This month I'm going in a little different direction from my usual Sony Vegas Tips & Tricks columns. Since most Vegas users work with the companion DVD Architect program to author DVD and Blu-ray Discs, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to showcase some snazzy motion menus. We'll be working with Sony DVD Architect 5, Adobe After Effects CS3, and Pro Motion Menu Kits from Precomposed. Precomposed (www.precomposed.com) offers a variety of motion-menu templates for After Effects. While you do need After Effects to use the menus (versions CS3, CS4, and CS5 are supported), you don't need to be a competent After Effects user. I can attest to this, as I am as green as can be when it comes to After Effects. While the pairing of After Effects and DVD Architect isn't exactly drag and drop, it isn't too bad. And it results in some really slick menus for your DVD and Blu-ray projects.
The Pro Motion Menu Kit comes as a download weighing in at about 18MB. Once unzipped, you have access to the After Effects project file, DVD disc and cover insert Photoshop files, and a host of other graphics files, some of which are optimized for use with Adobe Encore. (Encore is Adobe's DVD authoring program; it shares tight integration with After Effects via Adobe Dynamic Link.)
First up in the list of files is a Getting Started HTML file. When you open this file, it takes you to the Precomposed website and immediately launches a tutorial movie to teach you, step by step, the basics of using Pro Motion menus in After Effects. I recommend you go through this tutorial as it does a great job of explaining how all this works in After Effects. Let me reiterate that I had no experience with After Effects prior to writing this article. It had always been one of those programs that I would "get to eventually," but "eventually" really didn't come until I started working with Precomposed menus. That said, this online tutorial gave me everything I needed to know to create great-looking motion menus from After Effects.
Customizing Your Menus in After Effects
The Precomposed project I'm working with for this article is the White Wedding motion menu, designed by Miami's own Ray Roman, a 2009 EventDV 25 all-star. You'll need a few assets before you get started, including a logo file and a 50-second piece of footage or single graphic image for the looping menu. I started with a transparent image of simple text for my logo
and a 50-second quick highlight for the main menu (Figure 1, below).
Figure 1. My logo in After Effects in Ray Roman’s White Wedding menu template
You can adjust every component of the Precomposed motion menu; text, fonts, positioning, and extra menus are all completely customizable (Figure 2, below). You can choose to render out of After Effects in either SD or HD video for DVD or Blu-ray delivery.
Figure 2. Customizing menu elements in Adobe After Effects
When you've completed the main steps of the Precomposed tutorial for After Effects, you'll be left with several QuickTime movie files. These include the opening animation, each menu's animation, and transitions from one menu to another. The transitions even include appropriate "whoosh" sound effects as the motion unfolds.
Back in DVD Architect
Open DVD Architect and drag these files into a new project. These come out of After Effects as high-quality QuickTime MOV files; this is what you want. Since these files act as menus, DVD Architect will always recompress them, so you don't want to start with highly compressed MPEG-2 files. Also at this time you'll need to include your actual video and audio files for the DVD. In most cases, these will be one or more MPEG-2 files with the same-named Dolby AC3 files (Figure 3, below).
Figure 3. My Precomposed menu elements imported into DVD Architect
Delete the default Menu 1 (Page 1) item, and the standard blue menu will disappear. Right-click on Intro Sequence and choose Set Start Item (Figure 4, below).
Figure 4. Choosing a Start item
This is the first clip that will play when the DVD is inserted in the DVD player. Double-click this clip so that it appears on the DVD Architect timeline. From here, we're going to set the End Action so that once this intro plays, the Main DVD menu appears. Only our Main Menu is actually going to be a video clip.
Ensure that the Properties window is open by choosing View > Properties from the main menu. Click the End Action button, and choose Main Menu under Destination (this is one of the clips created for you during the After Effects render), as shown in Figure 5 (below).
Figure 5. Choosing Main Menu as Destination
Back under the DVD Architect Project Overview, double-click the Main Menu clip to bring it up in the timeline. You want this menu to loop over and over, so set it to loop in the Properties by choosing End Action > Destination > Main Menu. You have three button choices on the DVD's Main Menu: Play Movie, Scene Selection, and Bonus Features. Normally, you would work with your main content at this point. But instead, we're going to first play a transition and then get into the movie. Drag the Transition Main Menu to Video file onto the menu screen (Figure 6, below).
Figure 6. Adding a transition to the menu
Creating Custom Masks (Without Creating Mask Files)
You can create custom masks for DVD Architect in Photoshop or other graphics programs. This technique is described in the manual and illustrated in Vol. 6 of VASST's Absolute Training for Vegas+DVD: Going Deeper in DVD Architect (www.vasst.com).
What I'm going to explain here is a simple way to do this without creating mask files. Right-click the "button" you just created when you dragged the transition file over and choose Button Style-Text Only from the pop-up menu. The default text in this button is simply "Text." Position this button directly over the "Play Movie" text on the motion menu (Figure 7, below).
Figure 7. Positioning the text
Resize the button to better match the "Play Movie" text on the menu. Press F2 to enter text editing, and delete the text of this button. In Properties > Button Properties, click Highlight; for Style, choose Underline. Select Color Sets > Color Set 1 > Fill Color. This will be the color of the Underline for this button. Choose any color that complements the menu. I usually use black or, by using the eyedropper tool, I sample the background menu item color and use that (pink in this case), as shown in Figure 8 (below).
Figure 8. Choosing a Fill Color in Button Properties
Double-click this button, and the transition video will load into the timeline. Set its End Action Destination to be your main video. Double-click the main video to load it in the timeline, and set its End Action Destination back to the Main Menu item.
Continue on in this way by creating buttons that link to transitions. Each subsequent button will keep the same Fill Color you defined in the first button. The Scene Selection Menu button links to the Transition Main Menu to Scenes file, whose End Action Destination is then set to the Scene Selection Menu clip; the process repeats until all menu items have buttons and End Action Destinations. Here's one very useful tip: Click the Toggle Display of End Actions button in the Project Overview window so you can keep track of what happens at the end of each file or transition (Figure 9, below).
Figure 9. The handy Toggle Display of End Actions feature in the project Overview window
Previewing the DVD
Check your work as you go. When you click Preview Disc (Ctrl+F9), you will see the Precomposed motion menus in action, starting with your logo, followed by the Main Menu looping movie and the button we created previously, which is Play Movie. Select that button and the transition plays, followed by the video you linked to.
When you've successfully linked all buttons to their transition videos, those videos to your content, and that content back to the Precomposed menu, you're just about done. Don't forget that Precomposed has included disc label and case-wrap graphics in Photoshop format for a unified presentation.
You can purchase the Precomposed menus and see demos at www.precomposed.com, with individual menu pricing starting at $89. In my opinion, these menus are worth the cost. In the few days I spent working with them, it was obvious that anyone can get immediate results by following along with the online tutorials. Anyone who knows even the basics of After Effects can fully customize the menus to their liking. These menus are very cool, very well-designed, and not the least bit cheesy. So whether you deliver on DVD or Blu-ray, use these motion menus and DVD Architect (or any other pro Mac or Windows DVD authoring app of your choice) to raise the bar and exceed your clients' expectations.
David McKnight (david at mcknightvideo.com) is half of McKnight Video of Houston. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association (HPVA), has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of Vegas Pro 9 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to TheFullHD Book (VASST). He and his wife, Christie, are winners of multiple HPVA awards.