The site was given a preview of the episode which takes place on the computer screen of Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) while she's waiting at the airport. Claire has had a disagreement with her daughter Haley (Sarah Hyland) and can't get a hold of her. During the episode, Claire uses various Mac apps and video chats to contact family members in an attempt to reach Haley.
It’s the kind of gag that could get old very quickly, but thanks to some clever writing and brisk direction it works pretty well (Community alum Megan Ganz co-wrote the episode with Modern Family creator Steven Levitan, who directed). Ganz uses characters’ Facebook pages to layer in gags and references to earlier episodes of the series, and contrasting what a character is texting in one window with what they’re saying in a FaceTime call provides the opportunity for jokes that wouldn’t be doable in a standard episode. The dizzying array of Yosemite apps does strain credulity at times — does anybody really use Reminders?
Levitan explained how he got the idea for the episode at a press event in Los Angeles.
"I have two daughters at college, and we do a lot of FaceTiming," said Levitan. One day, as he was working, a video chat from his daughter popped up. On his screen was his work, his daughter, and his wife doing something behind him all at the same time "and I realized on that screen you could tell so much about my life. So the original idea was from there."
Modern Family did approach Apple about the episode and was provided with iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Pros for shooting the video chats. Apple also lent them a Mac Pro for post-production work.
"The whole episode was originally shot with crew members, just as a proof of concept," notes motion graphics artist John Brown. The footage was then put together into a mock-up of Claire's computer screen with a plan to use screen capture software to create the episode. Unfortunately, the resolution wasn't high enough for tight shots so Brown had to duplicate and animate the entire Mac interface manually at a resolution up to four times higher than the original.
"I was building the assets for Yosemite back when Yosemite was still in beta," he said. This means that the interface will look up to date when the episode airs but it made things somewhat difficult for Brown who had to redo things as Apple updated its interface in new builds. "It was frustrating to be like, ‘Act one, totally locked,’ and then come in Monday and hear the FaceTime notification has changed."
Modern Family did change a few things about its Mac environment. First, FaceTime got the ability to handle multiple video chats simultaneously. Second, translucency is disabled. "That was such a thorn in my side!" said Brown. "Everything is transparent when the message scrolls up, you can sort of see it through the top of Message. So Claire is maybe fussy, and she doesn’t like to deal with all that crap. It slows down the computer, and she wants it easy to read and snappy. So I took the liberty of having her disable transparency."
The episode airs on Wednesday, February 25th. We'll let you know if we spot a teaser before hand.