“Oppenheimer” Trinity Test Filming Details

Warner Bros. PIctures

The centerpiece of Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is, without a doubt, the film’s recreation of the Trinity Test in which the first nuclear bomb ever was detonated.

In the lead-up to the film, it was revealed that Nolan had opted to recreate the event without using CG visual effects, instead opting to find a way to do it in-camera instead.

No, Nolan did not detonate a real atomic bomb. He and his team, however, tried all sorts of techniques in an effort to convincingly recreate a nuclear blast for what would become the central ten-minute sequence of the feature.

Speaking with Variety, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema says, even before signing on, it was expected Nolan would want to do the scene in-camera as it would avoid one common problem with visual effects:

“We’re suckers for this absolute depth of resolution that IMAX give us. But when you go to VFX, you have to scan it, and the moment you do that, it loses half of its resolution.”

Nolan and van Hoytema worked closely with special effects supervisor Scott Fisher and visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson to find ways to make it all work:

“We created science experiments. We built aquariums with power in it. We dropped silver particles in it. We had molded metallic balloons which were lit up from the inside.

We had things slamming and smashing into one another, such as ping-pong balls, or just had objects spinning.

We had long shutter speeds, short shutter speeds, wide negative color, negative overexposure, underexposure. It was like a giant playground for all of us.

The Trinity Test was something that came together and was cobbled from the miniatures of that science experiment, under the guidance of Chris and my guidance, that we pushed slowly in certain directions in order to serve specific functions in these sequences.”

Van Hoytema says the sequence took several weeks to film, but how the final elements all came together is being kept under wraps for now.

Nolan has become synonymous with his need to do everything practically and in camera, to the point it has become something of a signature for him in the way symmetrical shot compositions are for Wes Anderson, or explosions and American flags are for Michael Bay.

In a recent joint interview with Wired, “Oppenheimer” actor Robert Downey Jr. joked if Nolan were to have directed 2012’s “The Avengers,” his push for not using CG means it would still be filming. Nolan amusingly fired back: “Would you be prepared to get on one of those jetpacks, the ones they make for real?”

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