The new documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain tells the late chef’s life story through the use of interview clips, archival footage, show outtakes, and … AI technology?
During a recent interview with the New Yorker, filmmaker Morgan Neville confirmed he had simulated Bourdain’s voice for three quotes in the documentary. The Academy Award-winning director explained his decision after writer Helen Rosner asked how he managed to get recording of Bourdain reading an email he had sent to a friend.
The audio in question can be heard at the 1:30 mark in the Roadrunner trailer: “ … and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”
Neville told the New Yorker he and his team “stitched together” various soundbites from Bourdain’s interviews, podcasts, and audiobooks to recreate his voice for the email narration and two other scenes.
“There were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville said. “I created an A.I. model of his voice … If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know … We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”
In an earlier interview with GQ, Neville explained he and his team “fed more than 10 hours of [Bourdain’s] voice into an AI model,” and then enlisted four different AI companies to perfectly recreate the tone of his voice.
“We also had to figure out the best tone of Tony’s voice: His speaking voice versus his ‘narrator’ voice, which itself changed dramatically of over the years,” Neville said. “The narrator voice got very performative and sing-songy in the No Reservation years. I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that. And they were like, Tony would have been cool with that. I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.”
Roadrunner will premiere this Friday, more than three years after Bourdain’s death. The travel documentarian died of an apparent suicide at his hotel room in France, where he was filming an episode of Parts Unknown. He was 61.