Tom Waits has one of the most instantly identifiable voices in contemporary music: it’s a sort of booming roar. Kool Keith has one of the most staccato, distinctive rap styles out there. How do you animate these iconic – but very different – voices?

This was the challenge that Canadian studio Fluorescent Hill faced when they landed the job of creating a fully animated promo for a NASA track.


The NASA project – by DJs Squeak E Clean and DJ Zegon – pairs North American old-school hip hop with South American party flavour for an album, Spirit of Apollo, featuring big names from both continents.

Creatives including Syd Garon and Three Legged Legs have already created promos to tracks from the album. Fluorescent Hill was invited to work on Spacious Thoughts – one of the album’s standout tracks, featuring Tom Waits and Kool Keith performing together over a stomping, menacing beat.

"Spacious Thoughts" NASA feat. Kool Keith & Tom Waits from Fluorescent Hill on Vimeo.

“The brief for the project was very simple: they wanted it to have a darker tone in feeling, not necessarily in look – that was it. You can’t ask for a better brief than that,” explains Fluorescent Hill’s Johanne Ste-Marie.


Fluorescent Hill decided that it wanted a fast-moving piece that would reveal extra details every time it was watched. “We wanted to keep the camera moving and contrast the character to the background. So if the background was simple, we’d make the character complex, and vice versa,” she adds.

They opted to make the promo’s backgrounds complicated, envisaging a crumbling cityscape: “For the overall feel, we wanted that old shipyard or trainyard feel, with large, dead machines littered about the landscape,” says Ste-Marie.

The characters romp through it “as though it’s their personal playground,” swinging from the lampposts and ricocheting wildly through the deserted streets.