Emmy-promising Netflix animated film “Entergalactic,” created by singer/rapper Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi and Kenya Barris, marks another breakthrough influenced by the “Spider-Verse” that stretches the limits of illustrative stylization from 2D to 3D. The aesthetic features New York City as poignant concept art for a modern love story about two artists, Jabari (voiced by Mescudi) and Meadow (voiced by Jessica Williams), presented as a five-chapter series.
Production designer Robh Ruppel (who provided visual development on “Into the Spider-Verse”) handled the illustrative world-building in collaboration with director Fletcher Moules and London-based animation studio DNEG, who rewrote its pipeline for translating concept art into a hand-made film Appearance. This included animation, shading, lighting, compositing and rendering. (DNEG took advantage of many of these new tools and techniques while simultaneously working on Netflix’s animated film, “Nimona.”)
“The fluid style fits an artist’s idea in New York,” Ruppel told IndieWire. “So we wanted to portray the world in an artistic way that helps illustrate the story.” The creation of concept art conveys aesthetics through composition, color and light, but the artist’s hand is often lost in the translation into animation.
“Our goal was to stick to where we started and throw away what CG had perfected over the past 20 years,” Ruppel added. “We got rid of the relief map and surface details; we got rid of the subsurface scattering and occlusion and what CG did so well. What we needed were really good colormaps with brush strokes and where the shape is painted into the colormap itself.
At the same time, they needed to create the lighting to complement the beautiful painted textures so that all surfaces could be seen. How did they do it? With fake reflection using geometry to make it look like a painting. “Everything was done with a brushstroke and we had very hard shadows and everything was a graphic rather than a line,” she said. “It was a simplified yet accurate graphic style, a truthful version of reality.”
The buildings in the background, while having the correct perspective, serve more as a graphical representation of a highly detailed New York City landscape than a photorealistic recreation. “They’re just colored squares appropriately sized for windows,” Ruppel said. “But it’s the values and the tone that make it believable, that bring about the illusion.”
Meanwhile, color played an important role in telling Jabari’s story to emphasize happiness, sadness, or regret. “We had four looks,” Ruppel continued. “We had the basic New York look, then we had the Mr. Rager look (of his comic character), which is black and white and red, and then we had two flashbacks: one anime-style, and one that it was a very funky style.
As for the interior design, there were the adjoining Jabari and Meadows apartments, reflecting their personalities. “They’re kind of a mirror of each other, so it’s a similar layout,” Ruppel said. “The idea is that it’s an ambitious loft and we wanted to put it within reach of people’s imagination. Jabari barely moved. He’s got a couple of artworks, his bike, he’s got a lot of boxes.
“And then Meadows is the complete opposite. He’s been there much longer. There are the books, the records, the carpets, the plants and all the hanging lamps. It definitely represents his workspace.
Then there were the surreal fantasy sequences with Jabari and Meadows in space, which were the hardest part of the layout to execute. “When you travel through the infinity of space, there are no depth cues,” Ruppel said. “How do we feel like we’re moving?
“And so we’d do some 2D artwork and pan here, z pan there,” he continued. “But then we had to find ways to improve it with specks of dust, even if they aren’t specks of dust that pass along the trail coming off the bike. This gave a good sort of z-depth signal, a little bit of subtle parallax with the galaxies as they would be pulling away from them, pulling the stars back, making the stars pass. The trick was to get the timing working in the layout so that you feel like you’re moving.