I used to hate the beach. I loathed the bright, hot sun that makes my eyes malfunction and my pale skin burn brighter than the reddest lobster after three minutes of exposure. I couldn’t stand the smell of the sea, a smell that can only be described as ten-day-old seaweed covered in iodine and set on fire in my nostrils. I was never comfortable with the fact that no matter how careful I was, I was always a magnet for small packets of sand that found their way into my car and laundry for days to come.
Then, I became my daughter’s father.
Rob Ashe's daughter was 4 days old when he first saw the word "arthrogryposis," written on her incubator in the NICU. Elliot, now 4, had been born with severe contraction in her major joints, resulting in extremely low muscle tone. Only one in 3,000 newborns has the condition. "There still isn't a ton of research," says Ashe, an Emmy-nominated editor on TBS' Conan. Geneticist Dr. Judith G. Hall, who has studied arthrogryposis extensively, had one big piece of advice for Ashe when she learned about his line of work: “You need to get celebrities involved.”
Bouncing up and down and chattering, 2-year-old Fiona wielded her popsicle like a staff and climbed atop her mother’s lap until she felt tall enough to command the attention of the room.
Once settled, she sang, crooning nonsensically to her sister laying on the rug.
Noticing her sister’s glasses had fallen askew, Fiona zoomed to the rescue, knowing 4-year-old Elliot can’t adjust the frames herself. Well-meaning but not yet gentle, as most 2-year-olds, Fiona picked up the glasses only to be swooped up by her mother, who then hugged her daughters and helped Elliot stand.
To the Ashe family, almost nothing is as they expected; they’ve adjusted to a “new normal,” meeting each chaotic moment with a laugh and hug.
Also during the day, a panel examined what moderator Norman Hollyn (The Cotton Club) calls the "lean forward moment." Hollyn — who is head of the editing track at USC's School of Cinematic Arts — defined this as the moment in a film that causes you to lean forward because it's crucial to the plot. He illustrated this by asking each editor on the panel to select a "lean forward" clip from a movie that they did not edit.
That included clips from Aliens and JFK, but it was Conan's head editor, Rob Ashe Jr., who got the biggest reaction from the audience when he announced that he had selected the "Married Life" clip from Pixar's Up — the emotional montage that shows the joy and heartbreak of a married couple.
By the end of the clip, the reaction was exactly what the audience had anticipated. The lights came up and sniffling and sobbing were heard, with editors wiping their eyes across the room.
Ash recalled how he tried to fight tears when he first saw Up in a theater. "I felt betrayed! I thought, 'You're a cartoon!' " he said. "By the end [of the 'Married Life' sequence] — and I'm not a big crier — I was holding my wife's hand and shaking. That part in the doctor's office, I remember leaning forward."
"It was the answer to my question as to how they were going to make me care about an old man who doesn't like people. Imagine taking that scene out of the movie. Then he's just a cranky old man," he said. "I couldn't think of a more lean forward moment of anything else I had seen."
Being parents of a child with special needs opens up a whole new world you wouldn't even know exists until you become one. It's an inspiring world, but it can also be very challenging. One Santa Clarita couple accepted this challenge and then some.
All signs were pointing to a healthy baby girl for Rob and Angie Ashe. Doctors didn't see the clues in the ultrasound.
"We did not find out until she was born. It was a surprise in the OR," said Angie. "And it was a blessing actually that we didn't know ahead of time because there's nothing you can do."
Their daughter, Elliot, was diagnosed with a severe form of arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects about one in 10,000 babies. These children have stiff joints and abnormally developed muscles. The cause is unknown.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a rag tag group of varmints who come together Monday through Thursday to make a hour of late night television for enjoyable consumption by the general public. That show being Conan O’Brien’s Conan on TBS.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Editor/Opening Titles Designer for Conan. I also do the opening titles for Deon Cole’s Black Box on TBS.
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I along with lead editor Dan Dome and editor Dave Grecu edit pre-taped segments, remotes and mock commercials for that day’s show. After the taping, we edit down segments and bring the show to time. I also render the opening titles of the show every day and do a redesign if we take the show on the road.
Gotham was used for the popular “I’m With Coco” posters created by Mike Mitchell during Conan O’Brien’s 2010 Tonight Show conflict. The typeface was eventually adopted for TBS’s Conan logo and other logos designed by Rob Ashe Jr.
What about Rob Ashe, one of the editors for Conan? Well, he would like to “only create and delete four Tumblr accounts; lose 30 pounds; only buy one suite during the yearly Red Giant Software sale; lose 30 more pounds; continue to do DDPYOGA to get back to my previously girly figure; learn more about what the Red Giant Trapcode Suite can do; lose 27.5 final pounds; get more haircuts; only create and delete two Instagram accounts; resist the urge to shave because if I do my wife will proceed to divorce me; get Red Giant to pay me to fawn over them; realize I’m lucky and only deserve what I put in.”
Rob Ashe (@robashejr) is one of three editors working on the Burbank-based Conan O’Brien show on TBS. Duties are typically assigned by speciality, with Ashe doing mock commercials, Dave Grecu working on remote packages and lead editor Dan Dome (pictured with Ashe, below right) doing a little bit of everything and overseeing the workflow.
When I asked Ashe about some tools he just can’t live without, he had some technical offerings and some that were a little more old school.
First up, the free tool Kuler from Adobe (kuler.adobe.com). Ashe calls it worth its weight in gold. “I work with different color schemes a lot on the show and it’s tough to find complementary colors for what you are doing at the time. Kuler makes this easy”
He used Kuler on a sketch a few weeks back called 3 for 5, based on the big-pot Powerball Lottery. “The concept was, so many people waste money on lottery tickets, why not have this new lottery game that is a guaranteed winner every time. So for a $5 lottery ticket, you are guaranteed to win $3. It had large titles to it and I had to find a lot of complementary colors. When you are dealing with reds in a video, it’s tough to find something that’s not going to bleed and just fall apart. It’s a ridiculously-fast tool.”
A free iPad app that Ashe finds handy is Ideas, also from Adobe, a touchscreen drawing program. “For a while, every Thursday we’d somewhat change the show open and create a :10 fun animation. So I would use Adobe Ideas to express how I wanted the animation to go. What’s cool is I can bring in a still of the standard animation layout and draw on it. You can circle the moon, put an arrow on it and say, ‘I want this to go down.’ When you are done, you can email what you drew; it helps to make the pitch easier for the graphics guys, who can then put in the real work and do their thing based off whatever suggestion I’ve given them.”
The editing team, which famously and humorously bashed FCP X in a video introduced by Conan on the show after its initial release and made a viral video of their happiness with Adobe’s Premiere Pro and its “Freddy Mercury Engine,” still make use of Final Cut 7 and other Adobe Creative Suite 6 offerings, including Photoshop and After Effects with plug-ins from Red Giant Software and Video Copilot’s Element 3D.
“Element 3D is a really down and dirty way of getting 3D text going. It’s got really good texturing, which to me is its single biggest strength. Being able to texture 3D shades and stuff in Elements in 3D is great. If we ever need anything more complex, we go to Cinema 4D.”
One particularly interesting project that used some of those tools took place months back when Conan reported that a talk show in China was using an open that stole parts of Conan’s opening title sequence. “We were going back and forth taking jabs at each other between the two shows in a funny way, and it was starting to come to an end. That morning it was like, what’s a good final button. It was noon, and as a joke, I suggested that I should just make them their own open. The writers and Conan said, ‘That’s great. You have four hours.’ So me and the amazing graphics guys hauled ass — lead Eric McGilloway, Steve Robinson and Pierre Bernard Jr. It was all Photoshop and After Effects.” Rublight (pictured, left) was a recent mock commercial edited by Ashe.
Another piece of “equipment” that Ashe puts to good use is the basketball hoop behind his door. “One of my first duties in the morning is to update the open for the show. Typically, there are four panels per show: first guest, second guest, and a comedian or band or special performance, and then episode titles. It usually takes 20-25 minutes to render the names, so the hoop comes in handy. I put them in the cue and make the best use of my time!”
The piggy bank that lives in the editing and graphics area helps the team save money, which is a value in itself! “It’s called the Fuck-Up Jar,” explains Ashe. “If anyone makes a major mistake, they have to put in a dollar.”
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.