Ken Burns America


To help Ken Burns America generate web properties that provided user interactivity with thousands of digital multimedia assets in easily intelligible layouts.


Constantly expanding ideas of a premium, never-before-seen user experience required custom solutions to site interactivity and asset management.


Metal Toad customized solutions to present historical multimedia content in timeline, map, and grid layouts, providing a contextual interactive experience.


Ken Burns America’s web visitors now enjoy a truly unique web experience where they can “scrapbook” relevant content and engage it with historical context.

“Cross platform, cross device, multiple languages, and a creative team who insist on perfect…thanks to the entire team at Metal Toad for hanging in with us.”

- Ethan Goldstine, Kapow

Ken Burns America (KBA) approached the Toads with a simple request - to construct a basic web property for the “The National Parks: America's Best Idea.” Metal Toad was happy to help an organization so committed to preserving our nation’s history and, after all, Ken Burns’ films have earned him 12 Emmys, 2 Oscar nominations, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

The scope of the project quickly ballooned during the discovery process. Over three decades of filmmaking, KBA collected tens of thousands of photos, film clips, audio tracks, and documents. If properly curated, these assets could provide a user web experience that was informative, relational, historical, and highly entertaining. The Toads knew they could translate a great user experience on basic site interactivity, but generating custom historical timelines and scrapbooks to enrich each individual web visit could prove trickier.

The solution to a project of this magnitude (with a Client of such prestige) required a multi-tiered approach. The initial site for “The National Parks: America's Best Idea” pushed the limits of what was possible in HTML. Working closely with designer Emotive Brand, the site was designed to be responsive and translate large custom visuals and custom animation across all devices. Drupal powers the content management, which is available in 8 languages.

Additionally, the Toads wanted to provide KBA site visitors with a context to America’s history. After a thorough competitive analysis of available digital asset management (DAM) solutions, Metal Toad’s custom DAM was selected to curate the thousands of photos, film clips, audio tracks, and documents Ken Burns’ filmmaking had accumulated. This modularized and open source code would enable years of sustained, iterative improvements without licensing fees of proprietary software.

The DAM featured a highly customizable solution - NotreDAM - as it provided the rich metadata needed to optimize user experience.  From the DAM, relevant metadata was isolated and stored within multiple indices in Apache Solr. The Toads then added a proxy layer to develop a meaningful REST API that utilized finely tuned caching features to ease the development of the BackboneJS-based KBA website.

When visiting the KBA site, visitors now can create a truly custom experience. They can “scrapbook” relevant or interesting content and display it in either a timeline, a geographic map, or a traditional grid layout. This provides the user context through time and place of historical events while offering an interactive experience is unlike any traditional historical website.

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