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Christopher Nolan Makes Bold Claim About Tenet's CGI

Fans of Christopher Nolan — and of film in general — are anxiously awaiting his latest brain-bender Tenet. But if they're expecting a CGI extravaganza, they've got another thing coming.

The trailers for Tenet, which stars John David Washington as the mysterious "protagonist" tasked with helping a shadowy organization steer the world clear of some awful, as-yet unrevealed calamity, have promised a film every bit as visually stunning and crazily disorienting as we might expect from the legendary director. (This is, after all, the man who gave us Inception, a film for which those descriptors are positively tame.) Amazingly, though, it's been revealed in a recent feature in ICG Magazine, the official publication of the International Cinematographers' Guild, that Tenet sports far fewer post-production VFX shots than anyone would have ever suspected.

Editor Jennifer Lame puts the number of those shots at about 300 — far fewer than Nolan efforts Batman Begins with 620, The Dark Knight Rises with 400, and even Inception, which only (believe it or not) features about 500 (via Collider). "The visual side of the film is huge in scale," Nolan told ICG, "but our VFX shot count is probably lower than most romantic comedies."

This is because, whenever possible, Nolan and his crew attempted to achieve what they were going for with practical effects, in-camera — up to and including blowing up an actual freaking jumbo jet rather than attempting to render the effect using CGI, a decision Nolan broke down for Total Film magazine earlier this year. "I planned to do it using miniatures and set-piece builds and a combination of visual effects and all the rest," the director explained. "We started to run the numbers... [and] it became apparent that it would actually be more efficient to buy a real plane of the real size, and perform this sequence for real in camera, rather than build miniatures or go the CG route" (via GamesRadar).

Nolan credits his VFX supervisor and cinematographer with helping him make magic with Tenet

Obviously, Nolan is the one who issues the mandates as to how shots in his films should be captured — but the director told ICG that when it comes to accomplishing the near-impossible task of realizing his visualizations in-camera, it simply couldn't be done without visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson (who oversaw the bonkers practical effects work on Mad Max: Fury Road, and worked with Nolan on Dunkirk) and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (whose long list of Hollywood credits includes Nolan's Interstellar and Dunkirk, as well as similarly large-scale projects such as Spectre and Ad Astra).

"Andrew Jackson was responsible for coming up with our safety net," Nolan explained. "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 [post-production] visual effects for the team at [VFX house] Double Negative, but Andrew's expertise and background in on-set effects benefited us enormously."

Nolan further shared that Hoytema — who was aided by Panavision's development of new, low-light IMAX lenses designed especially for this project — was just as crucial in helping him to realize his vision for Tenet. "The [relationship between director and cinematographer] is at least as important as the one I establish with a lead actor," Nolan said. "The greatest [cinematographers] help you find a storytelling balance between creative exploration and practical execution."

There's one simple fact that rings true in virtually every statement, large and small, that Nolan has made about Tenet: the director is enormously proud of the film, and of the work that his dedicated cast and crew put into it. As Nolan and the studio heads at Warner Bros. rest their hopes (for now) on a staggered international release strategy, it's hard to say just when, exactly, we'll all get to see it. Rest assured, though, that the moment we can be truly confident about the flick's release date, we'll be beating down your door with the news.