N.A.S.A. feat. Tom Waits + Kool Keith: "Spacious Thoughts"

Watch video: Download MP4, YouTube, subtitles at Dotsub.

spa2th.jpg Boing Boing Video proudly debuts a new piece from the "great god almighty could it get any more awesome?" N.A.S.A. music project, this one from two personal music heroes: Tom Waits, and Kool Keith. The track is called Spacious Thoughts, and you can pick it up on the project's debut album, Spirit of Apollo (Amazon link.)

NASA, short for "North America South America," is a music collaboration project assembled by Squeak E. Clean (aka Sam Spiegel, brother of film director Spike Jonze) and DJ Zegon (Ze Gonzales, professional skateboarder).

The music video embedded above was created by Montreal-based Fluorescent Hill, and I asked collaborators Mark Lomond and Johanne Ste-Marie a few questions about how all that crazy magic came together. Below, and after the jump, are their replies.

BB: Tell me a little about Fluorescent Hill? Who are you guys, where are you, what do you do?

Fluorescent Hill: Well, we're a very small collective of artists, basically myself (mark lomond) and johanne ste-marie. we started working together while in school here in Montreal, along with some other friends. So we've been together for almost eight years. We do design, illustration, animation, live action, basically anything artistic, but with a primary focus on film.

BB: How did the NASA video project come together, and what were your first thoughts when you learned what track and what musical artists would be involved?

Fluorescent Hill: We got an email one day describing the entire NASA project, the musicians involved the visual artists involved and it just blew our minds. As soon as I saw the list of musicians, deep in my brain I already was hoping to work on the Kool Keith and Tom Waits collab. They're two artists that I go way back to my early tape buying days with. So when we finally got on the phone, and they said it was this track "Spacious Thoughts" a small peice of my brain exploded. Then when they sent the track I was absolutely just ecstatic.

Then came the realisation that our work would be seen by such artists as Marcel Dzama, Syd Garon, Barry McGee, Shepard Fairey, etc.. and panic set in. So we had to step it up in every way.

BB: Can you tell us a little about the characters we see in the video? I love the anthropomorphization of Tom Waits' voice -- it's as if the very sound of his voice, not Waits as a person, is being brought to life. Same thing with the bouncing, spherical ball critter. How did these beings take form?

Fluorescent Hill: Well the characters went through a couple stages of redesign. At first he was more of a giant oninon, and then cleaned up into a drop of oil. We initially were going to do the character in 2D and the backgrounds would be 3D. But then we just flipped everything 180 degrees as a challenge to ourselves, because we had never really done a fully animated 3d character and it would force us to rethink how we approach everything.

Also the challenge of going from 2d drawing to realizing it in 3d changed the overall design adding more to it and streamlinig other aspects. We also wanted both Tom Waits Oil Drop/Bouncing Ball character and Kool Keiths' to essentially be the same in design but different in movement and colour, like different aspects or personalities of the same person.

The giant Cloud in the chorus was the first thing we came up with. We felt the chorus had to be big, and Waits' voice is just so huge you just have to go with something towering over the rest of the video, and in this case the city....which ended up working out really well for the lyrics in that section. Also we didn't want to do caricatures of the singers, it had been done before with waits, I believe Ralph Bakshi had anmiated/rotoscoped him, so to try and just get at the quick pop of Kool Keith and the growl and bark of Tom Waits.

BB: How did the project progress, how long did it take? Can you talk us through a little of the "making of"?

Fluorescent Hill: For the video we tried to mix as many mediums as possible. We had access to the shipping docks here in Montreal and so we went down and photographed all the nooks and crannies, then made collages out of th photos, then redrew the collages. The character animation took a long time,one because we had never done 3d before, and two because it's just the two of us. OUr friend and frequent collaborator Jacques Khouri modeled and rigged the character, he's a wizard.... and also teaches at Savannagh college of art and design. The cloud character is made up of so many things it'd be pretty hard to explain 3d 2d vector hand drawn particle etc. you name it, we did it.

This was the longest production we've ever done.

BB: What do you love most, and hate most, about animation?

Fluorescent Hill: I love everything about animation, sounds cheezy, but it's true. You can really do everything you can think of and more. The only thing we hate is the amount of time it takes, but i guess if we had more people it would go faster, but we like the control we have over every frame.

BB: Favorite part of this project?

Fluorescent Hill: Our absolute favourite part is the mix of the music and visual. We think it's a really fun mix, and hope people get some enjoyment out of it and will want to watch it over and over again.

(Special thanks to Susan Applegate and Syd Garon)


  1. I’ve been listening to this entire album for a couple weeks and it’s very very good no matter what kind of music you like.

  2. I can always count on Keith to bring the crazy, but I think Tom Waits one-upped him with lines like “The moon smells like a cherry bomb!” and “The ballon drops down at midnight, strangling a monkey with the hands of a clock.” Thank you, Tom.

  3. The video was absolutely fantastic and I’d love to see more from Fluorescent Hill. I’m a big fan of Tom Waits and I like Kool Keith alright, so it breaks my heart to say the music is terrible.

    I would like to have heard something a little more experimental rather than the same stagnant beats and repetitive synth horn stabs. Imagine how this could have sounded with some of Waits’ junkyard beats and brokedown circus music behind the vocals. As it stands, this is a perfect example of why hip hop lost me so long ago.

  4. Wow, that is some exceptional motion/film/video art. Looking forward to seeing more Fluorescent Hill.

    As you may know, N.A.S.A. partnered up with Indabamusic.com for a remix contest recently:
    http://www.indabamusic.com/featured_programs/show/nasa and made a great choice for the winner: an artist named Bungalow Bill

    I think it’s really cool of N.A.S.A. and huge kudos to Indabamusic.

    I had a blast mashing up Tom Waits with David Byrne and came in 431st place (lol): http://www.indabamusic.com/submissions/show/10868

  5. I saw Kool Kieth a few years ago in San Luis Obispo. He is a crazy guy. The show started way late, and when he finally started, he would throw a piece of “brand new” thrift store underwear into the audience every few minutes.

  6. It’s like watching someone play de Blob while listening to a radio as someone keeps changing stations between a Tom Waits song and a song I don’t like.

  7. Seriously, please stop embedding these videos in HD. I haven’t been on a computer yet that could handle HD youtube without chopping up, and this includes my g5 and powermac.

    the detail is great without it, and every time i play boingboing video, i have to rush to click HD 100 times so it will eventually switch back to normal rez.

    Kick ass video, but had to finally complain.

  8. the music is terrible? Nah, when you have two vocalists as out there as these two you dont need the music to be too avant garde

    incredible, I loves it

  9. Rats. I was thinking “NASA has commissioned Waits and other awesomes to make songs about space?” But no, it’s some other NASA, using the acronym to sell space songs.

    The answer to “great god almighty could it get any more awesome?” is clearly “Yes. Yes it could, if it were done by the real NASA.” But admittedly, the real NASA aren’t that far-sighted, and anyway people would grumble about them using our tax money to make more money, or something.

  10. When I saw this, I thought, “Does Tom Waits really sound like that now?!” Then I realized that I confused him with ’80s singer John Waite.

  11. [blockquote]Rats. I was thinking “NASA has commissioned Waits and other awesomes to make songs about space?” But no, it’s some other NASA, using the acronym to sell space songs.

    The answer to “great god almighty could it get any more awesome?” is clearly “Yes. Yes it could, if it were done by the real NASA.”[/blockquote]Pretty much this.

    Pretty damn sweet nonetheless : D

  12. Doh… it’s html here, not BBcode.

    And I hate my writing when I can’t edit it…

    I should get into the habit of using that preview button.

  13. Truly groundbreaking animation. For some reason this animation made me feel a variety of emotions all through
    Last time I was astounded about a style of animation was the ChupaChups 50th year piece. Unfortunatley the main one with the rolling hills through time in no longer web available. Flourescent Hill surpassed that work. KUDOS Flourescent Hill!

  14. Too bad about your G5. Plays perfect on my MacBook, even full-screen.

    Tom is THE MAN. Now I wanna go watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula again and watch him eat some bugs.

  15. @Anonymous | #13 |
    everything is fine on my 3 year old notebook. it likes HD, so do I. fantastic animation btw. the tune has something, although I usually dont like hip-hop.

  16. An ad blocked out the right 1/3rd of the video player. The ad audio played at the same time as the video. There was no close button. It was a complete disaster.

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