ECLA interns gain real-world experience on set, in studio

by Karen Morales / Beacon Correspondent • March 19, 2014

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Senior media production major Jesse Sheehan works as the prop intern for the hit TV show Mad Men.
Courtesy of Jesse Sheehan
Senior media production major Jesse Sheehan works as the prop intern for the hit TV show Mad Men.
Courtesy of Jesse Sheehan

Emerson’s Los Angeles Program opened this spring semester with a bang, as 124 students moved into the newly built center on Sunset Boulevard. As part of the program’s internship placements, students have had exciting opportunities to work in their fields of interest, such as TV production, or animation.

Most TV viewers don’t stop to think about the tiny details that make up a show: the morning paper a character is reading, a toy a child actor plays with in a fleeting scene, the weather forecast on the show. Doing so would ruin the magic of being immersed in the story. For Jesse Sheehan, creating that magic for viewers of the show Mad Men is his job.

Sheehan, a senior media production major, is currently interning at U.R.O.K. Productions, the company that produces Mad Men, as part of the LA program. As prop intern, it is up to Sheehan to research details that go into making the show as believable and as accurate to the time period as possible, he said in a phone interview.

“They have the actual weather from 1969,” Sheehan said. “So for example, on March 14, it was really sunny and hot, so the prop people make sure there’s sunscreen in the scene. The amount of detail they have is really cool.”

Sheehan’s usual task, he said, is researching specific props or products from 1969, using eBay vintage sellers or ad websites that specifically have vintage or retro advertisements. With this information, the show’s graphic designers are able to recreate the products or product labels to use on the show, he said.

From time to time, Sheehan said he is also given creative writing opportunities, like composing a seven page research report for a scene, or making up tag-lines for companies seen on the show.

“If a character is reading a newspaper or a random book, it would just have gibberish on it. A lot of shows do that,” said Sheehan. “But Mad Men wants the characters to stay in character and make them feel like they’re actually in 1969.”

The prop office, where Sheehan works, is separate from the show’s set, but he said he has been able to catch glimpses of the actors, such as Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm.

“One time I was walking to the kitchen and had to cross the studio, and I passed by a whole group of actors who had just finished a scene,” he said. “But I had to keep my cool.”

At another studio in Hollywood, another Emerson student helps create another kind of magic: animation through motion analysis.

Tyler Robinson, a senior animation major, currently interns with Motion Analysis Studios, located on the Jim Henson Studio Lot on Sunset. He describes his job as very technical production-related work, but the main idea is to capture the motion of actors on stage, which will translate into animations on screen.

“Think Gollum from Lord of the Rings,” he said over a Skype interview.

Robinson said that whenever a client needs animation to be motion captured, the actor will come in and put on a motion capture suit that contains light markers. The cameras on the stage pick up the motion of the light markers whenever the actor moves around, he said.

The software being used is able to pick up the light marker data, but sometimes there are glitches, said Robinson.

“Occasionally you will see a marker disappear,” he said. “Like say there is a marker on his right foot, and then he hunches over and his hand covers the foot. The marker on the computer screen will disappear. So I am the one who goes in and cleans up all the data.”

Some of the clients Motion Analysis works with are Disney and DreamWorks, but Robinson said he isn’t allowed to say too much about what he works on.

“A lot of the projects I’ve worked on are not really released yet,” he said.

Robinson said his favorite part of the job is seeing the finished product after watching actors come in and work.

One piece he was allowed to mention was an Egyptian museum scene as part of an animated short. As the actors on stage were walking on all fours, it translated into an image of a 3D camel on the computer screen.

Robinson, who arrived to LA not fully committed to an internship yet, said he was able to find his current opportunity with help from his advisor, who was contacted by Motion Analysis seeking interns. He said that he got the internship within a week of being in LA, after going through the application and interviewing process. 

He advises future Emerson LA interns, saying, “Don’t stress out about it, because it’ll work out in the end.” 

Andrew Doerfler, managing editor of lifestyle, did not edit this story because he is Sheehan's friend and former roommate.