James Pearse Connelly is a production designer on some major fan favorite shows (including a little show called The Masked Singer). He’s part of the “Future of Entertainment” panel at #SDCCatHome, where he’ll be sharing his ideas about where entertainment is headed.
Even if you don’t watch The Masked Singer, you have probably seen something James Pearse Connelly has worked on. He’s been on the creative teams for a lot of really fun shows: Holey Moley, Ultimate Tag, Nailed It!, Making It, Project Runway, and a bunch of other fun unscripted competition shows.
In case you didn’t notice, he kind of has a niche. His resume reads like what you’d get if you Googled “fun positive reality shows for bad days”.
Here’s what Connelly has to say about his work and where he thinks entertainment design is going:
On designing for The Masked Singer:
It was told to me, “This is a format that started in Asia, in Thailand and Korea. This is a show where celebrities are gonna dress up in big outrageous costumes and you’re gonna guess where they are.” There was a moment where I thought, ‘This is my career.’ Then I realized I was in charge of that, and the challenge was, “How do we make that cool to an American audience?”
Looking at superheroes and how Spider-man and Batman and all these Marvel characters can become super cool to American audiences was an approach on ow to take Masked Singer with these costumes and look at them as superheroes. What did their world look like? So for Backstage I studied the Batcave, and where he hung up costumes was a very transferable part of design.
The stage was very Burning Man and Coachella and opera. [The singers’] costumes were meant to be appreciated on an operatic stage.
On designing during a pandemic:
I design variety shows for a living. I probably do 20-30 a year. With the pandemic we obviously hit a little bit of a slowdown, but then it was like standing in front of a firehose. Everyone needs good design right now. Everyone needs solutions. You don’t have audiences right now. For thousands of years we’ve leaned into what audiences transfer to a performance, and now people are like, “What do we do, James?”
I don’t go to all the COVID classes, but as a designer I hear I need to design desks for the judges, everyone needs to be 6 feet apart. We need to redesign audiences. But the biggest thing is, we can’t reveal we’re in a pandemic! We don’t want Plexiglas walls. This is not a negative approach. We have to approach social distancing in a way that fills that space with design and artful elements to enhance the mood. It’s an exciting time for a designer.
On when we can expect to see COVID designs affecting programming:
The next batch of shows that comes out in fourth quarter. In the new year, the spring, you’ll see the really incredible art. That’s where you need to lean into to give the vibe to viewers at home.
Watch The Masked Singer next season. What we’re doing with AR and Virtual is unbelievable. Watch the award shows and big variety shows, because they’re the ones who are test pilots trying out COVID rules.
On how the pandemic rules will change the kinds of shows we see (like the writer’s strike boosted reality TV):
This is far and away bigger than any writer’s strike could influence. We have an entire industry, a global industry, not working. They’re trying to figure out how to tell stories, and the demand for stories is huge. Everybody’s looking- designers, writers, and directors- new ways to do this. It’s a major Renaissance.
I’ve had multiple conversations with VFX houses, and animators. They can tell stories without a lot of people on site to create a production. They can create them in the computer or in their hands without a lot of COVID safety risks.
I think there’s a huge awakening in VFX and preproduction. It’s not a sudden run to it per se, but everyone is self educating what they can do to minimize footprints on stage. The answer is pre-production. If people can harness good quality out of that – for example, I think The Mandalorian is the most talked about show on the planet. [They use] virtual backgrounds mixed with a physical element in front that the actors can react to with a single camera narrative.
It’s making VFX upside down because it happens in prepro instead of post.
On whether the changes will last past the pandemic:
We’ll never go back to the way it’s done. I think we’re finding new efficiencies. I think we’ll miss the way it used to be and go back immediately, but then sort of bounce back and see what we learned from this, then combine it with some really exciting stuff.
Virtual production is what to keep your eye on, and I think everyone’s looking at it.
Thanks to James Pearse Connelly for taking this time! Check out the “Future of Entertainment” panel he’s on Thursday (today!):
As the world continues to technologically advance, find out how leading experts in entertainment are paving the way to a new future. Featuring experts in virtual and augmented reality, digital human creation and design, as well as creatives working in virtual production, eSports, and more, learn about how emerging technologies will shape everything from Hollywood to the educational experience.
Panelists include Ted Schilowitz (futurist, Paramount Pictures), James Pearse Connelly (production designer, The Masked Singer), Ilyasah Shabazz (professor, community organizer, author, motivational speaker), Cathy Hackl (futurist and two-time LinkedIn top voice in tech), Leslie Shannon (head of ecosystem and trend scouting, Nokia), Phil Quist (music agent, CAA), and Leigh Steinberg (sports agent, Steinberg Sports). Moderated by Travis Cloyd (futurist at FIU, co-founder of Worldwide XR).
Watch the panel, then come back and let us know what you thought!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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