Anthony Bourdain’s widow responds to use of faked AI voice in new documentary ‘Roadrunner’
Roadrunner, the new documentary about the late Anthony Bourdain, directed by Morgan Neville, arrived in theaters today (7/16), and a lot of attention is being paid to the artificial intelligence system it employs to recreate Bourdain's voice in three cases where filmmakers were not able to find the material they needed from his TV, film, audiobook, podcast, and radio appearances. Speaking to GQ, Neville described the process:
In the beginning, I went and gathered everything he ever said about his life. I went through every book and podcast and voiceover session, and put together a binder of, like, 500 pages of him talking about his life. There was a moment when I was even like, "Gee, I could make the whole film in his voice," though I stopped myself instantly. But then I came across a few things he wrote but that he never said. And so, I had this idea to create an AI model of his voice, which we did.
We fed more than ten hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model. The bigger the quantity, the better the result. We worked with four companies before settling on the best. 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. The narrator voice got very performative and sing-songy in the No Reservation years.
Neville told GQ that he had the blessing of Anthony's widow, Ottavia Bourdain, in making the AI recreation. "I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that," he told GQ. "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."
The Wrap reports that Ottavia has now responded, saying that she didn't authorize the use of Anthony's voice in this manner. "I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that," she wrote on Twitter.
Anthony and Ottavia had separated in 2016, but their divorce remained unfinalized at the time of his death in 2018.
Meanwhile, Neville didn't interview Anthony's most recent girlfriend, Asia Argento, for the film. "We debated it for months," he told Vulture. "I just felt like if I crack that door open, I really better be damn sure it’s what I want. Because it would have been painful for a lot of people, honestly, if I had interviewed her. So I just said — and believe me, we talked and talked about it — is this really what I want?"
You can watch the Roadrunner trailer below.