The cameras used on Conan’s version of Tonight were almost identical to those you’ll see here on Stage 15 at Warner Brothers. Camera rehearsals are a couple of hours before the afternoon tape session, which starts at 4:30 PST Mondays through Thursdays.
Below are pictures of the show’s Sony HD 1500 cameras…some snugly nestled in their buildup kits, and a couple of Sony 1500s mounted on jibs and small tripods for quick hand-held situations. All together, there are eight cameras in the studio, including a couple of remote-control stationary cameras for audience shots. The main difference is that there are none of the SONY HD 1000 hard-bodied cameras in use like there were at NBC Universal. (I like their look better, but…)
Now, to be honest with you, I get a little lost in the control room and video suites these days, but that’s what’s in this section of our backstage look at Conan’s new digs at WB. Thank goodness they still have audio boards and color bars, because that’s about all I recognize now. I’ll just post these photos below for you to browse through without much comment, but let me add this one little tidbit.
Below, you’ll see some little black boxes with blue screens and handwritten labels that say “VTR.” For anyone who’s ever slung 2-inch tape on Ampex and RCA quad machines, all I can say is…you’ve come a long way, baby! Who would have ever thought VTRs would be small enough to rack-mount two to a row? Yep, these are the latest in Video Tape Recorders. Plus, there is now one for each camera, so a shot is never missed. Remember when car radios were this big?
The Moon Backdrop
After the show ends, it goes to edit for final adjustments for time, and maybe different takes of what the director punched up in real time. With every camera feeding a VTR, that’s very easy, and it reminds me of how The Honeymooners was done using the Dumont Electronicams with their film/video capabilities. The live show was directed as a live show, and the takes were all recorded on kinescope. Later, using the kine playback as a template, they cut the film tighter for the final show. The Conan show is fed to Atlanta in separate segments for transmission, and actually, it is not unheard of to have the first segment on the air in the east while they are still editing the final segments in LA. Now that’s what I call a tight schedule.
One of the main points of interest on the Conan set is the background, with its city lights and moon. During the show, the moon slowly tracks across the rear ocean/city backdrop almost without notice, just like if it were a real moon. Somehow the moon’s reflection in the water tracks across the sets background with the moon and shimmers subtly. It’s really a cool trick. Below, Bruce explains how the city lights up and how the “moon” moves and shimmers.
“The backdrop is a hand-painted scene that looks really good even in person. It is glued to the curved wall that is made of two parts. The upper half above the sea line is drywall that is smooth and the lower half is transparent plexi.”
“From the rear of the drop, the ‘city lights’ are created by individual fiber strands that are strategically placed in drilled holes through the drop to appear to be lighted buildings and street lights.”
“The moon is lit inside its housing with LEDs powered by battery during the show. An AC cable is attached during the rehearsal day to reduce battery drain. It is suspended from two wires that are attached to pulleys and a track that is motorized and is operated by a remote control a hobby car or hobby plane would use.”
“The moon ‘reflection’ is ingenious. A light bar illuminates a plexiglas cylinder with painted streaks on it. The cylinder rotates with an electric motor and the light shines through the plexi backdrop to simulate a shimmering, reflecting moon on top of the ocean.”
“The cylinder rig is on a track that moves left and right behind the backdrop.”
“You can see the track the cylinder rides on, and this is the MOST amazing part of the unit. There are cables and pulleys that are routed from the overhead moon trolley down the side of the backdrop and along this track. When the moon is moved left and right, the reflecting cylinder rig and light bar moves WITH it and is slaved to its path. The ultimate effect is that the moon’s reflection travels with the moon! Pretty cool stuff!
“These physical effects are one most fascinating parts of our ‘Television Magic’. That’s where the true craftsmanship shows up and I love to see what the prop guys and grips come up with to make things work and look different than they appear. Hope this is as interesting to you as it is to me. – Bruce”
Many thanks to Bruce Oldham and the Conan show for sharing these exclusive images with us! I’m a Coco nut! You too?