Tag Archives: Library of Congress

Friday Night Links

Tomorrow, August 17th, I will be exhibiting some props at the Burlington Mini Maker Faire in North Carolina. I wrote up some more details about it a few days ago. There’s going to be Stormtroopers, robots and even a space launch. That’s right, they are going to launch a balloon into (near) space from the mall parking lot. I never thought I would live to see the day I could type the previous sentence.

The Library of Congress has a massive collection of digital images and photographs from throughout US history. It is an incredible resource for finding or creating specific paper props or for general research. I use their newspaper collection quite a bit.

I’ve linked to a few of blacksmith Tony Swatton’s videos in the past; he has a new one up where he creates Link’s Master Sword from the Legend of Zelda series. The result is an amazingly accurate replica of a sword which exists only in a video game, built out of the materials which a real life sword would be made from. It is far more intense than the Master Sword I created a few months ago, but then again, I don’t have a whole team of specialized metal artisans working in my shop.

Here is an article on Patrick Drone, the props master at the University of Michigan. In recent years, he has begun working at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, where he maintains a fleet of early Model T and Model A vehicles. He says the work is not unlike that of a props shop.

The guys at Tested recently visited The Hand Prop Room in Los Angeles to tour through their 1,000,000+ props. I often wish I lived close by to a props rental house that contained everything; then again, I probably don’t have the budget for that. I guess I’ll have to make my own.

Newspaper cover from All's Well That Ends Well

Making a Fake Newspaper

I found myself making a few fake newspapers this past year. One was for this summer’s All’s Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare in the Park. The director, Dan Sullivan, wanted Lafew to read a newspaper with the headline “King Lives” emblazoned on the front. The production was set in and around World War I.

Newspaper cover from All's Well That Ends Well
Newspaper cover from All's Well That Ends Well

Since they wanted tabloid-size papers (11″ by 17″), printing was no problem; I used 18″ by 24″ newsprint from those giant pads you can get and fed them through the manual feed tray of our large-format printer. It’s a pretty crappy printer for most things, but it’ll print newsprint with no problem. Anyway, once folded over, you just need to trim a little bit off each side to get it to the proper size.

The other tricky part of fake newspapers is getting all the content inside. Now, I’m not going to touch on the complexities of copyright here—if this were television or film, you would need to get clearances on all the material you put into your newspaper. In this case, the period of the newspaper I was creating meant I could use a lot of public domain text and imagery.

Interior of the newspaper
Interior of the newspaper

The first thing to do is research (obviously). You want to find out how big the text was, what kinds of fonts they used, what the covers looked like, how many columns were on a page, and all those sorts of things. You probably won’t find a single image of a newspaper that will solve all your demands that you can just print out, but you can probably find one that will serve as a guide for proportion and layout.

I’ve discovered a few sources that I like to use for locating old-timey newspaper articles. The first is the New York Times Archive. You can set an advanced search to just look through their papers from 1851-1980. The great part is that for the earliest papers (I think it’s anything before 1920-something) you can access a scanned image of the actual newspaper page. This means you can search for specific subjects or keywords and certain dates to populate your newspaper; if you look at the larger version of the picture above, you’ll see all the articles are about World War I. The difficult part is that you cannot browse the newspapers, so it can be a pretty rigorous process to click through each article to see whether it is the right size or “look” for your needs.

Another great source I’ve just recently come across is The Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” archive of historic American newspapers. This site lets you browse and search a large number of newspapers from all across the country. The papers from 1836-1922 are fully digitized as well. Unlike the Times’ archive, you can view full pages, complete with the ads and artwork.

Fake Variety for "Compulsion"
Fake Variety for "Compulsion"

I like to do all my layout in Photoshop and keep the file until the show opens. That way, if the director or designer have a note, like enlarging a headline, I can just go back to the file, make the change, nudge everything else around to make it all fit, and print a fresh copy. In the above picture of “Variety” which I made for Compulsion, I had actor notes as well. Mandy Patinkin had to read and reference a real news article on the inside of the paper, so I had to make several variations on its size and placement before a final version was agreed to.

Inside of "Variety"
Inside of "Variety"

It can get pretty laborious to fill several pages with actual newspaper text, so I also searched for vintage ads to fill space. I also like to copy blocks of text and paste them onto other parts of the page; there’s no need for every word to be unique! In some cases where I couldn’t clean up smudges or distorted words, I actually retyped portions of the text with a closely-matching font.

Midweeks Link Dreams

Just a reminder that today at 2pm (EST), I’ll be taking part in a live chat interview at TheatreFace. Come join in the fun if you want to ask me a question.

I also have a fun new project I’ve been working on, and I might be posting photographs of it as early as next week, so stay tuned. Until then, here’s a fresh roundup of links for you to explore.

  • You know that Smooth-On has a plethora of videos and tutorials on their website, right? Well now, they also have a Mold-makers Exchange, where you can buy or sell molds and casts, or advertise your mold-making services. It’s like a Classifieds for all things moldmaking (or a “Craigslist” as the youngsters (and I) say). It’s very sparse at the moment, which is why I’m getting the word out about it.
  • The Library of Congress has a YouTube. With nearly 600 videos from their archives, there is a wealth of historical material available for free viewing. Many of these videos are great for research on the early twentieth century and thereabouts.
  • Check out these delicious fake food miniatures.
  • Erich Friend runs a Theatre Safety blog. Though focused more on theatre planning and operations, some of the information (I’m looking at you, hidden fire extinguishers) is relevant to props shops.
  • And finally, Volpin Props has made an awesome M8 Avenger Assault Rifle out of scrap materials he had sitting around in his shop.