While many event videographers still outsource their DVD authoring, the numbers that choose to create DVDs in-house have risen significantly in the last three years. Videographers, new and old, have begun to realize just how easy (and potentially profitable) it is to throw together a even a simple DVD and how much fun it can be to take full advantage of the creative possibilities that DVD offers. This month's Studio Time takes a look into the mind of one individual who has found joy in mastering the last step in any DVD-bound event video project: Loi Banh, founder of Vancouver, British Columbia-based studio, bluecore media, and winner of the 2002 and 2003 WEVA Creative Excellence gold medals for DVD authoring.
In the Beginning…
Banh didn't get into the event videography racket until the digital media deluge at the turn of the millennium. Even though he had a background in video editing and graphic design, Banh had written off a career in video production until the advent of DV and affordable computers capable of editing video. bluecore media officially started in the fall of 2000, Banh says, "to capitalize on the advertising window for the upcoming wedding season, with full-time business thereafter." In the four years since, bluecore media has worked exclusively on weddings.
"There is a huge market for wedding videos," says Banh. "Compared to photos, video is still very much on the rise, as more couples realize the value of a professionally edited and shot wedding. But the majority of wedding videographers charge too little for the amount of work they do, myself included," he continues. "We need to raise the bar of wedding videos and eliminate the perception that producing wedding videos is not lucrative. It can be very lucrative, even in small markets, if you market yourself well and, most importantly, if you actually produce work people are willing to pay for."
Though, he was a relative latecomer to the field, it didn't take long for Banh to establish himself on the cutting edge of technological development. Within a year of bluecore's inception, he dove headfirst into DVD production. "DVD-Video is the natural progression of consumer video technology," explains Banh. "When it became economical enough to justify going to DVD, the decision was made to do so without hesitation." But it wasn't just a matter of economics. "It also made sense as the thought of putting high-quality digital video from a 2/3" CCD onto an analog VHS seemed ridiculous," Banh says.
"I began DVD production in 2001 at the same time Apple introduced their groundbreaking line of Quicksilver G4s with SuperdDrives," Banh continues. This machine has proven reliable enough that he still uses it as his main DVD production workstation, with DVD Studio Pro for authoring, Adobe Photoshop for initial menu design and layout, and Adobe After Effects for motion menus, text, and layer composites.
bluecore's basic contract includes two DVDs with chapters—which Banh recommends as a part of any DVD—but no menus or special features. Each additional copy officially costs $75. "Mostly I give away extra DVDs at no cost, as it is advertising right there," Banh says. "The $75 fee is just a contingency for the possible bridezillas."
Menus and other special features also are available at a premium. "Unless a client is willing to pay extra," says Banh, "I make the DVD as simple as possible." (For particularly simple projects, DVD Studio Pro is often overkill; Banh heartily recommends iDVD 4 to "those looking for fast and easy DVD creation.")
For clients wanting to tap bluecore's proven DVD authoring abilities, Banh says, "our deluxe DVDs start at $300 and up, depending on the complexity and amount of bonus material." This bonus material can include motion menus, subtitles, additional audio mixes, 5.1 surround, outtakes, vignettes, slideshows, highlights, and more. "The DVDs employ some very advanced features in the DVD spec, such as scripting and the use of variables to control how the client interacts with the DVD," Banh says. "I'll create a script that remembers where the viewer is on a particular menu, so as they select submenus, they can always return to the correct main menu." He learned this skill simply by reading through a handful of tutorials he found on the Web and in print. Banh credits this reasonably low learning curve as a key factor in his winning the two Creative Excellence awards. These awards "show that anyone with creativity and some skill can put together a low-cost DVD that rivals what Hollywood can produce," he says.
Packaging is another way to try and achieve that Hollywood-level sheen, although style should never interfere with a disc's playability. "I recently switched from using paper labels to using no labels at all," says Banh. "Some clients had playback problems using DVDs with paper labels." To avoid losing out on the free advertising that disc labels provide, Banh advises his clients to keep their disc stored in its Amaray case, which has a full-color photographic-quality cover label that include's bluecore's branding.
Taking advantage of the low cost of DVD media, Banh's next DVD project involves creating a studio demo DVD of bluecore's recent weddings, which will be mailed to prospective clients. "This promotional DVD will undoubtedly employ many of the techniques currently in use for our client DVDs," says Banh. "It will make extensive use of scripting and additional audio tracks in the form of a commentary from brides and the video producers, plus it will include loads of DVD-ROM content including QuickTime movies, PDF brochures, and other literature."
Entering the Third Dimension
bluecore's technological expertise isn't relegated to the realm of DVD authoring; Banh has experience with 3D modeling as well. "The company name ‘bluecore media' came from the name of a superhero I conceived and modeled in 3D while in high school," Banh says, back in the days when computer-generated 3D animation was revolutionizing the way Hollywood movies were being made. Unfortunately, he hasn't had much of an opportunity to take advantage of this skill in his video productions. "Generally, you'd want to stay away from 3D graphics in wedding videos because the effect can look extremely cheesy," he says.
Because of the time-consuming nature of designing 3D titles or effects, he hasn't found their inclusion particularly cost-effective either. "The only time I've used a 3D model was in adding a digital butterfly into a real garden setting," Banh says. Even then, Banh says he used it only because he thought the effect would work and look somewhat believable. "Had the butterfly not looked real enough, I would have scrapped the whole garden scene and re-edited that segment."
While Banh doesn't plan on 3D becoming a large part of his work, he says the butterfly may be gaining a companion in the future. "Dragonflies are really big right now," he says, "so I might look into adding a digital dragonfly into my productions."
Give me the Big Picture
Another thing that separates Banh from his competition is his use of a 2/3" CCD broadcast digital camera "when most of my competitors are using 1/3," he says. "The side-by-side comparison in image quality is striking."
Banh also shoots the majority of his projects in full anamorphic widescreen, "which no other company in my competitive area can boast," he claims. That competitive advantage is only one reason why Banh chose to go with widescreen; "16:9 allows the subjects in the frame to breathe," he says. "And since widescreen more closely mirrors our own field of view, it's actually more natural to shoot and compose for 16:9." His camera of choice is a Sony DSR500 16:9 DVCAM.
This cinematic perspective extends beyond aspect ratio, as Banh tries to distinguish his work by giving his videos a movie-like feel. "I think it's uncommon to find the disciplines of filmmaking applied towards wedding videos," he explains. "By disciplines of filmmaking, I mean things like using the tripod whenever possible, even when it would be easier and quicker going handheld; fully manual operation of camera and audio gear; and constantly looking at capturing the action from a different perspective and from a viewpoint that reinforces either an idea or an emotion that helps carry the movie along."
He applies this approach to his editing as well: taking 60 hours to edit down an entire day's events into a 30-minute non-linear video. "My videos do not always start at the bridal prep, but could, for instance, start at the first dance and work backwards as the story of the couple is slowly peeled back, detail by detail."