher Nolan.

Of course, in Oppenheimer – his biopic of atomic bomb pioneer J Robert Oppenheimer – the explosions were bigger than ever before. Not many new movies have to recreate a very real blast that changed the course of humanity, but that’s the task Christopher Nolan set for himself when he chose to recreate the Trinity Test.

So, as the Oppenheimer release date arrives, let’s see what we can find out about how the Oppenheimer atomic bomb scenes were filmed and how the Oppenheimer cast witnessed an explosion worthy of the best movies ever made.

How did Christopher Nolan film Oppenheimer atomic bomb scenes?

Christopher Nolan used various practical effects and clever editing to recreate the Trinity Test atomic bomb scene in Oppenheimer. There’s no CGI involved.

In a featurette looking at the Trinity Test scene, Nolan said: “It’s an extraordinary moment in human history, and I wanted to take the audience into that room and be there when that button is pushed and really fully bring the audience to this moment in time.”

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The director has said he used CGI to create a nuclear explosion in The Dark Knight Rises, but wanted this one to feel far more tangible and realistic. That’s his style, after all.

Nolan explained that his effects team combined techniques – some new, some very old – in order to make the scene work. The finished sequence is at times impressionistic, with the effects team experimenting with ping pong balls smashing together and paint hitting walls, as well as more traditionally explosive techniques.

Much like a chef’s perfect recipe, the exact combination of elements is being kept secret. However, Nolan did dish some secrets out in a chat with IGN.

“Scott Fisher’s work on the special effects, combining magnesium flares with gasoline, and black powder explosions, and things. There were some extraordinary things to look at just to eye. But watching the dailies, you were seeing it develop with my editing brain on, and then with Jen Lame, the editor in the edit suite, you just start visualizing combinations, and experimenting with combinations of imagery to give the feeling of what this must have felt like to watch this.”

The end result is one of the most incredible scenes of the year, and something even the best action movies can seldom match. We explained what we thought in more detail in our Oppenheimer review and, if your appetite has been whetted by this guide, find out how to watch Oppenheimer, including in 70mm IMAX cinemas.

As for the other big movie of this weekend, we’ve got a guide to the Barbie movie release date, as well as an exploration of how the Barbie movie caused a worldwide pink shortage. You can also read our Barbie review and our answer to the big question: Should I watch Oppenheimer or Barbie first?