For Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, known professionally as Kid Cudi, Netflix’s animated music special Entergalactic offered more than just the opportunity to create visuals for his 2022 studio album of the same name. It was a break, says executive producer Karina Manashil, from the traditional process of a label giving an artist “two music videos, and you have to move on to the next.” Created by Mescudi and Kenya Barris, Entergalactic is a New York-set rom-com-style story with a painterly visual style that follows an artist named Jabari (voiced by Mescudi) as he attempts to balance his career and love with “It” girl Meadow (voiced by Jessica Williams).
“Creating Entergalactic the [show] actually unlocked something for Kid Cudi, the artist,” says Manashil. “There’s often an expectation of the sound your fans want to hear, and the more you put out, the more specificity they have about what they want to listen to next. This gave him license to do something sonically that I don’t know he necessarily could have done.”
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But Entergalactic — which is Emmy-nominated for outstanding animated program — didn’t just shake up Kid Cudi’s relationship with his music and fans. It was a new creative endeavor for the Grammy-winning mind behind hits “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Day ‘N’ Nite” that resulted in an animated adult-aimed rom-com, not typical in Western animation — making the special “instantly … unique,” says director Fletcher Moules.
“Scott wanted to write an album of love songs, which he hadn’t done before,” Moules explains. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s do something that’s never been done before,’ it’s more just what Entergalactic was. It was a very natural move to become a rom-com.”
Manashil adds that the traditions of a love story allowed for the sights and sounds to pop: “[That] familiarity created an easy barrier of entry, which allowed the visuals and the music — or even the fact that it’s a Black love story — to be elevated, to really shine. The story’s simplicity meant that everything else had room to be as big as possible.”
Conceived alongside Kudi’s 45-minute album, the special also reworked some aspects of the traditional animation production pipeline, with the team taking three completed songs to Netflix before the special was written and storyboarded around the rest of the album. Sitting with Mescudi in EastWest Studios, Moules, Manashil and the rest of the Entergalactic team wrote out scenes on a whiteboard, with the plotting of each song in the larger story. Of the pacing, Moules says, “I wanted to make sure that it felt like there was room to breathe, that these characters were real. There are a lot of shots and sequences onscreen that are much longer than you would traditionally see in an animated show.”
Manashil credits Moules for capturing an authenticity in New York’s cityscape, characters’ fashions and even Mescudi’s own creative spirit through elements like Entergalactic‘s color choices, which audiences might not “necessarily expect, but they’re so indicative of who the artist is.”
Says Moules, “When an artist puts out an album, they’re expressing themselves musically, so I wanted to make sure that the visuals were there to sync hand in hand with the music.” He adds that textures and highlights were painted in Photoshop with the intention of making the animation “feel very handmade, very expressive in the same way [as] the music.”
The Netflix release, which debuted in September 2022, gave the rapper, singer and songwriter a chance to venture into a “really special medium,” says Manashil, in a way that ultimately surprised even him.
“At the end of it, Scott was really emotional and started crying,” the executive producer recalls. “He said, ‘I never believed that an idea that sits up here (points to head) could touch so many hands. It was hundreds of people all over the world, through COVID and three years of effort. All those hands were working in sync across so many different people to become even bigger than what I had imagined.'”
As part of their conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Moules and Manashil also spoke to how the special captured space and New York City, Entergalatic‘s out-of-this-world voice cast, and why they leaned into adult themes.
Can you talk about the origins of this as a visual album?
MANASHIL What was really cool about this is that when Scott started, he was thinking about how do I marry visuals and music? That was the genesis of this. [He was] feeling like every time you create an album, the label gives him two music videos, and you have to move on to the next. So, what would it feel like if you created the visuals for the entirety of an album. Creating Entergalactic, the series, actually unlocked his ability to say I can create a whole love album, and even if ordinarily you would look at Kid Cudi and think that’s out of left field, this gave him license to do something sonically that I don’t know he necessarily could have done.
The album is only around 45 minutes, but the special is 90. How did translating the album affect the pacing of the special?
MOULES It was six episodes initially, and the actual duration of each of those wasn’t really set. But as we were putting together the story reels, we knew where all the songs sat very early on. That was all in Scott’s head. So as we were story boarding and editing the story reels, it was finding the pacing around that. What I wanted to do was to make sure that it felt like there was room to breathe, that these characters were real. Something that I hope comes across is that you are able to see the characters think because it’s the pacing you find in a live-action rom-com. You see the torment in Jabari, or you see how Meadow is dealing with something. There are a lot of shots and sequences on screen that are much longer than you would traditionally see in an animated show in order to make you stop and think how are those characters feeling. That really inherently affected the pacing overall.
MANASHIL It started with three songs that Scott had, and then from those three songs, we brought in Netflix. Moving forward, the story came out of it and what I think is really effective about Entergalactic, is that when you think about the actual love story, it’s something that’s very familiar, very nostalgic, it doesn’t break what your expectations would be of the boy and girl finally ending up together in the end and all of those things that you want to happen in your heart of hearts. But as we were constructing the story — which basically involved sitting with Scott at EastWest Studios with a giant whiteboard writing out the scenes — we had already written some things, but Scott goes, “I know I’m going to need a song when they first make love,” or these other instances that he would then fill in artistically.
You really capture the city in this special in a tangible, recognizable way. How did you approach rendering it for this?
MOULES The city was always meant to be a character. But for that to work — to make the city so graphic, so hyperreal, so saturated — it has to be grounded in authenticity. So in Entergalatic, every street corner, almost every bar, and restaurant they go to is real. Whenever we set anything anywhere, it was from real photos; a location scout that we did; places we’d been. So New Yorkers who loved Entergalactic were all commenting on it. (Laughs.) In animation, it’s so easy just to make everything up, but because we’re in New York City and everyone has been there, we grounded it in reality. From there, the aesthetic we layered on top had such a strong foundation. The painting style came through, obviously to be expressive, but also the colors could express the mood of the scene, the characters, and what I wanted the viewer to feel. New York City wasn’t a fantastical place. It felt relatable, and it felt like a place that you knew.
MANASHIL One of the things that I really loved in seeing it all come together was that the fashion also informed the city. There was so much clear thought put into where these characters are. Where does Carmen live versus Meadow? How does that inform their style? And how do all of these things come together to create the fabric of what New York City would feel like if you’re walking past any given street at any given moment. We have to give immense credit to Virgil Abloh for coming in and partnering with Scott, working on the aesthetic of each of these characters. And then honestly, seeing Fletch take a runway and his team turn it into animated attire. Even with makeup, I aspire to wear Meadow’s eyeliner as a result of watching the show. That felt New York to me. You’re inspired by those next to you and also showing off who you are in your most authentic self.
MOULES You don’t see that very often in animation, that a character is changing their wardrobe as often as ours did. A little bit of a headache for production, but it’s absolutely worth it. When the characters are gearing up for the night, what would we do? You would change clothes. We really made sure that stuff was relatable and that the audience was picking up on that. The wardrobe budget was hefty. (Laughs.)
MANASHIL I will say it was one of the first things Scott said when we were when we were defining animation as our medium. He goes, “Well, they can’t wear the same thing every episode.” It was definitive. That’s the bar.
You also depict space in this special, which is a harder thing to capture with authenticity than New York. How did you approach that?
MOULES You know, that ethereal nature is obviously part of Kid Cudi’s brand and has been in his work from the start. Scott’s always leaned into. The song Entergalactic is about that feeling of falling in love being so enormous and so overwhelming, it’s the endless feeling in the stars of space. But when we went into the show and started storyboarding, there were no sequences in outer space in the script. It came from you that magical thing that happens in animation when you’re working, and you’re visually solving a language issue that’s on the page. How do we show this in the most expressive manner? We came across the motif that inside Jabari’s head is outer space. So we open there, and we see what he’s thinking. Then we return there many times throughout the show, but only to be like, he takes Meadow there to see his view of the world, and in the very end, where there together.
MANASHIL One of the most interesting things talking to Scott about writing music is he says he sees music in color. So there’s a very visceral experience that he has as an artist, as he writes. Music is so specific. It’s so deliberate, and everybody experiences it differently. That’s how he experiences it and this idea — Fletch said it beautifully because it really harkens to that original Entergalactic song — that love is the most intangible thing. You can dream about it, but everybody’s own circumstances with it will be different. So my expression of space is going to be the one that I imagined and yours might be a little bit different, but at the same time, we’re reaching for the stars in something immense and untouchable and uniquely our own.
You feature a love scene and smoking, two things that can happen in live-action but are still rare for even adult animation. Why did you want to include those?
MOULES When you’re writing a story, developing something regardless of if it’s animation or live action, you approach it from what’s the most authentic version of this story, these characters. And so for our audience and who Jabari and Meadow are and where they are in their lives, it’s like, what would they really say? What would they wear? What would they do here? Because we knew we were for an adult audience, we didn’t have to cut out all the things that we “weren’t allowed” to show and could actually just be real. I hope that we don’t seem to be using these things for shock because that’s not the point. Well, actually that’s not true for Ky’s character because he’s meant to be over the top. (Laughs.) He’s a cautionary tale for Jabari. But the aim for everything else was just to be the most authentic version of what these characters are. We never tried to do those over-the-top grotesque jokes just because we’re adult animation.
MANASHIL This story could have been told in live action, but what animation allowed us to do is go to those intergalactic moments of traveling through space and expressing what love looks like in the most picturesque version. Even talking to Fletch about the way that you can move a camera in animation when you’re not limited. That dream sequence with Mr. Rager was one of my favorite instances of seeing how you could subvert expectations of what traditional viewership would expect simply because it’s animated. The story was not limited by the medium but enhanced by it.
MOULES I always said when we were making Entergalactic that it was a show of contrasts. When you are in the real world, and you’re in a real moment sitting in a diner and these two characters are having a conversation about how they feel, that is very real, and it should be very relatable. But the jump from a character’s point of view and their perspective on how they feel — where they’re all of a sudden riding bikes in space — that jump from A to B in animation is very short. It doesn’t feel as though you’ve jarred the audience. Whereas in live action you do that, it’s a much harder leap to make. The reason why we animated it was you’re able to have a point of view from a character when the song starts and to show how they feel visually.
You got a number of big names to join your voice cast. Can you talk about that casting process?
This was a really incredible, incredible combination. A lot of it was from Scott. In creating these characters in his head, he already had deliberate choices for some. Timothée Chalamet was key. It was Jimmy for Timmy. Ky was for Ty. He was always thinking of Ty Dolla Sign. Virgil doing the fashion, even having conversations with KAWS to include his art pieces — there was a huge conversation with Scott amongst his circle in terms of building out who the cast was going to be. Then you add in [casting director] Carmen Cuba, who is extraordinary. She brought so much specificity to these other roles that weren’t imagined yet.
Jessica Williams as Meadow was Carmen’s sole pick. She was like, “She is it,” and it was something that was embraced by all. In terms of circumstances that felt unexpected, even though Scott had always gone with Ky as Ty Dolla Sign, it’s not something Ty had ever done before. So there was this incredible, almost cathartic moment for Scott to have been somebody who came from music and entered into this industry, started by auditioning for a role in How to Make It in America by Ian Adelman. Now Ian’s his showrunner. And for him then to take that role and say, I know he hasn’t done it before, but I believe he can? Carmen, to her credit, was like, “Bring him in. I want to meet him, and I’ll tell you from having a conversation with him if he can do it.”
A version of this story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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