Inception is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, in large part due to the special effects. Can you build the special effects from Inception scenes with your home setup?

In today’s post, we’re going to show you how we recreated the VFX explosion animation in the Paris cafe scene from Inception. See how we approach lighting, sound effects, set design, and slow-motion to create a similar visual product for a fraction of the cost.

Inception Paris Cafe Scene: Explosion Animation

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Inception Special Effects

Inception cafe scene pre-production

Inception won the Oscar for VFX in 2010, beating Alice in WonderlandIron Man 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, and Hereafter

The special effects team was spearheaded by Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, and Peter Bebb.

"Inception" winning the Oscar for Visual Effects

For us to explain the VFX in the Inception movie, we should first talk about the scene we set out to recreate. The Paris cafe scene in Inception is where Ariadne is first taken inside the dream world. The scene begins with Cobb explaining how our dreams work and how we create them. 

The surrounding then begin to explode, and Ariadne and Cobb are ripped from the dream before jumping back in to explore the dream world. This is where you see the Inception city bending scene.

go into the scene elements, which includes everything required to film the scene. To do this, we did what Inception director Christopher Nolan and his filmmaking team did during pre-production. 

Cobb and Ariadne are at a bistro table at a Paris cafe. We gathered a table, chairs, tablecloth, cup, saucer, pan, and a chalk sign. The Paris cafe scene from has a computer-generated car and motorbike. We knew they were CG because they eventually flew away.

Inception VFX Shot List •  Shot Listed in StudioBinder

We took a look at the script breakdown for the Paris cafe scene from Inception to see which props and set design elements we needed to successfully film this special effects and visual effects scene. 

Inception Paris Cafe Street Filming HD

This Inception scene has fruit stands, books, and boxes on the far wall. We also used a leaf-blower and paper for additional VFX. Then we put together our shot list so we knew which shots we needed to film. 

All of this is integral to producing the Inception explosion animation and will be enhanced by the use of slow-motion in our final scene.

Inception Shot

Filming the Inception Paris cafe scene

Our filmmakers got a plate shot of as many items being projected into the air as possible. In the original film, Inception director Christopher Nolan and his VFX team did the same thing, but on a much larger scale, and then augmented his shots with additional CG particles.

To make sure we got all of the layers we needed to make this happen in post-production, we also filmed a plate version, and additionally a green screen version of the same Inception shot from the Paris cafe scene.

The VFX Artist: Practical Effects and Christopher Nolan

When you blend practical and visual effects together, you get a much more realistic looking scene rather than building everything from scratch as an entirely computer-generated scene. This is why practical set design is so important, and any motion we can create with natural physics and gravity will help to make the final product seamless. 

It's was also really important to get the scene lighting to stay consistent and cover everything so that the set design was fully illuminated.  If not, some of the special effects won't blend as well as needed. 

Inception Explosion

Inception VFX scene post-production

Every part of filmmaking has its own set of hurdles and problems but luckily if you start pre-production and production in an organized manner, it will show when you begin post-production.

This was definitely the case for the Paris cafe scene from Inception. For our VFX shots, our filmmakers used the Element 3D plugin inside After Effects which is great for animating 3D particles and more.

Making Of Inception Behind The Scenes Documentary

These 3D objects will be used to augment our existing shots similar to how Inception director Christopher Nolan and his team were able to achieve. For our final Inception effects shot, we had our plate shot already captured that we then used as our background for our green screenshot. Because the shot was eventually layered, we could then move the computer-generated debris in front and back of our subject.

This scene wouldn’t be complete without the perfect Inception sound effects. The sound design gives an extra layer of legitimacy to the visuals on screen and takes the scene to a new level. Without the sound effects, the scene would seem nearly half complete.

Up Next

Christopher Nolan’s Filmmaking Style

Now that you’ve seen how Christopher Nolan approaches his VFX scenes, why not take a look at some more of his filmmaking techniques. Read about Christopher Nolan’s filmmaking style to learn more. 

Up Next: Christopher Nolan’s Filmmaking Style →
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