Activist, writer, philosopher, MIT professor, and lauded thinker, Noam Chomsky has lived a colorful life. Turning Chomsky’s ideas into real, visual manifestations, French illustrator and filmmaker Michel Gondry’s newest work Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, attempts to peel back the layers of Chomsky’s mind, displaying his multifaceted intellect through stop motion animation. Above, The Creators Project visits Gondry in his Brooklyn home to learn how the artist transformed Chomsky’s theories and observations into a vibrant, illustrated sequence.
With the attention of a grad student attending the ultimate masters seminar, Gondry based his illustrations for Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? on the slowly unfurling dialogue between himself and Chomsky–an ongoing series of musings on philosophy, language, life, and love–charted over several meetings. Moved by Chomsky’s wildfire intelligence, Gondry was initially compelled to create the project as a means to spread Chomsky’s messages. “It was my intention to show his humanity because I felt that if people see him like that, they’d be more inclined to listen to his life and political aspect of what he has to say in politics and environment,” Gondry told us during our recent sit down. “It’s important to make the world a better place, if not to save it.”
Though a departure from the music videos and films that made him famous, including The Science of Sleep (2006) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), illustration is a fairly fluid extention of Gondry’s creativity, and a major means of self-expression–in some ways perhaps more organic than the written word. It was no surprise then that when the filmmaker attempted to recruit French actress Audrey Tatou for a film, instead of simply sending an email, Gondry created a series of animations of himself sending a heartfelt letter–a move which proved successful.
Rendered painstakingly by hand over a three year period, frame by frame, the artist spent countless nights in his Brooklyn apartment at the (literal) drawing board–distilling Chomsky’s words into a series of animated sequences, and ultimately a full film. Utilizing traditional stop-motion techniques, Gondry started with a simple dot for an anchor before step-by-step building a full drawing–shooting and reshooting the stills on 16mm. With the exception of simple, post-production chroma keying–the entirety of the movie was shot using innovative practical camera tricks, rather than CG or VFX. “I had the idea to use animation and especially abstract animation, because I felt that was the only way I could illustrate his science, without simplifying it too much,” Gondry told us.