Mining the Internet Archive

If you watched the video posted above, you wasted 96 seconds of your life, and for that, I apologize. There’s so much more that you could have been doing with your time, and nearly all of it would have been of more value to society.

I put the above video together using footage I found on a website called Internet Archive, which is a free resource that contains public domain, archival movies (and other media). The primary reason I put the video together is that it was more fun than doing actual work. But also, I wanted to test out how to work with materials from this site, which I learned about from Dr. Chris Mayer, interpretive consultant and director of the National Association for Interpretation’s Spanish Section.

It turned out to be surprisingly easy. I searched for certain terms (like “baseball” and “park ranger”), found some videos with narrators who sounded like they wanted to be my friend, downloaded them at the resolution of my choice, and spliced snippets of them together in iMovie.

The original footage comes from four different movies—Story of a Forest Ranger, a 1954 US Department of Agriculture film; Heading Home, a 1920 silent film starring fat old man with little girl legs Babe Ruth; Good Eating Habits, a 1951 instructional film; and a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon called Piano Tooners—all of which (along with many, many others) are available for free download, some at high resolution.

All of the videos I’ve used are in the public domain, either because their copyright has expired or they were produced by a government agency, so they can be used for the sort of nonsense I’ve posted here (or they can be used for something of actual value). The Internet Archive offers versions of these videos (and many, many more) at varying resolution free of charge for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, but I’ll certainly take it. On its website, the organization describes itself like this:

The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.

And the Internet Archive features more than just video:

The Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections, and provides specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities.

Some of the content found on the Internet Archive is not in the public domain, so it can’t be used in media that you produce, but it’s still awesome and you just want to watch it over and over instead of doing real work. The stop-action video Extreme Lego Breakdancing falls into that category.

I’m not sure just yet how I plan to use this resource in any real way, but it’s a great way to track down free stock footage or create a certain tone for historical pieces. If you use this resource in the future (or if you have in the past), please share your product with us. I’m curious to see what the possibilities are.

Get to Know a Typeface! Brush Script

In the heart of the famous Las Vegas Strip, nestled among extravagant, enormous themed casinos like the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, Paris, and the Venetian, sits the unassuming Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. It sounds grand, but compared to the bigger, newer, more expensive casinos around it, the Imperial Palace is often overlooked.

Once, during a cross-country road trip with friends, I stayed at the Imperial Palace with about 11 other people in the same room. It’s an experiment I am not anxious to repeat, though on the plus side, I think I ended up paying about $8 a night for the stay. Apart from its location and management’s willingness to overlook the fact that we could have fielded a baseball team with three reserves with the number of people we had staying in the room, the main advantage of the Imperial Palace is its “Dealertainers.”

Dealertainers perform three distinct functions: 1. Look like celebrity musicians, 2. Sing very loudly, and 3. Deal blackjack. And while most visitors to the Imperial Palace are simultaneously watching the performers and enjoying “free” beverages as they lose $5 at a time at the blackjack tables, there I am, commenting to my friends that the “Dealertainer” typeface (as seen on the banner behind Billy Idol) is our old friend Brush Script. This may be why my friends have stopped telling me when the annual trip to Las Vegas is happening.

(Note: The photo above is distributed by for promotional purposes only. So I will promote Las Vegas: Come to the 2010 NAI National Workshop, November 16-20, in—guess where—Las Vegas!)

When Brush Script was designed by Robert E. Smith in 1942, you could hardly have predicted how pervasive it would someday become. In its heyday, it was used widely in advertising and for other commercial purposes, as in the words “A” and “Release” in the end credits for the classic Tom and Jerry cartoon pictured here.

Brush Script is designed to evoke lettering crafted by hand with a brush and ink. It is informal but refined, more calligraphy than scrawl, not so much handwriting as artfully hand-crafted.

Of course, like many good typefaces, it ended up as a default computer font and became widely reviled because of overuse. You can see it everywhere from a sign welcoming you to Intercourse, Pennsylvania (the words “Welcome to”—thanks to Jeff Miller and the Towns with Strange Names Facebook page for the photo) to the phrase “Rich & Sassy” on sauce packets from Famous Dave’s barbecue to the milk cooler on my front porch.

When people who write blogs about graphic design get bored, they write top 10 lists of typefaces that they hate. Almost invariably, these typefaces are not inherently bad (except Comic Sans; that one is bad), but they are defaults that become overused. This is how Brush Script ends up in posts like 10 Most Overused Fonts in Design, Typobituaries, and A Plea from 16 Most Overused Fonts. These blogs are annoying because they all seem to list essentially the same typefaces, though when they discuss Brush Script, they usually make the good point that it should never (ever!) be set in all caps.

I argue that Brush Script is not a bad typeface, but that it has been subjected to both overuse and misuse. As handwriting typefaces go, it is well crafted and has stood the test of time. You frequently see Brush Script used to evoke a certain 1950s-ish feeling. The television network ESPN has one of the most carefully crafted visual aesthetics out there, and it’s not by accident that it used Brush Script effectively in promoting the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby last week. ESPN used the typeface in conjunction with a Vegas-style starburst (somehow they pull it off) and neon signage to evoke a drive-in movie theater or old-school diner.

As with any typeface, the fact that Brush Script is well-designed and can be used effectively does not mean that it can be used at any time for any reason. It has its time and place. Used effectively, with intent, and with other design elements that contribute to an overall effect (as with ESPN’s drive-in movie theater/diner), it contributes to a playful, fun atmosphere. Used carelessly and without thought, as it is on countless fliers and signs and T-shirts and whatnot, Brush Script is just another default font that’s going to end up on some annoyed blogger’s Top 10 list.