When Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi asks you to create an animated New York City for a TV special revolving around his new album, you don’t say no. But when Fletcher Moules was hired to direct “Entergalactic,” there was only a handful of song demos and a three-page outline for a modern love story that would accompany a new album by Kid Cudi. Still, there was enough there to make the creative juices flow. “I joined in the summer of 2019 and spent the back half of the first year just painting New York City,” Moules told IndieWire. “As I heard the songs and read the story that the writers’ room was finishing up, I was able to spend the time just really designing the city the way we wanted the characters to see it.”
“Entergalactic” is far from the first visual album to debut on Netflix in recent years. In 2019 alone, the streamer released Sturgill Simpson’s “Sound and Fury” as well as The Lonely Island’s “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience”; 2022 previously brought subscribers “Adam By EVE: A Live in Animation,” based on the music of Japanese artist EVE. But where those projects mostly strung together music videos, “Entergalactic” leads with its narrative. Not that there isn’t music, of course, but the special also functions as a love story about two artists — Jabari (Mescudi) and his neighbor Meadow (Jessica Williams) — falling in love in New York City.
Where adult animation in the U.S. tends to focus on either violence or comedy, “Entergalactic” is more of a drama with comedic rom-com tropes, something rare for the genre. “That was part of the initial concept,” Moules told IndieWire, “where you’re seeing characters conveying all kinds of emotions.”
“The number one thing was to make sure the audience connected with the emotion of those characters because it is an emotional story,” he said. “It’s why I went to the very graphic art style — if we made it look illustrated then it suddenly places us into a unique world with movement and expressions you can relate to.”
To highlight the performances and create that emotional connection, Moules and his team played with the frame rate. “I wanted it to feel handmade, to see the brushstrokes on the faces, and for the mouth shapes to feel like they were live-action with some animation added in post-production,” he said. To accomplish this, Jabari and Meadow’s movements were often animated in twos and fours, with more frames than most other characters to make the audience connect with the two protagonists first and foremost. “You’ll also notice how people in the background are mostly just hand-painted in 2D and then moved in After Effects with the puppet tool,” Moules said. “Then as you move closer to the foreground, the frame rates on facial expressions and the details increase.”
Indeed, visuals are a huge element of “Entergalactic,” with its illustrated style reminiscent of the Oscar-winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” But this is also a special meant to accompany a new set of Kid Cudi songs, so it was paramount that each complemented the other. Moules said he was looking to do what past visual albums and musical films hadn’t done: “Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ wasn’t heavy on narrative but Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ was.” The result isn’t that much different from a standard rom-com with a soundtrack that is played for important emotional moments, only here the music drives both the story and the visuals themselves.
For the story, Mescudi started with the songs and worked backward with a writing team to script the story based on the music’s themes and lyrics. From there, the animation team created the visual. As Moules tells it, oftentimes a song conjured images right off the bat, like the number “In Love,” which scores the moment Jabari starts falling for Meadow and gives her a tour of the city on his bike.
courtesy of Netflix
“I just started visualizing the sequence and how we could bring in Jabari’s headspace,” Moules said. “This is the ‘Aladdin’ moment when he is showing her the world through his eyes, the whole ‘Entergalactic’ idea as they go to space. I was literally riding my bike around listening to the song in headphones and then you just visualize a sequence, then go back and bring it to the team and work it out.”
But the opposite also applied, with the visuals dictating what the music needed to do. Moules recalled one sequence that was fully storyboarded, laid out, and scored, but he and the team felt the score wasn’t enough. “The scene felt like it needed Scott’s voice — it just wasn’t big enough,” Moules said. “So I pitched Cudi on the scene and what the characters are feeling, and he would come back with a song that was better than I ever imagined and it just made the scene.”
Despite the title of the special, there is rather little in terms of outer space imagery or fantasy in “Entergalactic” — unless you count the graffiti character Mr. Rager, who comes to life at several points. This was important for Moules, who had to find a balance between music video aesthetics and physics and grounded reality. “If you just think of the music and where you can go with a song, it becomes a mess,” the director said. Instead he chose to focus on editing, smash cuts, and montages to keep the visuals interesting and make the rhythm match the music. The special changes visual styles several times to show that a new character is telling a story from their perspective, but the viewer always stays grounded in the reality of “Entergalactic.”