When I'm finishing up a video for a client, one of the important steps in the process is to design the DVD menus. When the DVD is done, I still have to design and print the disc label and the "cover art" of the package insert. Like most videographers, I like to think of myself as the creative type and pretty savvy about the visual arts, and I've spent a lot of hours in Photoshop coming up with original artwork for these project elements.
It pains me to admit it, but there are many graphic designers who are better than I am. One of them is Lance Gray, who's been selling his designs to videographers for several years through the company he built with cohorts Brian Gunn and Russ Jolly, PixelPops Design. The latest offering from PixelPops is a product called PopDrops, and it's a great timesaver as well as an outstanding source of beautiful graphics for your DVD projects.
All in the Family
PixelPops currently offers two volumes of PopDrops. Each volume consists of a DVD with more than 30 different designs. Each design actually is a family of project elements, so you can have a pre-made template for each project element, with each template having a unified "look."
Each design "family" has at least four DVD menus: a main menu and a chapter menu, each of which comes in a stills-only version and a version with insets for motion video. The volumes also include a DVD label and a case insert, provided in both 150dpi and 300dpi resolutions.
But there are a lot more than 30 "looks" possible. All these graphics are Photoshop PSD files with a consistent set of layers making up the image. You can change the overall color of the image with a single mouse-click, change the title font, turn off various elements of the background image, reposition or resize elements, or substitute your own graphic elements to create an entirely new design.
Besides the actual content, the PopDrops DVD contains detailed instructions on how to use the graphics, including instructions on how to substitute your own photos and video clips for the "placeholders" in the PopDrops graphics.
PopDrops DVD menus are designed to work best with Adobe Encore DVD because the layers in the PSD files follow Encore's naming conventions exactly. Using PopDrops with Encore unleashes the full power of these graphics; you don't have to go back and forth between Photoshop and your authoring program until the menu is just right. You can make all necessary changes without leaving Encore.
Thus, videographers need not even have Photoshop installed on their system if they're doing their DVD authoring in Encore, although it's certainly helpful. And if you're running Encore, there's a good chance you're using the full Adobe Video Collection anyway and doing your image work in Photoshop.
PopDrops also will work with other DVD authoring applications, but not nearly as seamlessly. (Lance Gray tells me that he plans to make other versions available soon that are specifically targeted to work with other popular authoring programs.) When using PopDrops with a different authoring program, you'll need to have Photoshop.
I used PopDrops to develop menus in four different authoring applications: Adobe Encore 1.5, Sony DVD Architect 3, Sonic DVDit Pro 6, and Sonic MyDVD. Encore by far proved the easiest program to use with PopDrops; you just open the menu and start editing. I didn't have the font used by the design I chose, so an error message popped up as soon as I opened the file. But this didn't pose a problem, because it's easy to substitute any font that you do have on your system. Also, all the fonts used in creating the PopDrops images are listed in the PopDrops information files, so you can install them from a font collection such as those that come with Photoshop, Encore, or CorelDraw.
PixelPops also notes on their Web site that PopDrops are Mac-compatible. I didn't do any testing with DVD Studio Pro, but presumably the same caveats apply as with the non-Adobe Windows authoring tools: you may have to tweak the PopDrops PSD files in Photoshop to make the templates work more effectively with DVD SP.
For DVD Architect—the DVD authoring adjunct to Sony's popular Vegas NLE—the first step was to open the PopDrops menus in Photoshop. The next step was to rename the layers to correspond to DVD Architect's naming conventions. I also had to merge the title layer and all the elements of the background, and delete the handy colorization layers; DVD Architect recognizes only background and button images in Photoshop layers.
There also was a problem in the way that DVD Architect treated the button highlights. Instead of remaining in their proper place in the image, DVD Architect insisted on centering the highlights in their buttons. This makes the PopDrops highlights, which are little "bullets" placed to the left or right of the button text, useless for authors working with DVD Architect. DVD Architect users should rely instead on the program's own highlighting features.
It's also worth noting that you'll need version 3 or later of DVD Architect to work effectively with PopDrops menus; earlier versions do not recognize Photoshop files. You can use programs that won't import PSD files, but you will have to save out each layer as a separate image, and import them as TGA files, or another flat bitmap format.
Sonic DVDit and MyDVD
Sonic DVDit Pro 6 (see Jan Ozer's October review) will recognize Photoshop files, but it's severely limited in the number of layers it will allow—either two or three, depending on the intended use of the image, as a background, a button, or a frame. You can use PopDrops with DVDit, but you'll have to separate out the various layers and do a lot of flattening (combining layers). I found DVDit to be the least tolerant of the authoring apps; the images that didn't meet its expected standards wouldn't be accepted.
MyDVD is one of those "we'll do everything for you to make it easy" applications, so it has little flexibility when it comes to manipulating and customizing layered imagery. However, somewhat surprisingly, it did recognize PopDrops' PSD files. It's necessary to import the file twice; once for the backgrounds bin, and once for the buttons bin. The background elements should be merged, as with DVD Architect. Annoyingly, each layer appears as a separate graphic element in MyDVDs element bins, and none of them can be deleted without deleting the whole PSD file. Once imported, the various elements are easy to drag to MyDVD's compilation window to re-assemble the menu. As with DVD Architect, PopDrops' highlights are of no use here; but MyDVD automatically highlights the button text for you.
PopDrops' PSD files have been created for maximum design flexibility and are fully compatible with Adobe products like Encore. As we've seen, while non-Adobe authoring programs may be able to import the PSD files, they may not be able to read or handle PopDrops' PSD layers without some tweaking by the user. Nevertheless, the excellent graphics make the purchase of one or both volumes worthwhile. Each volume is priced at $250, or you can get both volumes in a bundle for $450. If you figure one hour of your time is worth $50, it won't take too long for PopDrops to pay for themselves.