Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet was supposed to be the summer blockbuster that blew everyone away with its special effects, but would you be surprised to learn that there are less than 300 visual effects shots in the entire movie?
That’s the estimate that editor Jennifer Lame gave ICG Magazine this month, as she and Nolan made it clear that the film’s epic action scenes were shot largely in camera with practical effects. The production even purchased a real Boeing 747 airplane so Nolan could blow it up on camera.
“The visual side of the film is huge in scale, but our VFX shot count is probably lower than most romantic comedies,” Nolan told ICG.
For context, Avengers: Endgame reportedly featured more than 2,000 VFX shots — a number that Nolan has likely only approached with Interstellar, given the estimated VFX shot counts on Batman Begins (620), Inception (500) and The Dark Knight Rises (450).
“Visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson was responsible for coming up with our safety net,” said Nolan. “We wanted it all in-camera, but if it couldn’t be done, what choices are there in post-production? 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 credited his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who first worked with Nolan on Interstellar and recently earned an Oscar 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. “The greatest DPs help you find a storytelling balance between creative exploration and practical execution.”
Nearly all of Tenet”was shot using IMAX cameras, while Panavision created new lenses that would work in lower-light situations to enhance the intimacy of the film’s large-scale photography — something that was important to both van Hoytema as well as Nolan himself.
Warner Bros. will begin releasing Tenet overseas on Aug. 26 before the film hits U.S. theaters on Sept. 3 in states where theaters are allowed to reopen. Tenet was also just granted a China release on Sept 4. To read Nolan’s explanation of the film’s “time inversion” concept, click here.