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Scene in black-and-white from 'Oppenheimer' (Pic: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)
The film had never previously been shot in IMAX format (Pic: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)

Eastman Kodak created a completely new format of its Double-X black-and-white film for scenes in Christopher Nola’s epic new film ‘Oppenheimer‘.

The film was used to shoot some scenes in 65mm for IMAX cinemas for the first time, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema revealed on Kodak’s blog.

The film, which charts the development of the first atomic bombs under the leadership of Robert Oppenheimer in the 1940s, is told with a non-linear story structure; black-and-white is used to help make the storylines look different.

‘Oppenheimer’ was partly shot on Eastman Kodak’s Vision3 250D colour film for daylight and brighter shots, and Vision3 500T for low-light and night scenes. Nolan and van Hoytema decided they wanted black-and-white to convey one of the storylines.

However, Double-X had never at this point been shot in 65mm.

“It was a gutsy choice,” van Hoytema told the Kodak blog. “One of my very first phone calls was to Kodak, enquiring if they had any 65mm large-format B&W filmstock. But they had never made that before, and early on it was uncertain as to whether they would or could achieve it in time for this production.

Hearing scene in 'Oppenheimer' with Cillian Murphy (Pic: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)
Black-and-white film was used to make the separate story lines easier to follow (Pic: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)

“But they stepped up to the plate and supplied a freshly manufactured prototype Double-X 5222 65mm filmstock, delivered in cans with handwritten labels on the outside.”

The cinematographer said shooting with the new stock presented an enormous challenge not just for Eastman Kodak, but also for IMAX, camera-maker Panavision and Fotokem, the Los Angeles processer which developed the film. “That filmstock was unfamiliar to everyone, had never been run though IMAX or System 65 cameras, and required the reconfiguration of a 65mm film processor at the lab, making the Double-X 5222 a feasible proposition involved a great deal of collaboration with Kodak, IMAX, Panavision and Fotokem.

“It became quite a complex engineering process – encompassing things like the thickness of the backing for the film emulsion, and making new gates and pressure plates in the cameras so as to avoid scratches,” van Hoytema said.

“But wow, was it worth it!? When Chris and I saw the first projected tests – portraits of Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr – we were blown away, and were like little kids with big smiles. We’d never seen anything like it – very special, very beautiful.”

‘Oppenheimer’ was released on Friday (21 July) and has already made more than $170m in the international box office.

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Stephen Dowling
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