December 11, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Late Night With Conan O’Brien (Opening Credits)

Part 14 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

ConanIt’s hard to depict New York City in all its glory in just 30 seconds, but for the opening sequence of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, a company called Ultrabland has done a pretty good job.

They created Late Night’s opening sequence in 2003, and then retooled it when the show went to High Definition, adding extra details for those who have nice big HDTVs. The segment begins with a pan across several recognizable Manhattan buildings, which overlap with various opacities. The buildings include landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as well as less famous buildings such as architect Philip Johnson’s Lipstick Building and AT&T Building. If you blink while watching the show, you may miss them. Here they are:

Conan Conan

Given the simple palette and style, it’s amazing how much detail the animators keep in the buildings while they manage to create a definite style for the sequence. The pan continues, with more buildings popping up to the beat of Late Night band leader Max Weinberg’s music, before zooming out to show the sun setting behind Manhattan.

Conan Conan

With the sun down and the city lights up, we quickly find ourselves in the heart of the city, looking around at the tall buildings like tourists would, driving along the streets of New York like tourists wouldn’t. Among the towering skyscrapers, we see the names of tonight’s guests. Jessica Alba and Mike Binder have never looked better than when their names were superimposed on this animated city. Well, okay, maybe Jessica Alba has.

Conan Conan

ConanFinally, our ride comes to an end at Rockefeller Center. Presumably, because we’re staring at the statue of Prometheus, we must be standing in the Rockefeller Plaza skating rink. But before we have a chance to catch our breath, we pan up to the highest floors of 30 Rockefeller Center, where Late Night is taped. The sequence fades out as we fade in to Conan’s entrance and opening monologue.

Short and sweet, with more style in 30 seconds than most of the animated depictions I’ve examined for this series have in an entire feature length film. You can watch the entire sequence on Ultrabland’s website, where you can read their description of what went into retooling the sequence for HDTV.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only)


Hey, I just stumbled onto your site for the first time and just want to say that I love love love it. I just read all the entries for animated New York and they’re great.

May I humbly second the suggestion that you review the animated NYC sequences in Shortbus, once it comes out on DVD of course.

hey there ! great site ! saw the piece on the titles for Conan O’Brien. we did the titles when the show launched. low tech but animated NY just the same. postcard cutouts. 95% NYC with a shot of our building in White Plains, NY thrown in for good measure…

going back over 30 years of Saturday Night Lives … some of the opening titles have been animated … not to mention the Robert Smigel animations inside the show ….
and if you go way back to the late 1960’s up to 1972, The Tonight Show was based in NY and used an opening animation.

Psst: Conan isn’t filmed on the highest floors of Rockefeller Center; their studio is on the 6th floor, right next to the satellite studios for MSNBC and Telemundo.

Other than that: I love the opening of this show. It, more than any other opening of all the New York-based shows, real or fictional, makes me so glad to live here.