To make the characters contrast with their complex backgrounds, Fluorescent Hill whittled the characters down to elemental but highly expressive forms: Kool Keith’s raps, and the more easygoing parts of Tom Waits’ vocals, are performed by what Ste-Marie describes as “an ultra-clean ball-onion-oil drop” character. For the choruses – where Waits bellows with such gruffness that it sounds as though someone next door is starting a motorbike – they created a forbidding dark cloud.
“We decided to go ultra-clean for the ball character, and a bit more organic for the cloud,” says Ste-Marie. “This was mostly to contrast the backgrounds, but also to keep the animation stylised and punchy. Having the characters as essentially a mouth with arms and legs put the focus on the lyrics – and let us get away with not having to base the movement in reality as much.”
Top The ‘ultra-clean’ ball characters cavort through the cityscape “as though it’s their personal playground”, says Johanne Ste-Marie – so getting them to move in a suitably exuberant manner was important.
Below Character studies for the ball-shaped characters.
To emphasise the contrast between the characters and the spindly, layered urban backdrop, the ball character was animated in 3D, as were parts of the cloud creature.
“The inside of [the cloud’s] mouth and his tail are 3D; the rest is hand-drawn, and vector and particle simulators,” Ste-Marie says. “Our first idea was to have the characters 2D and the backgrounds 3D, but we flipped it so it would force us to approach it differently.”
This was the first time that Fluorescent Hill had attempted anything like this, and it was one of their biggest challenges on the project, explains Ste-Marie. “Learning 3D was by far the biggest hurdle: we hadn’t really done a full-on 3D or CG character before, so there was a big learning curve. But we plugged away at it day in and day out, until it just became like second nature. I think if you have decent hand-drawn animation skills, then it transfers over pretty quickly.”