Given what I know about Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker, I would expect a heavier emphasis on practical effects. However, even with movies like Fury Road, where practical effects were used heavily, CGI still played an important role in the final film.

I know that Dunkirk was shot on 70mm film; which makes it fundamentally different from most modern films. Even so, I would expect that essentially every big-budget film today used at least some CGI. However, my wife pointed out that CGI may not be possible given that it was filmed with actual film and not digital.

So a 2-part question: was any CGI used? And if so, how is it possible to use CGI on actual film?

  • He used real ships. I believe most of them from Denmark. Obligatory IMdb link. Lost of cardboard cut-outs also used.
    – user43022
    Jul 25, 2017 at 13:36
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    CGI was used extensively prior to digital filming being routine. The fact that the movie is shot on film doesn't mean they can't add CGI. It works by them digitizing the film. I can't answer the core question about CGI use in the movie though.
    – iandotkelly
    Jul 25, 2017 at 13:39
  • Practically every movie released these days includes CGI. It's just so good that you don't realize it. CGI is fantastic for backdrops, buildings, and any non-living thing.
    – user428517
    Jul 25, 2017 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


Yes, there is some CGI, as Nolan explains to Business Insider:

Guerrasio: I couldn't tell what was visual effects and what was practical in this movie, particularly the sinking destroyers and dogfights. How much visual effects were used?

Nolan: I'm very proud with the visual effects being as seamless as they are. I worked very closely with my visual effects supervisor, who was there shooting with me on set. He basically was doing himself out of a job because he was able to help me achieve things in-camera that would have actually been visual effects and then didn't need to be. So, there's really nothing in the film that isn't in some way based in some kind of practical reality that we put in front of the camera. We didn't want anything to go fully CG and I'm very proud to be able to say that of my films this is the first time when we've been able to make a film that I actually can't remember which of the shots are visual effects and which aren't in some of the sequences. We've never been able to get to that point before.

This video talks about Nolan's use of CGI in Dunkirk and his other movies:

WRT the practical side: the film will be scanned -- this can be done even at 10k precision -- for editing in post, and there CGI will be added. The end result can then be distributed digitally or transferred back to 70mm film.

  • WRT your last sentence... any idea how digital files can be transferred back onto film? My understanding is that Dunkirk was released using actual film (at least in select theaters).
    – GendoIkari
    Jul 25, 2017 at 17:14
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    @GendoIkari en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film-out
    – JAB
    Jul 25, 2017 at 17:42
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    @GendoIkari How do you think all those film copies are made? How do you think Pixar movies were distributed before most movie theaters were digital?
    – BCdotWEB
    Jul 25, 2017 at 20:58
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    @BCdotWEB Mostly through my complete ignorance of the film industry and practices. :P
    – GendoIkari
    Jul 25, 2017 at 20:59

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