One of the biggest changes in event videography over the last decade has been the transition from delivering content on VHS to delivering it on DVD. Only the introduction of digital video itself has caused a bigger sea change in the way videographers do their work. We take it as a given that the changeover from VHS or Beta to MiniDV was more than simply a change in format; with it came digital capture, nonlinear editing, and a whole new postproduction workflow. All too often, however, we don't recognize the switch to DVD as having the same impact, instead regarding it as just a different, slightly more complicated way to deliver projects to clients.
But the switch from VHS to DVD was every bit as revolutionary, creating a ripple effect backwards from output into the editing process itself. The best videographers have seized upon the opportunities presented by DVD and are also keenly aware that watching a DVD is a fundamentally different viewing experience from watching video tape. That realization is both liberating—menus! chapters! special features!—and intimidating. After all, DVD's nonlinear nature, the very thing that makes all those other things possible, put new demands on the video producer and editor, requiring them to consider that their clients may never watch the entire production (with video tape, chances are good that the viewer at least skimmed over every section, even if it was on fast-forward). They must also acknowledge the flip side of DVD's aesthetic advantages: that the DVD format is far less forgiving of subpar video and audio than is VHS.
Rather than simply substituting one output format for another and pressing "record" on a different machine for the final dub, videographers who want to create their own DVDs need to acquire a whole new skill set and add yet another line to their job description: DVD author. You don't author VHS; once the final edit is complete, you just print it to tape. Authoring a DVD is an act both creative and technical, bringing with it expanded possibilities for some of the production aspects of VHS like titling, as well as new opportunities to put your professional and artistic stamp on your product via menu backgrounds, button design, and the ways you let viewers navigate between chapters and features.
Back in DVD's early days (the mid-1990s), authoring was a strictly specialized function reserved for Hollywood studios and DVD specialists (who liked to describe their role as "post-post"). They were intimately familiar with the DVD spec, a two-book—and several thousand-dollar—document that outlined the physical, file format, and video specifications that applied to creating DVDs. It wasn't until the end of that decade that products like Sonic Solutions' DVDit pulled the curtain back on the authoring process.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say tools like DVDit actually pulled the curtain shut on the process, making much of the behind-the-scenes encoding and formatting functions invisible (and irrelevant) to video professionals who wanted to create their own DVDs. Since then, the floodgates have opened and we've seen not only an explosion of software targeted at the pro/ prosumer market but also plenty of high-powered consumer-level tools that have their place in the videographer's studio, too.
What follows isn't so much a "how-to," or even a primer on authoring DVDs; each software program is unique and needs to be learned on its own terms. Rather, it's a sampler of the different types of DVD authoring tools available and how they help videographers make the most of the process.
The Devil's in the Details
Before we focus on specific tools, however, it's useful to take a wide-angle look at the way DVD has changed how videographers approach their work. While the advantages of DVD were obvious to most videographers, clients proved to be a harder sell, at least at the onset.
"We had a lot of resistance to trying DVD at first," says Barry Peterson, owner of United Video in Deephaven, Minnesota. "But when they first saw the quality and heard the sound, it was like night and day to them." The sound was an especially strong selling point to one of the market segments United Video specializes in—performance videos for the large number of choral groups based in the Twin Cities area. "We used to do 90% of our delivery of concert videos on VHS," says Peterson. "Within a year, that completely reversed to 90% DVD. In February, we did a show choir concert and offered both VHS and DVD. We got no VHS orders at all."
Knowing that your final output is bound for DVD might not change the way you shoot (none of the videographers we talked to for this story say it did), but it should change the way you edit, says Peter Lee Ralph, owner of Timberline Video in Silverthorne, Colorado and co-moderator of the event video forum on www.creativecow.net. "Distributing on DVD rather than VHS places a much higher premium on the quality of both picture and sound," says Ralph. "Since I started mastering for DVD, every inch of footage is color-graded and goes through extensive audio enhancement. It's great to have a distribution medium that justifies the extra attention."
Beyond raising the bar for picture and sound quality, DVD has given videographers new ways to present their products. The most obvious application might be for wedding videos, where a DVD menu might include separate buttons for the ceremony, reception, love story, and comments from friends and family of the bride and groom that might otherwise interrupt the flow of the video. But DVD's chapter-based approach to video also makes it easy for viewers to access different sections of educational and corporate training videos, as well as event-specific features. "We've added behind-the-scenes features to all of our concert work," says Peterson. "We're also able to give the clients access to all of the rough footage if they want it."
Standalone Consumer and Prosumer Tools
By far the most common authoring software in the videography studio is the standalone variety, though some tools are designed to work more-or-less seamlessly with nonlinear editors. Adobe's Premiere Pro, for instance, allows you to export to Encore DVD directly from the NLE's timeline; Apple's Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro aren't integrated in that way, but DVD Studio Pro will read any markers you add in FCP. Most of them, however, aren't tied to any other specific programs.
Of course, if you're using a Mac, you're tied into Apple software. Since a relatively large segment of the videography market belongs to Apple (compared to their share outside various creative fields), that's where we'll begin. Mark Charrette, owner of DV-DR! (Digital Video - Done Right!) in Phoenix, first got into the business of authoring DVDs by offering to transfer home movies to DVD in 2002, when he lived in Toronto and when computers with DVD burners were still relatively novel. With nothing but an iMac, iDVD, and Final Cut Pro, he got to work. Or at least he tried to. "Almost everyone I talked to seemed interested," he says. "But not being much of a salesman, I didn't close many sales." So he picked up a book on digital filmmaking and a Canon DV camera, and began shooting weddings. Since then, he's added medical and meeting video (specifically speaking groups) to his offerings.
Charrette still converts home movies to DVD, and for that he relies on iDVD, with its decidedly consumer-oriented interface. "When I get those small jobs of converting people's movies to DVD, sometimes they don't want to pay for editing, so I keep it really simple," he says. "I know (iDVD) is sort of an industry joke, but people love what they get, and I can do it inexpensively. That can lead to bigger jobs."
For most of his jobs, however, Charrette uses DVD Studio Pro 3 on his new G5. In its inaugural version, Studio Pro proved too intimidating for many neophytes, but Apple overhauled it completely in 2003 with DVD SP 2, which offered a choice of three interfaces—basic, extended, and advanced. Version 3 added dozens more menu templates and transitions, automatic transcoding, and drop zones for dragging-and-dropping images, graphics, and video clips onto a menu background.
"DVD Studio Pro 3 originally looked intimidating, but it can be very simple or very complex," says Charrette, adding that he went beyond Apple's user manual to a three-disc CD-ROM training package from DigitalOverview.com, a Pensacola, Florida-based company that also offers training for Adobe Encore. "(The discs) are amazingly easy to follow, cover everything, and easy to go back to when I need a refresher."
Charrette recently revised his demo reel DVD with DVD SP 3, and said he found it easy to give the disc a unique look with a combination of the program's templates (he says he wishes it had even more) and his own graphics. "I have my logo and tagline on the main menu, with a distorted film look and a song I put together with GarageBand," he says. "I set up ‘stories' to play different parts of the same clip, and set the default button to be a little movie of my business card."
Studio Pro 3's automatic transcoding has been a godsend, says Timberline Video's Ralph. With DVD SP 2, Ralph had to use Apple's Compressor to encode the video for DVD; the combination of DVD SP 3 and a G5 has cut his encoding time by a factor of 12. "What used to take me 24 hours with Studio Pro 2 and Compressor on a G4 takes me less than two on a G5 with Studio Pro 3," he says. "An error might typically cost me an hour on the G5 versus a day on the G4."
Ralph says that while the basics of DVD Studio Pro 3 are relatively easy to learn, it's a "deep program, and you don't want to start learning it the day you realize that iDVD won't meet client specs for a DVD master due next week."
It would be impossible to cover all the tools available for the PC, but for the sake of comparison, let's take a look at Sonic Solutions' DVDit and ReelDVD as used by Barry Peterson's United Video. Peterson does most of the camera work while his producer, Casey Petersen, handles all of the editing and authoring tasks. Petersen began authoring in DVDit 2.5, but moved on to ReelDVD because he wanted something more robust and with more capabilities. The differences between the two are indicative on a more general level of the differences between most consumer and professional authoring software. ReelDVD offers multiple audio tracks (8), universal region coding, both storyboard and timeline editing, and 32 subtitle tracks.
Petersen especially appreciates ReelDVD's ability to work with AC3 audio files (DVDit will convert files to AC3, but has difficulty with input files already in that format, he says), as well as the extra control it gives him over the button highlight sequence. "With DVDit, it was completely random," he says. "I like the ability to control which button will highlight next, as well as the increased control over button colors and highlights." (The latest iteration of DVDit, version 5, is far more powerful than version 2.5. Though Sonic still positions it as a consumer app, it offers complete button-routing and end-action control, functions typically associated with pro and prosumer software.)
As for the learning curve on ReelDVD, it's not unlike the challenge of making the leap from iDVD to DVD Studio Pro. The bottom line, though, is that if you want more control over things like button colors and sequence, and alpha-channel recognition for imported Photoshop images, you'll need to make the leap to a professional-level application. "Learning ReelDVD was challenging coming from DVDit," Petersen says, "and the trend for this type of software is to go very basic, to be very simple and easy to use and understand. But that limits to a certain degree the amount of control that a producer can have."
Other professional-level programs that have found a home in many event video studios include Adobe's Encore DVD 1.5, which features complete integration with Adobe's Photoshop (the program most everybody uses to create still graphics and button layouts for menus, especially since top DVD authoring tools are designed to recognize Photoshop layers) and Premiere Pro. Also popular is Ulead's DVD Workshop, which features many of the same features as ReelDVD and boasts a Playlist feature that allows authors to create different preset chapter/clip sequences to appeal to different viewers without repeating any content or audio/video assets on the DVD. [See Jeff Sauer's Encore 1.0 review, September 2003 EMedia, pp. 47-49; also see Jan Ozer's DVD Workshop 2 review, April 2004 EMedia, pp. 31-34.]
Of course, every authoring program is going to have its own quirks. Petersen says he still uses DVDit to mark his chapter points, because he says "ReelDVD is inaccurate, cumbersome, and slow." On the Mac side, Ralph says that DVD Studio Pro makes it difficult to replace footage on a DVD master. "I use DVDs for client review copies, so the picture and/or audio on the DVD SP timeline might have to be replaced many times," he says. "This currently involves renaming in the Finder, where it is easy to make mistakes that may not be immediately obvious." The bottom line: Whatever program you use, give yourself time to learn the vagaries of the software as well as its strong suits before you use it on a client project.
While some authoring tools are designed to work in tandem with specific nonlinear editors, there are several NLEs that also include DVD authoring as part of their feature set, such as Sony Pictures Digital's Vegas+DVD, which includes DVD Architect 2 as part of a $750 bundle (or $1,200 with a Sony DVD burner and vast audio loop library). DVD Architect offers pro-level features such as multiple audio and subtitle tracks, but doesn't present the same menu customization capabilities as the other programs we've discussed. The programs are also not integrated to the degree that Premiere and Encore are (let alone Pinnacle Liquid Edition, see below). The Vegas-to-DVD Architect workflow, in a nutshell, is edit in Vegas, output/render to MPEG-2, then launch DVD Architect to author. [See Jan Ozer's review of Vegas+DVD, July 2004 EMedia, pp. 56-59.]
Pinnacle Systems also includes DVD authoring capability in its Liquid NLEs, from the prosumer Liquid Edition all the way up to broadcast-level products like Liquid Chrome HD. With the Liquid line, editors can build DVD menus from within the NLE timeline. Cleveland-based R&B Communications uses Liquid Chrome HD for its DVD projects; since the firm does both broadcast and event videography, owner Robert Matzen says it makes sense to use an NLE/authoring combination that covers all the bases. "We used to use Pinnacle's Impression DVD, which was very comprehensive but overly complicated," says Matzen of the now-defunct product. "Since we installed Liquid Chrome, we can author directly from the NLE timeline." Liquid Chrome is a hardware/software combo that authors, encodes, and burns DVDs without having to export to a second system or third-party software, he adds, so it saves his producers the step of encoding separate MPEG files to be imported into another authoring software tool.
For videographers who don't need broadcast-level equipment, Pinnacle's Studio 9, Liquid Edition 6, and Liquid Edition Pro offer the same "author right from the NLE timeline" capability.
But even studios as well-outfitted as R&B Communications find use for less complicated software. Matzen says that they use Roxio Easy Media Creator 7 for file interchange and conversion and for quickly making DVD or VideoCD copies. The investment of $100 or less in a feature-rich, consumer-oriented program like Creator 7 will pay dividends for very simple projects that don't require the functionality of professional-quality products. In fact, using a pro authoring tool for a simple rough cut demo will likely be more time-consuming than doing the same task in a simpler program.
Station to Station
A third, and increasingly common, approach to both video editing and DVD authoring is the turnkey workstation like those from Matrox and Avid that come preconfigured with either proprietary or third-party software. Coming on strong is MacroSystem's Casablanca line of digital video workstations, which feature the company's Smart Edit 4 NLE and Arabesk 2 DVD authoring software. [See Stephen F. Nathans' review of the Casablanca AVIO PRO, January 2005, pp. 60-64; also see Lee Rickwood's review of the Casablanca Solitaire, February 2005, pp. 58-61.]
John Welsh, who runs Welsh Video Productions in the Chicago suburb of Round Lake Heights, Illinois, has recently made DVD authoring and duplication a focus of his business. He uses Casablanca systems exclusively, with both a Kron and a Prestige currently up and running. The clear upside of the "all-in-one" approach is reliability, ease of use, and technical support, Welsh says. "The stability is great, and the support is the best I've ever experienced," he says. "Everything comes through them, so there's no finger-pointing, no blaming the hardware, software, board manufacturer, etc."
The downside is that the DVD authoring features offered by Casablanca and similar systems are decidedly limited. Arabesk 2 DVD offers only minimal menu creation options (you can't, for instance, create sub-menus to allow users to access different chapters within a section), and you'll need to spend extra for additional software like MacroSystem's PIP Studio or Liquid Images to do anything beyond a fairly basic set of background and font options.
Still, Welsh says he's got no plans to change systems, even though he's putting more emphasis now on DVD than ever before. "The DVDs are basic but very easy," he says. "Most of my clients just want a conversion with some basic chapters to get around. They like seeing their names on the title screen, and that's very easy to do."
In the end, of course, you'll need to assess your needs against the features offered by the many different software options available. Welsh's last comment, however, suggests a final caveat: just as it's unwise to get carried away with transitions and effects during the video editing process, you don't want to get carried away in the DVD authoring process, either. DVDs that are too hard to navigate or present too many sub-menus only distract from the most important thing, which is your videography.
The advanced features and capabilities of the higher-end programs may be tempting, but even consumer-level tools these days let you create motion menus and classy, professional-looking titles. The real risk with the more limited tools that confine you to a particular style or scheme (like, say, Roxio's restriction of chapter menus to a small, filmstrip-like line of thumbnails across the middle of the screen) is that the one option they offer is unacceptable. Before you opt for a limited tool, make sure that its set structure appeals to you, and presents your content in a way that is clear, attractive, and accessible to your clients. Keep it simple, and find an authoring tool you can master, rather than one that offers more features—and challenges—than you need.
In the Spotlight
Digital Video - Done Right! www.geocities.com/dvdr2003/
R&B Communications, Inc. www.rbcommunications.net
Timberline Video www.timberlinevideo.com
United Video, Inc. www.unitedvideoinc.com
Welsh Video Productions, Inc. www.welshvideo.com