Inception- Building an Entire World Based on a Dream

Inception is a movie that is based around extracting deep secrets from a persons mind. The world is based around dreams and how a world can be completely altered through an individuals subconscious. Inception brought to the table a lot of interesting visual effects through manipulating the world around them. Because the movie is set in a ‘Dream State’ this gave the crew endless possibilities,

*City Folding Over Itself*

allowing them to defy physics and reality, because it simply isn’t real. The film is more of a recent film, with newer technology, allowing computers to generate a lot more special effects compared to Terminator 2 for instance. Inception was a film directed by Christopher Nolan and he had been working on this script for a long time. Since Inception was made within the last decade, the crew’s ability to generate computer effects were substantial.

Inception contained a large amount of special effects that involved manipulating the world and defying physics. Double Negative, (the special effects team that worked on Inception), have worked on a lot of previous films with stunning visual effects prior to Inception and helped to create the vision of Inception become a reality. A lot of scenes that may appear to defy reality, were surprisingly actual real life sets.

One of the early scenes in the film, where Cobb and Ariadne are sitting in a cafe in Paris, involved several explosions. This creation of this scene was very practical based. Leo and Ellen were actually physical in this scene when it appeared that the explosions  went off. However, rather than using explosions, in order to make it safe for the characters to be present in the scene, they used high pressured nitrogen (air mortars) in order to send lightweight debris flying in the air. In the process of creating this scene, Paul Franklin, the VFX Supervisor for Double Negative stated that “Whilst giving an extremely dynamic and violent effect on film, the system was safe enough that Leo and Ellen were able to actually sit in the middle of the blasts as the cameras rolled”. (Paul Franklin, 2010).

*Inception Set*

For the full interview with Paul Franklin, refer to “ArtofVFX”; While the explosions were going off, the crew had high speed cameras that captured the scene at high frame rates, to give the ‘suspended in time’ effect. Some other scenes that were created using practical effects are the Avalanche scene, where the actual avalanche is real, however, using motion graphics, the team added in the fortress in the background.

“Limbo”, is a world created through Cobb’s subconscious. The creation of this scene was built by scanning a series of buildings and then using motion graphics to detail the damage on each of the buildings. When we are introduced to this world we see that buildings come crashing down into the shoreline. The directors idea for this scene was to make the buildings to crash down as if they were crashing in the form of an iceberg. The visual effects team, analysed how the shape of an iceberg would fall down and then used this effect and replicated it in the form of buildings. One scene in particular however, that did use CGI was the last few scenes of Limbo, where we see a series of buildings, ranging from really old small houses, to huge skyscrapers. What the team did for this scene, was they set up up a huge green screen behind the smaller houses in order to get that visual effect that it was going from older smaller buildings, to futuristic new buildings. The most of obvious uses of CGI, was in scenes where bend elements of physics and time. One of the first scenes when Ariadne was introduced to the dream world, she discovered her ability to manipulate and change the world around her. This scene is where she completely bends the city and where the visual effects team had to detail their use of VFX. They had to make sure it looked legitimate, by providing the right shadows and lighting, given that the city is shaded by half of the landscape.

The final effect that was surprisingly real was the ‘Zero Gravity Room’ fight scene. For this scene, they had designed a moving set that rotated around. The actors were tied to wires that held them up and these wires were later removed through the use of CGI. For further information on how Inception created their special effects, refer to FXGuide They do a great job at breaking down each scene that involves CGI and the use of real effects.


-Behind The Stunning Visual Effects of Inception | Nolan Fans. (2010). [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

-Desowitz, B. (2010). VFX from ‘Inception’. [online] Animation World Network. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

-Failes, I. (2010). Inception. [online] fxguide. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

-Frei, V. (2010). INCEPTION: Paul Franklin – VFX Supervisor – Double Negative – The Art of VFX. [online] The Art of VFX. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

-Inception Behind the Scenes – Escher Staircase (2010) Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy Movie HD. (2010). [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

-McCarthy, E. (2010). Inception’s Spinning Room Special FX. [online] Popular Mechanics. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

-Russell, T. (2010). How Inception‘s Astonishing Visuals Came to Life. [online] WIRED. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

The Making of Inception. (2010). [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].