POV: Tell us about the process of making this film.
Anders Østergaard: All in all, it took several years to make this film. I approached the Hergé Foundation in 1999, and that was the beginning of a long process of negotiation, of winning their confidence, of having them trust this treasure to a fairly unknown Danish director. I tried to argue that it’s a good idea that the person who’s making this film about Hergé is from a different part of Europe, not Belgium or France. And it was important to me to make the foundation understand that this project was not an attempt to scrutinize a celebrity, and that I was very passionate about what Hergé created. I think that’s what convinced them to let me make this film.
POV: Did you know about the audio recording before you approached the Hergé Foundation?
Anders: No, I didn’t. It was only when I started talking to the Hergé Foundation that they told me “in this safe we have some tapes which have been lying there for 30 years and they are actually the original source material for a book which was well-known but which had been severely censored.” So that was a gift. Obviously the tapes were in pretty bad shape technically and we had to do a lot of cleansing, and still the sound quality is pretty tough for the ear to listen to. But I would never trade it with a voiceover or anything else. The audience is right there with Hergé when you listen to these scratchy old noisy cassettes.
POV: Describe your stylistic choices.
Anders: The whole style of this film is really about living up to Hergé’s own standards in terms of what an image should be like. That was something I felt was very important, that the film would be able to recreate how you experienced Tintin as a kid. It was not enough just to reproduce the drawings as they are, in some kind of misunderstood puritan way, and then let the commentary explain what we should feel about it. We had to relive what it was like to read one of the Tintin books as a seven-year-old, as a nine-year-old, and that philosophy led us to animate the drawings and manipulate them in a 3-D universe where we can expand or recreate the imagination of the kid as you watch the film.
>Of course, you could ask, why not use the Tintin cartoon films, of which there are quite a few. But it was obvious to me that that would not be a good idea and would really betray Hergé’s standards, because the cartoon films were pretty poor in comparison to the comic strips. Hergé’s description of movement is so perfect, that somehow, making the comic strips into films, you lose the sense of movement you get from the drawings themselves. I was quite convinced that we had to deal with the drawings as a work, but something had to happen to them. And I felt it was quite a poetic approach to try and walk into the images, with the characters frozen in a situation, and try and study the characters and walk around as if you were going into an art museum.
POV: How did you decide on Hergé’s visual portrayal in this film?
Anders: One of the real challenges of this project was that we were going to recreate a conversation that took place in 1971. We had the sound, but we didn’t have the images. We didn’t have Hergé talking on the screen. Every good documentary filmmaker knows the value of good sync, of having the point where the viewer needs to “meet” the protagonist at crucial moments, where he shares his emotions. There’s a strategic importance that these moments have for the film, so we were convinced that we had to have a sync somehow. We had to think up a way to see Hergé as he was making his major points, and we went through a lot of exercises on that account.
Our first idea was that we would draw him, so we asked some cartoonists to sit down and do that. But when we saw their drawings, they looked like caricatures. This wasn’t because the cartoonists were not talented, but because it’s in the nature of cartoons to caricature: you enhance characteristics, distort them, simplify them, in order to make them work as animation. But that was really not what I wanted to do. I wanted to have something that was quite realistic and quite close to the character because we needed to meet him. We didn’t need to meet my interpretation of him in that sense.
When all of this didn’t work, we came up with the idea of watching archival footage of Hergé, because he gave interviews to Belgian Television. He didn’t talk about the things he talks about on the audio tape, but we thought, why not try to match his image on the television interviews with the audio tapes? Amazingly, we made this sort of made a crude version of something where we took the image from television and put it against the audio, and we didn’t use 24 images every second, we used three or four.
So what we did in order to make Hergé come alive was collect archival material from other interviews which he gave in the same office. We played around with the tapes we had and adapted it to these images from an entirely different interview. They somehow worked together. The mind accepts this little distortion between what you see and what you hear. And maybe it also reveals the fact that everybody tended to speak within a very limited repertoire of gestures. Maybe that explains why it was not so difficult to put words from an entirely different situation together with images.
I decided on the style of representing Hergé quite early. I intuitively wanted to see Hergé in this crayon, sketchy style. Maybe it’s because I was so moved by his own sketches, his first drafts for his books, which had this naked crayon line. So to me, this crayon had a kind of naked Hergé look. I also felt this crayon style fit very well with his very openhearted testimony, in which he would share some of the most sensitive secrets of his life.