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to that footage,” continues Nolan. The challenge, he says, “was to find analogue methods to produce effects that evoke the requisite threat, awe and horrible beauty of the Trinity test.” Jackson began his own analogue testing a whole two months before pre- production, working in special effects supervisor Scott Fisher’s LA workshop, embracing the randomness and the photographic errors that add to the feel of in-camera effects. “Simulating the way light flares, or things that are out of focus, all those layers of complexity,” he explains, “we can do them in a CG world – but in the real world they happen for free and give unexpected results you’d never dream up.” During these early days, Jackson experimented with explosions, thermite and chain reactions; he smashed ping- pong balls together, threw paint at a wall, concocted luminous magnesium solutions and filmed them on small digital cameras close-up at various frame rates, building a library of images – many of which matched beats in the script. After Nolan made his decisions, they were then shot with IMAX cameras. “It was not always easy to find elements for some of the lines in the script. And we also filmed stuff we didn’t

know how to use,” he explains, citing as an example his work with thermite, a pyrotechnic composition of aluminium and iron oxide, which when lit burns at 2200°C/4000°F before liquefying into molten iron. “While it’s burning, it puts off this incredible, whirling, swirling smoke – and is incredibly bright. Sparks fly out, and if you set it off high and let it fall, it explodes in bombs of red-hot metal.” They shot the thermite in a variety of ways, Jackson notes. “And that ended up being part of at least half a dozen shots, probably more.” When working on set creating the Trinity test, Jackson was safely positioned behind the camera; it fell to special effects supervisor Scott Fisher to oversee the real-life explosions. Jackson remembers eight: “And they were pretty big, with four 45-gallon drums of fuel with high explosives underneath, which lifts them into the air and ignites them. Once that fuel is alight, it naturally forms a mushroom shape.” Nolan shot each explosion with a series of cameras placed at different distances and frame rates, “so that we could slow them down; and we used different lenses to have that close-up detail of the roiling fire. As well as some

full wides to capture the whole thing in one go.” Many of the shots produced to create the spectacle of nuclear fission were also used to portray Oppenheimer’s inner world, giving a glimpse into the mind of a genius. Jackson notes that there were around 200 effects shots on-screen, half of which were worked on in post, the other half cut straight in by Nolan and editor Jennifer Lame. One example unfolds during a scene in which Oppenheimer is particularly troubled and the background starts vibrating and distorting behind him. To create the effect, Jackson and his team took photographs of the background and distorted them in 2D software before then projecting the image back on set, manifesting a sense of his world deforming. “That effect was absolutely in-camera,” says Jackson, “shot with the actors at the same time.” When layering the shots in post, Jackson worked closely with DNEG’s Giacomo Mineo, a 20-year veteran whose work as the on-set VFX supervisor for Alex Garland’s series Devs earned an Emmy nomination. “This was very different from our usual way of working. For me, it was so nice to have this huge gift of beautiful material Andrew collected,” enthuses Mineo. “We had so much freedom. Chris let us go and experiment.” Jackson echoes that sentiment. “It’s been so collaborative,” he adds. “And it’s been great to be involved in one of the two films that have really encouraged people to come back into the cinema. It doesn’t matter how big your television is, it doesn’t compare to cinema as a collective experience.”

NUCLEAR OPTIONS Occasionally, shots were taken without a solid plan for their use in the film, creating a bank of material for the team to experiment with and work from later



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