Sprucing Up Your Blu-ray Discs
Posted Nov 1, 2008

Once you produce your first DVD, you know that the video that you shoot is only a portion of the deliverable—albeit a large portion. Adding to the production value of the project are backgrounds for menus and titles, art for DVD labels, and the appropriate disc logos. Then, of course, you’ve got to record and print the disc(s) and perhaps even duplicate them.

Most of us have been doing this for years with DVD±R discs, but the move to high-definition and Blu-ray Disc production involves a whole new toolset. In this article, I’ll identify the most common third-party elements of a Blu-ray production and describe where to obtain them. If you’re making the move from SD to HD production and delivery, this should help you streamline the process.

Stock footage can make or break your production, which is why most professionals liberally sprinkle their productions with third-party content. There are multiple companies that license and sell royalty-free stock footage and animated backgrounds; I’ll discuss four of the largest suppliers in this article. Many of these will be familiar to EventDV readers, of course, but as we make the move to HD and update our skills accordingly, it’s also important to update our knowledgebase of the HD tools available for polishing up our work.

Digital Juice
Digital Juice has a broad HD product offering. I’ll discuss the three most relevant to Blu-ray Disc producers, which are the Editor’s Toolkit Pro, Editor’s Themekit, and Jump Backs HD. As shown in Table 1, Editor’s Toolkit Pro Mega Libraries cost $169.95 each and contain six to 10 HD/SD sets of content. Each set includes multiple background animations, perfect for titles or DVD menus, along with similarly themed overlays, lower thirds, transitions, and mattes to incorporate into your video production. Each set also includes multiple image files in Photoshop PSD format that you can use for labeling or packaging.

If you can find a theme that works for your project, these toolkits are a great way to add a consistent and polished touch to your productions. Unfortunately, in the switch from Editor’s Toolkit to Editor’s Toolkit Pro, finding the right toolkit became much more difficult. That’s because Digital Juice moved away from theme-specific titles such as weddings, sports, Christmas, and the like to nonspecific names like Drift Away I, Ethereal, and Reflective Thoughts. Though there are titles such as Corporate/Industrial and High Tech & Internet, there’s nothing identified as being designed specifically for weddings, churches, worship, or similar relevant categories.

As the name suggests, this grouping of content is the province of the Editor’s Themekit, which costs less but contains much less content. For example, the older, standard-definition Wedding Editor’s Toolkit contained 23 animated backgrounds with matching content, while the current Editor’s Themekit contains only five backgrounds, which makes it much harder to find one that fits your production.

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This also holds true for all of the other design components. Basically, in the move from SD to HD, I wanted a high-definition version of the previous wedding toolkits, which Digital Juice simply doesn’t provide. In addition, Digital Juice doesn’t currently offer any of its products for online sale, a potential problem if you’re on deadline.

The final product, Jump Backs HD, contains only the background animations and no other design elements. There are 59 volumes, but none are wedding- or worship-specific.

To Digital Juice’s credit, the company has greatly enhanced the utility of its Juicer software program, which now enables you to browse and preview all content available from Digital Juice, whether you’ve actually purchased the content or not. You can also touch a product category and then keyword-search for relevant content, which is useful.

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Digital Juice ships its HD content in full 1920x1080p resolution in QuickTime format, which should be compatible with most editors. It loaded fine into both Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro in my tests. If you’re working in SD resolutions, you can also use Juicer to sample the content down to a lower resolution, or simply use the scaling controls in your editor to do the same.

12 Inch Design
Like Digital Juice, 12 Inch Design offers multiple products, as shown in Table 2. ProductionBlox contains 35 general-purpose animated backgrounds with five matching static and animated design elements such as lower-third titles and mattes. There are eight volumes, all priced between $99 (SD) and $149 (1080/24p). Though the items are not separated by theme, you can preview all content on the company’s website to make sure you’re getting a theme with the desired content.

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ThemeBlox are similar, but they are built around specific themes, including Worship and Weddings themes, and have more matching design elements than the ProductionBlox. The Wedding ThemeBlox has the most, with 157 total items, including 45 backgrounds; 15 animated elements such as rings, bells, flowers, and balloons; 21 frames with mattes; 8 lower-third titles; and 68 text titles such as Father of the Bride and Mazel Tov. Most other ThemeBlox have about 70 components. Other potentially relevant ThemeBlox include Sports, Business and Money, Patriotic and Election, and Hi-Tech and Medical.

Finally, PowerBlox contain about 200 design elements in multiple categories, including transitions, backgrounds, static ramps mattes, and DVD menus. Available only in SD, these compilations cost $149. 12 Inch Design offers very attractive bundle deals, including all seven ThemeBlox sets for a total of $249. You can also buy content for immediate download, but prices are high compared to the complete set (e.g., $49.95 for a single background). At this writing only SD—not HD—versions of the content were available for download.

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12 Inch Design delivers its HDV-compatible content using HDV parameters (1440x1080, 29.97 fps) but uses the PNG QuickTime codec rather than MPEG-2, a good quality-preserving decision. However, there’s no analog to Juicer to subsample your content down to SD resolutions. The files I tested loaded normally into Final Cut Pro and looked great when I used FCP’s scaling controls to reduce resolution to 720x480.

Animation Factory
Though the Animation Factory is light on HD wedding and church backgrounds (a grand total of one each when searching for each term in the HD backgrounds category), it could be a valuable resource for object overlays in both categories, as well as general purpose content. I found the wedding content more light-hearted than that available from other vendors, so it’s probably not appropriate for your more majestic wedding productions. But it might be great for some others.

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The site uses a keyword search to identify relevant content in each category. You buy via an annual subscription model with three levels (Gold, $59.95; Platinum, $99.95; and Pro, $199.95), though you’ll need to purchase the last to access the HD backgrounds. The website delivers its HD backgrounds in QuickTime format compressed with the H.264 codec, while delivering its lower-resolution content in the same format using the PNG codec.

Artbeats primarily sells true, film-based stock footage, but it also offers multiple libraries of animated backgrounds in both HD and SD, which you can purchase by the clip or collection, online or on disc. Single-clip pricing, however, is high, particularly in comparison to the complete collection cost. For example, each HD clip costs $300, and some collections, such as the Digital Refractions disc, cost $799 and include 12 clips.

Artbeats delivers HD clips in 1920x1080 resolution in QuickTime, Motion JPEG format. Though there’s no application like Juicer to subsample your videos before integrating them into SD projects, Artbeats does include a utility on disc that can convert each clip into sequential Targa files. Artbeats offers a keyword search function for finding stock footage, and you can play back a low-resolution version before buying. I loaded several Artbeat backgrounds into Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, which worked fine. The scaling mechanisms in both programs worked well too.

Of course, you don’t go through all the trouble of buying and using stock footage if you’re going to label your Blu-ray Disc with a Sharpie. Fortunately, if you have an inkjet printer such as the venerable Epson Stylus Photo R280, you can decorate the surfaces of printable Blu-ray Discs just as you would DVD±R discs.

At this point, vendors are limited, with only Verbatim, TDK, and Imation offering products through the normal channels; all currently available printable media are single-layer BD-R discs with a maximum capacity of 25GB. In general, Verbatim is the least expensive, with 2X inkjet-printable discs selling for $11.65 per disc if you buy a complete spindle of 25. TDK offers 4X media at $15.99 if you buy a complete spindle, while Imation has 2X media with AquaGuard in a jewel case for $19.80. (All prices courtesy of www.tapeandmediaonline.com.)

Blu-ray Disc playback compatibility is still very much an issue, so if you find a brand of media that plays consistently, don’t change your brand to save a buck or two. I’ve had consistently good recording and playback compatibility results with Verbatim, although TDK has also performed well in my tests.

If you’re in the market for duplication hardware, Primera is offering the Bravo SE-Blu Disc Publisher for $2,995 direct from the company. The unit has a 20-disc capacity and prints at 4800dpi with both Windows and Macintosh clients. Primera also has several higher-capacity, higher-priced record/ print options, including the Bravo XRP-Blu for $5,295. One great option for the Bravo XR (and not SE) is that you can purchase a network upgrade for $599 that enables multiple Windows-only clients to access the printer/recorder.
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For high-volume producers, Rimage offers several devices with up to four recorders and 300-disc capacity for more than $40,000, with single recorder/printer devices costing around $10,000. All Rimage printer/duplicators are stand-alone systems with a processor, and all can be accessed by both Mac and Windows computers over a network. Rimage also prints at 600dpi with the latest version of its Everest thermal retransfer printer, which visually matches the silkscreening used on replicated discs.

Since Blu-ray discs look so much like DVD±R discs, a logo is essential to enable your customers to tell them apart. Technically, if you don’t have a license with the Blu-ray Disc Association, you can’t use the Blu-ray Disc logo on your disc or marketing materials, and I’m not going to advise you to the contrary. Still, if you signed the agreement and misplaced the logo provided by the association, you can download a pretty fair facsimile here.

Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics and the author of Critical Skills for Streaming Producers, a mixed media tutorial on DVD published by StreamingMedia.com.