The upcoming 'Oppenheimer' film replicates the nuclear blast without any CGI

"Oppenheimer" will feature a huge explosion, recreating the famous Trinity nuclear explosion without the use of CGI, as seen in the new trailer.
Christopher McFadden
The explosion scene from official trailer of Oppenheimer
The explosion scene from official trailer of Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan’s upcoming biopic “Oppenheimer” will bring the story of the Manhattan Project, the Allied secret nuclear weapons program during World War II, to the silver screen next month. But what is most interesting about it, apart from the subject itself, is that Nolan and his team recreated the nuclear blast effect without needing computer-generated imagery techniques (CGI).

The movie, based on the biography “American Prometheus” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, follows Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy of "Peaky Blinders" fame) before the Trinity explosion and after World War II.

Before the showings of "Avatar: The Way of Water" this weekend, reports Task and Purpose, there was a different, independent preview that hasn't been put online because all recordings were quickly taken down. Both show glimpses of what has become the most important part of the movie, but they don't show the entire explosion.

“I think recreating the Trinity test [the first nuclear weapon detonation in New Mexico] without the use of computer graphics was a huge challenge to take on,” Nolan told Total Film ahead of the trailer’s release.

“Andrew Jackson — my visual effects supervisor, I got him on board early on — was looking at how we could do a lot of the visual elements of the film 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,” he added.

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For example, in the 2017 TV show "Twin Peaks: The Return," the Trinity test was shown as one of the most important examples of a nuclear explosion. The effects studio BUF made the 11-minute computer-generated animation, which started with the explosion and ended with a zoom into the mushroom cloud.

Christopher Nolan is famed for the practical effects in his films

Practical effects are heavily used in Nolan's films; he likes real effects better than computer-generated ones.

In "The Dark Knight" and "Inception," he flipped a semi-truck and spun a hallway to get the best effect. In preparation for a big army-on-army showdown in his previous film, "Tenet," he recreated an abandoned mining town near Joshua Tree into the remains of a Soviet-closed city.

Since DNEG did the special effects for both movies, "Oppenheimer" is probably planning something just as amazing.

The largest real explosion created for a film was for the 2015 James Bond film "No Time to Die." They used thousands of gallons of fuel and 300 pounds (136 kg) of explosives to set a Guinness World Record.

The actual Trinity test had a TNT yield of about 25 kilotons.

Like "Spectre," the problem in these situations is that there is typically just one opportunity to get the effect properly.

Nolan and DNEG probably haven't been able to make an explosion as big as the one in Trinity. It's still unclear until they explain their precise procedure. But given their past performance, it's likely that some parts of New Mexico experienced a significant explosion.

"Oppenheimer" is scheduled for release on the 21st of July, 2023.