How do you make an entertaining documentary about the linguist, philosopher, author and leftist icon Noam Chomsky without interviewing anyone except Chomsky and without featuring archival footage? If you're director Michel Gondry, the answer is obvious: use animation, specifically simplistic hand-drawn animation to literally animate the film "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?"
"Once I had an idea, I just had to carry it out -- but sometimes, I was not sure where it was going. What I would do -- not all the time but most of the time -- was I would play a line of his dialogue, pick a segment and play it in a loop to influence the drawings some of the animations," Gondry recently told Indiewire's Eric Kohn. "Because they were abstract, it allowed me to illustrate what I was saying. I would not portray that by trying to explain it in a illustrative manner because it was too narrative. The abstraction helped me not to betray what I was saying or what he was saying, because I think I could get it wrong and that would be bad."
Gondry is part of the new wave of documentary filmmakers who are boldly experimenting with graphics and using animation to help tell nonfiction stories in innovative new ways, including, in recent years, Ari Folman ("Waltz with Bashir") and Michael Moore ("Bowling for Columbine.")
While they were once seen as anomalous to documentaries, animation, graphics and other visual effects are now considered to be standard devices to help illustrate difficult concepts or simplify complicated information in documentaries such as "An Inconvenient Truth" and "IOUSA."
Visual effects artist Brian Oakes ("Inequality for All," "Freakonomics") and filmmaker/animator Alexander Meillier ("Alias Ruby Blade," "Obscene") recently discussed the role of animation and graphics in documentaries on a panel devoted to the topic at DOC NYC.
While working on "Inequality for All" about the disparity of wealth in America, Oakes explained, "graphics became a character."