Just how committed is Christopher Nolan to using practical effects? Fans already know the director purchased a real Boeing 747 airplane so that he could blow it up on camera in “Tenet,” but it appears Nolan’s commitment to practical effects hits a new high in his upcoming tentpole. Speaking to ICG Magazine this month, “Tenet” editor Jennifer Lame estimated the final cut of “Tenet” has under 300 visual effects shots. Nolan told ICG, “The visual side of the film is huge in scale, but our VFX shot count is probably lower than most romantic comedies.”
By comparison, “Avengers: Endgame” had reportedly over 2,000 VFX shots. The under-300 number is also low for Nolan himself. “The Dark Knight Rises” had 450 VFX shots according to VFX supervisor Paul Franklin, while Wired reports “Batman Begins” had 620 VFX shots and “Inception” had around 500.
“Visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson was responsible for coming up with our safety net,” Nolan said about the film’s effects. “We wanted it all in-camera, but if it couldn’t be done, what choices are there in postproduction? I like to say Andrew kind of bid himself out of a job because he helped us achieve such an enormous amount practically. There were still very complicated visual effects for the team at Double Negative, but Andrew’s expertise and background in on-set effects benefitted us enormously.”
Nolan also spoke to ICG about his ongoing collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who made his Nolan debut with “Interstellar” and went on to earn an Oscar nomination for his work on “Dunkirk.”
“The director/DP relationship is at least as important as the one I establish with a lead actor,” Nolan said. “This is the third feature I’ve done with Hoyte, after working with Wally Pfister for a lot of years. Hoyte and I have developed a very productive dialog creatively — sometimes spoken, sometimes instinctual, like musicians harmonizing together. Hoyte’s degree of artistic sensitivity, along with a brain that lets me see him as both engineer and artist, combines the purely creative with the ruthlessly pragmatic. The greatest DP’s help you find a storytelling balance between creative exploration and practical execution.”
Hoytema told ICG that for “Tenet” the camera team worked with IMAX and Panavision and pushed for new lenses that would work in lower-light situations. Nearly all of “Tenet” was shot using IMAX cameras, but Hoytema did not want to lose the intimate connection to the characters in all the large scale photography.
“IMAX has been mostly used for spectacle, for the epic. But I think that spectacle comes from more than just scope; it has to be balanced by intimacy,” the cinematographer said. “It was important in ‘Tenet’ to be able to follow the subtle developments happening with the main characters. Wanting to explore how IMAX could enhance quiet moments, we realized getting the camera in closer to subjects than had been possible before was a valid approach.”
Warner Bros. begins its global theatrical release for “Tenet” on August 26. The film will open in U.S. theaters where it is safe to do so on September 3. Head over to ICG Magazine to read more from Nolan about his “Tenet” crew.