Title designer extraordinaire and longtime COW member, Rob Ashe, takes us inside the design of "Conan" on TBS. From the story of Conan's journey to his new TV home, through the show's title design and workflow engineering, here’s a look at Conan's new "beginning." Plus a trip through a single day, from prep, to post, to air.
In March of 2010, it was announced that Conan O'Brien would be embarking on a three month national stand-up comedy tour. I was lucky enough to be assigned Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog's segment. I worked on the pieces at home, communicating with Robert Smigel (the man behind Triumph), and head writer Mike Sweeney through email. The experience was the first time I can remember editing for anyone without ever really talking to them. It was also the only time I was able to hear the live reactions of six thousand people to something I edited.
One of the advantages of working with these guys from the tour was talking directly with them about the news that TBS would be picking up Conan's new show. I've always wanted to be able to contribute more, and with this new show, I saw an opportunity. My father taught me a long time ago to carve out your own niche on a new job. I came up with a plan.
A frame from one of the opening sequences for "Conan." Moo, baby!
Eric McGilloway in Post.
"OPENING" A DOOR (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)
I always loved the opening titles and the artwork to Conan's television programs. I recruited "The Tonight Show" lead editor Dan Dome and "Tonight Show" motion graphics expert Eric McGilloway, and we each came up with a few ideas about how to design the open of the new TBS show "CONAN." My wife was extremely supportive of this idea, as it kept me busy. I was a pain to be around at the time because I had been working at home, and she was leaving for work every day while six months pregnant.
After working for a few months, Dan, Eric, and I asked for a pitch meeting. For many nights, we rehearsed our pitch, we made notes, we practiced standing in front of each other, and we talked about how to "psychologically" handle the room. We were beyond ready. We walked into that pitch meeting, though, and completely sucked.
We were so nervous we could barely get our words out. Our saving grace was that there was one pitch that Conan really liked-- an idea that I came up with that paid tribute to the style of Saul Bass. Conan was all for us contributing, and we spent the next few weeks fleshing out the open. The idea was to take organic-looking textures made of construction paper, soak them in soda, and light them in Photoshop. We would use them as colorful elements in back of the title, and a black icon which describes the guest.
We also designed the show's logo. It completely evolved from the logo of the tour and was redrawn to match the "wooden" look of the rest of the symbols in the open. I also redesigned the logo for Conan's production company, "Conaco," to bring it in line with the rest of the branding. Eric McGilloway did the animation for it.
Conan O'Brien came back to TV on TBS on November 8, 2010, and it felt like we never left.
YES, HE SAID "DUTIES"
I firmly believe that you have to be a special breed of editor to work on a show like this. In order to help writers execute their pieces, you have to understand just about every cutting style imaginable.
The daily schedule for the show is also not for the weak of heart. It varies greatly from day to day, because there can be as few as three, or as many as twelve videotaped pieces with varied lengths and complexities.
My personal goals for each morning are to construct the show's opening sequence according to that night's guests and their particular occupations. I also create bumpers -- the sequences that bring us back from commercial -- for that evening's show using continuous shot photos taken by our talented show photographer Meghan Sinclair.
If there is a remote piece I need to work on for that day, I may come in as early as 8 AM to get a good start on it. Remotes are the pre-taped pieces where Conan will go on location to interview people. These usually take the most time to complete, as they take a fair amount of care and thought to execute to their highest potential.
Otherwise, I begin work on my assigned pieces by 11 AM. All of the day's tape pieces are due by 1 PM, which is the start of rehearsal, so I really have to be on the ball in order to bring all my assigned projects to completion on time.
MEET YOUR EDITORS
There are three editors on the show and we each bring something unique to the table.
Dan Dome, our lead editor, heads a team of two other editors, an assistant editor, an engineer, a clip research department, and the graphics department through their workflows and interfacing interactions on the SAN throughout the day. Dan and consulting engineer Dave Crivelli designed our workflow, SAN, and edit rooms.
Dave Grecu has outstanding audio editing and database expertise. He is extremely well-suited for the pieces that need a lot of time to flesh out because he's great at story composition. He has an outstanding temperament, and I would be scared to death at playing poker with him, because my daughter's nonexistent college account would be ripped to shreds.
That leaves me. I pride myself in speed, editing and design, always wanting to leave the writers happy, and an extreme obsession with perfection, which is what you need to succeed in a daily television show. I also have an awesome beard.