Oppenheimer Cinematographer On Filming Quantum Physics And Blowing Up A Bomb [Exclusive Interview]

One big highlight of the film is Oppenheimer repeatedly sees this imagery of quantum mechanics and the physics of that world throughout the film. How were you involved in the process of putting together these visuals?

We engineered a lot of lenses for them that enabled the actual perspective and the actual way that those physics experiments were shot. Of course, [visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson] and [special effects supervisor Scott Fisher] have their little separate unit next to our units where they would, every day, do their science experiments, as well as we would, every day, watch their rushes.

Then, of course, we did a lot of testing and we did a lot of testing to formats. So I think the integration of these elements and the way that they were shot, I think they were very much — it was very pivotal and important that they were interwoven with very much what the main unit was doing. But on the other hand, I also remember being so super jealous because they got to sit all day [laughs] and move around with molded metal and spinning gold balls on strings, and coming up with all these amazing representations of quantum physics. But yes, we definitely were working together on that one.

Watching the Trinity bomb test, there’s this sense of doom throughout the entire sequence. A lot of that has to do with the sound design, the editing of those shots, but it’s also the camera movement on your end, the staging, the lighting of it all. So how did you go about crafting that entire sequence to make sure that it had the desired impact on the audience?

In many ways, you work through that on a longer period of time. By that time, we had been with the whole gang and Cillian and so on already for quite a long time. So you get some sense of that endeavor and the engineering that it took and the anticipation. But also, you are soaked up in the history of the story as well. We were shooting in Oppenheimer’s real house. And we’re shooting in Los Alamos in some buildings that were still existent and we built our own town. So somehow, atmospherically, this situation is all there and evidently feeding you with the gloom and the doom and the anticipation.

So I think that overall feeling, you’ll get the opportunity to infuse that into your work piece by piece and bit by bit. That’s very often what people don’t really understand. Everything is written on-page, but what that film in the end is going to tell you, feeling-wise, is also something that is infused every moment of the day that works up to the final moments. Every day, there are discussions and every day, there are considerations about how things should pan out, how things should feel. This is very much the daily creative conversations that you’re having. And in the end, when that is all put together and when that is all brilliantly edited together by [Jennifer Lame] and Chris, all these considerations and dilemmas and questions, they’re all accumulating what, in the end, will make up the final product for you — the film.

“Oppenheimer” is in theaters now.

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