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Oppenheimer Oppenheimer

During the publicity junket for Oppenheimer, director Christopher Nolan repeatedly pointed out how his latest film doesn’t contain any cgi shots, leading many to believe that there were no digital vfx in the film. That interpretation of his statement is inaccurate.

While Oppenheimer may not contain cgi – or computer-generated imagery that is rendered in the computer – it absolutely does contain digital vfx. A lot of it may be ‘invisible vfx,’ a style of vfx often used in period films and adult dramas where the goal is to enhance the authenticity of the setting but not call attention to the fx work as superhero and action films tend to do. With invisible vfx, if the crew does their job well, then audiences won’t even realize that vfx are being used.

We don’t know how Nolan employed digital vfx on Oppenheimer, and won’t know until (and if) the effects breakdowns are released, but we do know for a fact that vfx were used on the film. We also know that the vfx studio on the film was DNEG, marking the eighth time they’ve collaborated on a film with Nolan.

UPDATE: DNEG has provided further information to Cartoon Brew to explain how compositing was the primary use of vfx in the film:

[Production vfx supervisor] Andrew Jackson spent several months of the project in Scott Fisher’s workshop, working with him and his SFX crew to develop the various simulations and effects. The process involved shooting an extensive library of elements. They shot these explosions at high speed, slowed them down then brought layers of footage together in post-production. The final shots ranged from using the raw elements as shot, through to complex composites of multiple filmed elements. Almost all the VFX shots in the movie were recreated using only real elements combined together. Chris Nolan was determined to keep the VFX grounded in reality and maintain the raw feeling of the actual footage.

Additionally, we now know that Nolan and Universal decided to not credit the majority of the film’s vfx crew. The film credits list 26 vfx crew, in addition to vfx supervisor Andrew Jackson. Ten of these roles are supervisors while fifteen are workers and support roles. This is a particularly high ratio of supervisors to workers, and it doesn’t make sense unless those in the management roles were overseeing a larger group of artists.

Indeed, it has now been revealed that a much larger group of people worked on the film than were actually credited. DNEG’s own website has a scrolling list of vfx crew who worked on Oppenheimer and it totals over 160 people. Meanwhile, people online have even created a spreadsheet to try and properly identify the roles of all the film’s vfx workers.

Thus, Universal and Christopher Nolan excluded over 80% of the film’s vfx crew from the credits. Why? Who knows. It certainly wasn’t a running time issue. At three hours in length, an additional 10 seconds of credits wouldn’t have made a bit of difference to the audience. But it would have meant the world to the workers who could have had a screen credit on a blockbuster film. (It’s telling that many of the workers who were left out of the credits worked at one of DNEG’s facilities in India.)

Not crediting the vfx crew is actually fairly common practice in Hollywood, and because vfx artists aren’t unionized, there is no recourse for the worker and no penalty for the studio when credits are omitted or misrepresented.

In a day and age when literally everyone connected to a film production gets a credit, from craft services to on-set teachers of child actors to random “production babies” who didn’t even work on a film, it is utterly incomprehensible that vfx artists, whose work makes possible the final images that appear onscreen, are routinely omitted from screen credits.

Oppenheimer is yet another example of how live-action filmmakers like Nolan denigrate and misrepresent the work of vfx workers to the media, and then add insult to injury by not even acknowledging them in the credits. The fact that over 125 people who contributed to Oppenheimer’s success aren’t listed in the credits is a reminder of how the vfx industry is a corrupt and broken enterprise that undermines and disrespects its workers at every juncture.

This piece was updated on July 25 with additional information from DNEG about the use of vfx in the film.

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