Tutorial: Designing Dynamic DVD Menus with the Adobe Video Collection
Posted Oct 14, 2005

Award-winning videographer and Adobe certified trainer Luisa Winters presents a step-by-step tutorial on how to create customized motion menus in Encore DVD, maximizing the interchange capabilities of the Adobe Video Collection.

When it comes to DVD authoring, one of the things that greatly differentiates a consumer-authored DVD and a professionally made one is presentation. Pretty covers and elegant labels are a nice bonus, but they do little to distinguish a DVD once it's in a player. The real hallmarks of professionally authored DVDs are the menus, the navigation tools that the user will have to use to access the information that the DVD contains.

DVD is a nonlinear medium by design; if you're authoring DVDs that can play only sequentially, you're not taking advantage of the technology's strengths or offering your clients much that they couldn't have gotten in the VHS era. Menus enable users to access any desired part of the DVD instantly. But that's just the functional side of menus. DVD menus do not have to be boring or plain; they can convey the video's essence and even entice the viewer to sample some particular part of the DVD ahead of others (bloopers, outtakes, etc.).


In our world, we do not have the luxury (or the budget) to hire a big graphics and animation house to create sleek-looking menus; we need to create these ourselves. Fortunately for us, using Encore DVD, which is Adobe's DVD authoring application, available as a standalone program or as part of the Adobe Video Collection, we can quickly create compelling DVD menus that will be based on the templates that Adobe includes with the program. Some of these are really nice.

We can also use some pre-made templates, like PopDrops, which are templates for Encore DVD created by PixelPops Design in Texas. (See www.pixelpops.com for more information on PopDrops, now available in volumes 1 & 2, reviewed in next month's EventDV.)

Customize It! (Basic to Intermediate)

Even if you start with templates—whether from PopDrops or another third-party provider, or using Adobe's own—you can totally customize these menus and even give them movement by using Encore DVD, Photoshop, and After Effects in combination. Let's say, for example, that you want to use an existing template, but that you want it to change it a bit.

The process is simple. Use one of the menus included with Encore, just like you would normally. Choose Menu from the Project window, and then go to Edit>Edit in Photoshop (or use the shortcut Shift+Ctrl+M), as shown in Figure 1 , and the menu will open in Photoshop. We'll use NTSC Radiant Menu.

Now it's time to customize this image. Maybe you want to change the blue coloring of this menu to a more sepia-toned one. For this, you need to add an adjustment layer. Click on the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon, located in the Layer window (Figure 2), and select Hue/Saturation. A new window will open, and in here, check the box labeled Colorize and select the following settings: Hue: 32, Saturation: 41, and Lightness: -4; and click OK (Figure 3).

Now you need to look at the Layer window to find this newly formed layer (it should be positioned above all other layers). If it's not, then you need to grab it and drag it there. An Adjustment layer is a layer that will modify all the layers below it.

After you drag the Adjustment layer up, you will notice that the color of your original menu has changed. To use this menu in Encore, all you have to do is press Ctrl+S (Save) and return to Encore to find your newly customized menu waiting for you. Pretty easy, isn't it? What's even better is that you can graduate the amount of "coloring" that you give the menu by adjusting the transparency of the Adjustment layer (Figure 4). Try it on your own again, sampling different kinds of Adjustment layers, giving them your own settings and playing around with different colors and transparencies.

Give It Motion (Intermediate to Advanced)

In Encore DVD you can have moving video inside of your menu thumbnails, but what if you could move those thumbnails around? This is where After Effects comes in.

First, it is important to note that moving menus, per se, do not exist in DVDs. What DVDs actually contain are background videos, or actual movies that end in a frame that is the same frame that you will use to create the menu. This is what we will create: a video that will end in a frame; and we will use very same frame to create a DVD menu, giving the illusion that the menu buttons moved.

In Encore DVD, choose the Sky Up Submenu template and create a new menu. If you desire, change the names of the chapters (Figure 5). For this task, I will leave the chapter names as they are.

I will, however, replace the default "Scene Selections" label with the name of my client. This is a submenu, but I will make it my main menu. When I have finished, my menu will have the name of my client and the name of my company (Figure 6 ). There will be no Main Menu button—this won't be necessary.

Now, in the Project window, go to the Menu bar and select Menu > Create After Effects Composition (Figure 7). A new window will open prompting you to name your file (it needs to save a copy before processing in After Effects). After you name it, After Effects will open automatically (Figure 8).

Getting Started in After Effects

When After Effects opens, it will automatically open the Render Queue window. You can temporarily close this window; we'll need to work in the Composition window before rendering anything. Go to the Menu bar and select Composition > Composition Settings and change the duration of your composition to 10 seconds.

In the Project window, double-click on the Composition icon, and the Composition window will open (Figure 9). In the Comp window, press and hold the Alt key and double-click on the Chapter 1 layer (layer 6). This will open its parent Comp. So now you will have two tabs in the Timeline: one called "Comp 1" and the other one called "(+) Chapter 1."

Creating the Thumbnails

Now it's time to create thumbnails. To do so, do the following:

1. Click on the Project window and import your finished master tape into After Effects—we will take the video clips that we need from here. To import a file into After Effects, in the Project window use the shortcut Ctrl+I.

2. In the Project window, double-click on this imported clip so that it opens in its own Clip window (Figure 10).

3. From the Clip window, select in and out points for the footage that you would like to be shown inside the thumbnail for Chapter 1.

4. After you've finished selecting in and out points, click on the Overlay Edit icon, located in the Layer window (Figure 11). This will insert the video on the top layer of the Timeline window. After Effects will insert this layer at the point in time where you have positioned the CTI (Current Time indicator, a.k.a. the "edit line"). Before overlaying this video, make sure that the CTI is at the beginning.

5. Make sure that the active Comp is the one named "(+) Chapter 1." Click on that tab in the Comp (Monitor) window.

6. Move the video down so that it is located right below (%) video layer.

7. Select your video layer and press S.

8. Change the scale of your video to 18% (Figure 12).

9. With the video layer still selected, press P and give it the following values: 130, 188.

10. Select the (%) video layer.

11. At the bottom of the Timeline window, click on the Switches/Modes column (Figure 13) until you see a box labeled Normal above the Position numbers of the video layer.

12. Click on this box (for the (%) video layer) and change the setting from Normal to Stencil/Alpha. You now should be able to see the video through the layer; if you play it, you will see that it moves.

13. Move the layer Chapter 1 (at the bottom of the Comp), so that it is above the (%) video layer.

Next, select the Master Comp layer tab (Comp 1) and see if the video is visible there. You should see it, but what happened to the background? You can no longer see the background because the blending mode that we changed in the previous layer is preventing us from seeing the layers below it. To avoid this, locate the Collapse Transformations icon, which is found in the column next to the layer's name, and de-select it (Figure 14). You will notice, as you click, that now you can see the background.

Next , following the same steps, assign each of the chapter stops an appropriate video for their thumbnails (Figure 15). You should also give each one different position values so that they will be located where they need to be.

Animate the Thumbnails

After you've finished placing videos under all of the chapter thumbnails, it's time to animate these thumbnails themselves. This will be accomplished in the Composition named Comp 1, which is your master Comp. To animate the thumbnails, do the following:

1. Move your CTI to about 8 seconds into the Comp (almost at the end, provided you used 10 seconds duration for the Comp).

2. Select the layers that contain the moving video (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4).

3. Press and hold Alt+Shift+P. This will add a Keyframe for all of those layers, for position, at this point in time.

4. Press Home. This will take the CTI to the first frame of the Comp.

5. Press F2 to de-select the selected layers.

6. In the Monitor window, you now can drag each thumbnail individually to any part of the screen. As the Comp plays, it will go to the desired position in 8 seconds.

7. Experiment with this process until you're satisfied with the results—move text, move layers, change things around. Be sure, though, that the layers "end" how you want the menu to look.

Now that you have finsihed animating the thumbnails, it is time to export this movie. In the Render Queue, this Comp should be queued, so all you have to do is click on the Render clip and select where you would like to save this file. Then export the Photoshop file that will be the Menu in Encore DVD.

Next, we need to pre-render these layers, because we are using some blending modes that are not compatible with Photoshop. To pre-render the layer you need to open the parent Comps:

1. Select the layers Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 and press Alt while double-clicking. This will open all of the Comps in their individual tabs in the Comp window.

2. Select the Chapter 1 tab.

3. In the Composition pull-down, select Pre-render (Figure 16 ). Repeat this step for the other three Comps.

4. Open the Render Queue window.

5. Select a place for After Effects to save these movies and click Render (Figure 17).

Note how the icons in the Master Comp have changed from showing a Comp to showing a movie.

To continue creating your Menu from this file, do the following:

1. Press End on your keyboard.

2. In the Composition pull-down, select Save Frame As > Photoshop Layers.

3. Give your file a name and click OK.

By now you should have a movie of this Comp as well as a Photoshop file that consists of the last frame of said movie. Good! Let's close After Effects and go back to Encore DVD.

In Encore

Back in Encore, you can delete the original menu; you won't need it anymore. You can now import the master tape that you want to deliver to your client and the movie that you just made in After Effects. To build the elements you've created into your DVD menu, do the following:

1. Import the Photoshop file that you exported from AE as a Menu.

2. Right-click on your master video and select New Timeline (Figure 18 ). This will create a timeline that will have the same name as your video. Here you'll create new chapters (you should have a total of four chapters for this Timeline).

3. Right-click the movie that you created in After Effects and select New Timeline. Do not create any chapter stops in here.

4. In the Project window, right-click on the Timeline that you just created (the one that contains the movie that you created in AE) and select Set as First Play.

5. Select the same Timeline again, and in the Properties window select the menu for your End Action. You should have only one Menu in this Project.

6. Double-click the Menu and select the buttons one by one. You will notice that they are not buttons in here—they're objects—so you need to turn them into buttons. This is easy: right-click them one by one and select Convert to Button. After you've finished converting your objects to buttons, link the buttons to their respective chapters on the Master Timeline.

So, the navigation of your DVD should be as follows: First comes your First Play video, the movie you created in After Effects. The end action of this timeline is to go to the menu that you created in After Effects. After this, your viewers can select whichever chapter they wish to see.

Preview the DVD and now you'll notice that the highlight that falls on the buttons when you select them is really ugly. We can take care of this by selecting this menu in the Project window and choosing Edit in Photoshop from the Edit window, just as we did in the first tutorial (see Figure 1 ).

In Photoshop

When Photoshop opens, adjust your highlight to be whichever size you wish and now preview your DVD again. Remember to leave the highlights hidden after you have finished customizing them.

Now you have your final DVD, ready for delivery (Figure 19). It looks sleek, and you know that your client will love it!