Christopher Nolan Talks IMAX, 3D & CGI in Movies

Published 3 years ago by , Updated July 24th, 2013 at 9:40 am,

Christopher Nolan is the epitome of being a stickler when it comes to the filmmaking process. His insight into filmmaking is a touchstone for many aspiring directors (and movie enthusiasts).

The Dark Knight Rises is just a few months away from release and the director took the time speak to the people of the DGA about why he prefers to shoot in IMAX, the balance of practical effects versus CGI in his movies, and why he doesn’t shoot films in 3D.

Today, most filmmakers shoot their movies digitally – as opposed to actual film stock – but Nolan is a proponent of using the traditional method of shooting. Here is what he had to say about the change:

“For the last 10 years, I’ve felt increasing pressure to stop shooting film and start shooting video, but I’ve never understood why. It’s cheaper to work on film, it’s far better looking, it’s the technology that’s been known and understood for a hundred years, and it’s extremely reliable. I think, truthfully, it boils down to the economic interest of manufacturers and [a production] industry that makes more money through change rather than through maintaining the status quo. We save a lot of money shooting on film and projecting film and not doing digital intermediates. In fact, I’ve never done a digital intermediate. Photochemically, you can time film with a good timer in three or four passes, which takes about 12 to 14 hours as opposed to seven or eight weeks in a DI suite. That’s the way everyone was doing it 10 years ago, and I’ve just carried on making films in the way that works best and waiting until there’s a good reason to change. But I haven’t seen that reason yet.”

It should be noted that the reason why Nolan didn’t shoot Inception in IMAX is because he was “trying to portray the reality of dreams rather than their extraordinary nature – so we used a handheld camera and shot it in a more spontaneous way.” Nolan wasn’t afraid to hold back in the interview and candidly spoke about the real dangers of film disappearing. Voicing his opinions on the matter, he brought a collection of filmmakers together to address how traditional film stock can be saved, but also how digital films can be used as well:

“I’ve kept my mouth shut about this for a long time and it’s fine that everyone has a choice, but for me the choice is in real danger of disappearing. So right before Christmas I brought some filmmakers together and showed them the prologue for The Dark Knight Rises that we shot on IMAX film, then cut from the original negative and printed. I wanted to give them a chance to see the potential, because I think IMAX is the best film format that was ever invented. It’s the gold standard and what any other technology has to match up to, but none have, in my opinion. The message I wanted to put out there was that no one is taking anyone’s digital cameras away. But if we want film to continue as an option, and someone is working on a big studio movie with the resources and the power to insist [on] film, they should say so. I felt as if I didn’t say anything, and then we started to lose that option, it would be a shame. When I look at a digitally acquired and projected image, it looks inferior against an original negative anamorphic print or an IMAX one.”

If a remarkable filmmaker like Nolan has something to say, its probably best to listen – and when it comes to the state of film making, then he deserves undivided attention. The fact that he wants to keep the spirit of traditional shooting alive says a lot about the director, but it also addresses the state of the industry itself. As a result, its encouraging that he wants to keep that tradition alive.

batman vs bane Christopher Nolan Talks IMAX, 3D & CGI in Movies

Batman and Bane in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Nolan admits that he uses CGI in his films, but he uses it to tell the story instead of making it a large-scale visual spectacle. He believes that there is a fine line between how a movie uses CGI, and that he has no interest in making the big-budget blockbusters. Here’s what he had to say:

“The thing with computer-generated imagery is that it’s an incredibly powerful tool for making better visual effects. But I believe in an absolute difference between animation and photography. However sophisticated your computer-generated imagery is, if it’s been created from no physical elements and you haven’t shot anything, it’s going to feel like animation. There are usually two different goals in a visual effects movie. One is to fool the audience into seeing something seamless, and that’s how I try to use it. The other is to impress the audience with the amount of money spent on the spectacle of the visual effect, and that, I have no interest in. We try to enhance our stunt work and floor effects with extraordinary CGI tools like wire and rig removals. If you put a lot of time and effort into matching your original film elements, the kind of enhancements you can put into the frames can really trick the eye, offering results far beyond what was possible 20 years ago. The problem for me is if you don’t first shoot something with the camera on which to base the shot, the visual effect is going to stick out if the film you’re making has a realistic style or patina. I prefer films that feel more like real life, so any CGI has to be very carefully handled to fit into that.”

CGI is a relevant tool in film today and allows the impossible to become possible on screen. But there comes a time where a production can be over-saturated – diluting the value of the film itself. CGI does not age well – at all – and the older a CGI-heavy film gets, the more the CGI sticks out. Basically Nolan says he does not shoot movies just for the visual effects, but to tell the stories, and only uses CGI whenever its necessary. Which is a huge reason why his films – no matter what its about – seems so much more grounded in reality than other films.

Finally, Nolan addressed his opinions on 3D. And as you can imagine, he isn’t a big fan of it:

“Warner Bros. would have been very happy, but I said to the guys there that I wanted it to be stylistically consistent with the first two films and we were really going to push the IMAX thing to create a very high-quality image. I find stereoscopic imaging too small scale and intimate in its effect. 3-D is a misnomer. Films are 3-D. The whole point of photography is that it’s three-dimensional. The thing with stereoscopic imaging is it gives each audience member an individual perspective. It’s well suited to video games and other immersive technologies, but if you’re looking for an audience experience, stereoscopic is hard to embrace. I prefer the big canvas, looking up at an enormous screen and at an image that feels larger than life. When you treat that stereoscopically, and we’ve tried a lot of tests, you shrink the size so the image becomes a much smaller window in front of you. So the effect of it, and the relationship of the image to the audience, has to be very carefully considered. And I feel that in the initial wave to embrace it, that wasn’t considered in the slightest.”

It’s not surprising that Warner Bros. would have loved to have Nolan shoot the film in 3D. But considering that the director is a staunch traditionalist, its hard to imagine Nolan implementing 3D affects into his films. For me, 3D adds little to no value to the film and is more of a headache and a gimmick than anything else. I can understand its appeal, but like Nolan, I prefer a film presented in IMAX. Unfortunately, some films presented in IMAX are digitally altered to fit the IMAX screen. Hopefully with the success of films like The Dark Knight and Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, directors will use the IMAX cameras instead of digitally altering their features to fit IMAX screens. It isn’t a cheap process, but the positive certainly outweigh the negatives.

The full interview can be found at Not only does Nolan point out the state of film making today, he also talks about some of his favorite films and film genres.


The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters on July 18th, 2012.


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  1. I’m sure I’ll be accused of being a Nolan fanboy (because I am), but I’ve never had my own thoughts on GCI and 3D – that I was really never able to articulate – said so well.

    • My sentiments exactly, I agree with Nolan completely on his views on CGI and 3D but I can never put it into words. Now I’m really not sure whether to watch The Avengers on IMAX 3D or good ol’ fashion 2D

  2. any idea what nolan is going to do after TDKR? think he will do another blockbuster film or something smaller?

    • I think I heard that he’s going to do a Howard Hughes biopic.

    • I remember a while back there was talk of him doing a Howard Hughes film that would deal with the later part of his life. But other than that I don’t recall hearing anything else.

      • I heard some female is already in the process of making a howard hughes movie so it may not happen. He calls it his best script he has ever written tho

  3. agree with Nolan 100% would love to see Nolan remake The Creature From The Black Lagoon,or Island of dr Moreau. would be a great story/character film, and i know he could make the right creepy tone for the films.

    • I’d love to see Nolan focus on original stories now, something created with his brother. I love those scripts they come up with, where every sentence has meaning. I love that he intervened in Man of Steel, since Snyder and him seem to be the complete opposite from each other and Snyder could really benefit from being under his wing.
      I’ve just noticed that every time I talk about Nolan I use the word “love” at some point.

  4. A master speaks about his craft. I’m sick of the added on 3D and IMAX. If you are gonna do a 3D movie, shoot it in 3D. If you are gonna do an IMAX movie, shoot it in IMAX. You can always tell a cheap add on apart from a director’s true vision. Nobody does it better than Nolan. I too can’t wait to see what he does after TDKR. I have to admit to beeing a huge Batman fanboy, so I doubt his future work will captivate me like this trilogy has, but I found Inception to be a fantastically crafted and shot story and I hope to see more of the like from Nolan in the future.

    Question: Is Nolan this generation’s Spielberg?

    • Nolan has the same respect as Spielberg did in his time :)

    • Seeing what Spielberg has been doing for the last 10-20 years, I hope not.

  5. Christopher Nolan may very well be the most talented director working today.
    It is certain he is the most important director at this particular point in film history.

    In an age where 3D purports to revolutionize film and CGI pretends the impossible,
    each with an attitude that what has been seen before is something less and inferior,
    here stands Christopher Nolan respecting the past and best of filmmaking, building on
    the rich visual language learned and expressed before, placing new techniques in their
    proper place of enhancing not replacing what film can make real, and striving to advance
    the art of filmmaking in precisely the way that it should be advanced at this point in time.

    The fact Christopher has earned the clout to make films the way he chooses,
    standing as a one man beachhead against the title wave of 3D pressure,
    is the most fortunate circumstance for the future of filmmaking.

    Whether or not Christopher can prevent the great flood is unclear but he
    is a general who leads from the front and worthy of following into battle.

    • Very well said

    • Mr Robert Palmar, i could not have said it better than you. Your comments is the truth :)

  6. I agree with Christopher Nolan just look at the CGI heavy wolverine origins movie the claws looked so much better in the first x-men movie than origins

  7. In Noaln we trust…take that Cameron and Bay!!!

  8. Very great article to read.

  9. Nolan is a genius. Not only is he an excellent filmmaker and storyteller, but he also sticks to his ideals. When it comes to creating a movie, he does it with the best possible quality there is. In this case, it’s IMAX. If something were to ever top IMAX in terms of film quality (not sure if that’s possible. don’t know much about filming techniques), I’m sure Nolan will be there to ensure that the viewers get the best possible experience. Kudos to Chris for not giving into the pressure of WB and the lure of 3D. 3D can be fun to watch and a very immersive experience, like when the movie is actually filmed in 3D (like Avatar and Transformers 3) rather than post-converted (Thor, Captain America, Harry Potter, need I go on?) But, like Nolan said, he’s definitely doing IMAX, and doing 3D IMAX ultimately doesn’t get the best quality picture.

    If only all filmmakers nowadays are like Nolan.

  10. Mike, in the last full paragraph, it should be “implementing 3D EFFECTS” (not affects). Just letting you know!

  11. Nolan is the pretentious hipster of filmmakers. He has good qualities, but he’s not the only director to use film stock only, Tarantino is adamant about the format for years. Sorry Nolan fanboys, just not a big fan of his work. It’s the same film every time.

    • OWhy come here just to bash a man talking about what he believes in? That’s pretty rude and you should respect this man for doing what he believes in. Much like you should respect tarantino and everyone else who does so. If they had an article about quinten saying something similar must people will commend him. Don’t hate for no reason.

  12. Actually, I came to read the article, then post my opinion about it. Just because you don’t like what I said, doesn’t mean it has no merit nor does it mean I can’t post it. Don’t get all in an uproar cause of differenting opinions.

    • I could care less if you like his film. But there is no need to be like oooh tarinto did this first. Ur acting like people are only commending him cause we like his films. Un an age of 3d we commend him for staying away from it

      • Actually all I said was that Tarantino has been adamant about it for years, there was nothing in my comment about who did it first. Nor did I say anything about people commending his words for liking his films. Please red my comments.

  13. I’m a big fan of Nolan, but I would have loved to have seen INCEPTION in RealD. I respect his opinions, but AVATAR wasn’t made “smaller” by the 3D process. It was huge and massive and impressive. IMHO, I just think Nolan doesn’t know how to use 3D technology, so disparages the whole medium.

    • You have companies that do tha tfor you. And cinematographers

    • I also didn’t think Avatar was made “smaller” by 3D either. If a film is shot in 3D (and not post-converted) and the director knows how to use it well to show his/her vision (as opposed to being forced to use it), then it can be a good way to experience the film. Unfortunately not many films shown in 3D nowadays use the technology well – and not every kind of film is suited to be shown in that way. But greedy Hollywood producers cram it down people’s throats and then there end up being a backlash.

      I’m fine with TDKR not being in 3D and agree that continuing the 2D nature of the trilogy is a good decision, but I don’t think 3D as a whole should be ignored across the board.

      I’m very curious to see how The Hobbit will look, being shot in 4K, 3D, AND 48fps. If that turns out to be done well, then it can provide a case for 3D and digital having a place in film making (and might finally free us from the shackles of an outdated 24fps standard).

      • Digital earned it’s place in filmmaking when Slumdog Millionaire, which was shot on digital, won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Cinematography!

  14. With the rate that technology is advancing, it is only a matter of time before Digital eclipses even IMAX in image quality and becomes cheaper. It was interesting to find out that Film is cheaper than Digital. I thought the opposite was true, since Digital deals with only the camera’s hard drive, while Film has reels upon reels of film to work with.

    • It’s definitely cheaper to ship, that’s for sure. If you look up how many reels of film needs to be shipped for an IMAX film (and consider the fact that IMAX film is much bigger than 35mm), and then see how that all can fit on one hard drive if transferred digitally (and is also less of a hassle to show because you don’t have to splice film together), then you can see the advantage from that perspective.

      But I guess a film could be shot on film and then distributed digitally too.

    • I also thought digital was a lot cheaper? That the main reason why the industry wants to change to digital because it’s cheaper and film cost’s keep rising. I have no clue what Nolan is talking about…..

  15. Fantastic article. Thanks for posting it! Nolan is currently my favorite filmmaker.

  16. Chris Nolan, my favorite director. Love his films, haven’t seen a disappointing one yet.

    On a side note, why do people toss the word “fan boy” around like we just like their work because of who’s making it? Like we’re so blinded by WHO made the medium we love we won’t see it as crap? Maybe we love who made it because they always make what we can enjoy, and not the other way around. If you’re confused, think about it.

    I respect Chris Nolan’s vision and appreciate his craft. He is truly a master at what he does.

  17. All I’ll say is that after that initial bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight I was wayyyy sold on IMAX. That and the nature documentaries like Planet Earth. Beautiful photography can be captured by it. May 35mm live on(and whatever size imax film is).