|A Creative COW Book Review
In this article, CreativeCOW leader Alex Alexzander reviews Designing DVD Menus: How to Create Professional-looking DVDs written by Michael Burns and George Cairns, and published by CMP Books, 191 pages, December 2004, ISBN: 1-57820-259-0, and finds that... "Designing DVD Menus is a book that fills exactly the gap left by the software publishers. This book doesn't specifically teach us to author DVDs using any one authoring application. Instead, this book is all about how to create professional-looking DVDs...This book is a lesson in creative design and intuitive navigation."
Have you ever considered why DVDs are the fastest-growing medium in the history of entertainment? DVDs encompass much more than just owning a copy of the movies we love so much. Customers of commercial DVDs have come to expect much more content than what the original movie offers in its theatrical release. When we buy a DVD, we not only want to see the film at least once more; we also want to see all that went into the film. If there are deleted scenes, we want to see those deleted scenes. If there is an alternative ending, we want to see that alternative ending. Each film has a tremendous amount of extra and interesting footage, imagery, spoken comments, interviews, and fun and often interesting stories about the filming itself to offer. However, all of these extras are simply not viable in the theater setting where we're all gathered together, quietly if possible, to enjoy the results of months of filmmaking and editing. These extras are, however, perfect for adding extra value to the DVD we as movies watchers wish to own.
DVDs are the first interactive delivery medium that gives the watcher choices never-before available in how to experience the film at home. They go far beyond just a home-recorded version of the movie we saw at the theater. DVDs offer multiple ways to listen to and watch the film. This experience comes to us in the form of subtitles, director comments, extra scenes never before seen, and even still images such as the original storyboards that helped define the process of filming the movie. Sometimes DVDs bring us directly to the set and allow us a unique perspective of the filmmaking process itself. They can show us the scope of the project, and even humor us with all the funny things that may have gone wrong in the process of filming.
DVDs allow the user to pick scenes they wish to watch, and we even choose the language we wish to hear the movie spoken in. Often the watcher can choose to experience the film in either Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound or just plain stereo sound.
The one problem with so many optional features is that we need to offer these choices to the user in such a way that is obvious from the moment the DVD is presented to the user for the first time. When presenting these choices we also need to work within the guidelines of what the DVD technology can deliver; what our televisions can deliver. And we need to present all of this in a manner that complements the film itself.
When we purchase DVD authoring software, the intension of the software publishers is to teach us the functions they have provided. They help us understand how to make use of their applications. These manuals often do not include good design principles. Instead, they focus entirely on teaching the use of the software itself. It's up to you to provide the creativity that complements the DVD's contents.
Designing DVD Menus is a book that fills exactly the gap left by the software publishers. This book doesn't specifically teach us to author DVDs using any one authoring application. Instead, this book is all about how to create professional-looking DVDs. To accomplish that, we need to become masters of presentation. We need to become DVD designers. We need to understand the artistic side of authoring, not just the technical mastery required to operate the authoring software itself. This book is a lesson in creative design and intuitive navigation.
The authors of this book have divided these subjects into five basic sections, each building on the last. By following the concepts presented here, you will learn to design professional-looking menus that offer intuitive navigation.
Let's start with the first of these five sections now.
The authors begin with an overview of the kinds of media that are common in DVDs. This acts as a primer of sorts so we first understand what kinds of assets we can expect to use in any DVD project. Think of all the kinds of media you might use in any given DVD. More than just audio and video, but storyboards and images and even multiple languages are all potential content in any DVD. As DVD authors with so much optional content to offer, you must also create simple and intuitive options for the user from which to choose from. In order to accomplish this, you need to understand how menus deliver content and what constitutes ease of use. You also need to understand the design limitations of the menu and its navigation.
The simple building blocks of the menu itself begin with nothing more than a background, which can be a static image or even an animation with audio, and its adjoined subpicture overlay used to establish buttons for the menu's navigation.
As a beginner's example of menu design in its most basic form, the authors introduce us to template-based authoring. Both the Macintosh and the PC platforms are covered here with the use of Apple's iDVD and DVD Studio Pro, and Pinnacle Studio and Adobe Encore DVD. Templates provide us with ready-made versions of backgrounds and subpicture overlays and serve as an example of what you will be creating on your own.
There are many template-based menus outlined here. As you continue through these pages exposing yourself to the many well-designed menus, you'll soon have your own ideas about your own menus based on your own project content.
There are also practical examples here of how professional DVD authors and clients define the content and architecture of real-world DVDs. This chapter concludes with a showcase section which provides tips and insights into the use and reuses of materials that designers use to create a consistent design that spans the DVD, its contents, and its packaging.
This is where the prior topics now begin to take greater shape. As I said earlier, four authoring applications are used as template-based examples, and each of those authoring systems now has a separate walk-through lesson to help you through using the templates that each offers. As an example, you actually have four small step-by-step lessons here on how to make use of and customize the templates provided with Apple's iDVD and Pinnacle Studio. You are taken from customization of the template on through to linking all your assets and then on to finalizing the DVD itself.
More complex templates are covered in this same section using Apple's DVD Studio Pro and Adobe's Encore DVD. In this section you learn more about the creation of the subpicture overlay with applications such as Adobe's Photoshop.
As before, we end this section with more showcase examples. The point here is to introduce you to the concept of further enhancing your DVD projects through the use of templates and your own subpicture overlay. Think of this section as maximizing your use of your authoring application's included templates.
Anyone who is moving from hobbyist to professional or anyone with a desire to create a more professional-looking DVD ought to love this section. There are basic principles everyone should follow when designing menus and planning navigation. If you have ever asked anyone else for ideas for menus, then perhaps this is the best section in the book for you.
This section is all about how to establish a theme for your DVD, while working within the viewing limitations of the intended audience. Most of the time, you'll be designing for a television standard, or a computer screen. Each presents their own limitations and strengths. You'll not want to clutter the screen with buttons or use confusing navigation. There is much to consider when designing a menu and its navigation. Know your audience, and know what is acceptable. There are many excellent examples here to help you. As you read through these examples, you will be presented with many tips to keep you well within your specific audience's grasp.
One really nice method used to teach design here is that the authors often show you multiple examples of the same menu, but designed in slightly different ways. As you see samples of okay, better, and best designs you start to gain an appreciation for the subtle ways simple changes can affect your menu's overall appearance. This entire section is not based on any one authoring application, either. It is simply about the design and design principles focused specifically for you, the DVD author.
This section is all about motion menus. Immediately displayed is the "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" menu, which is described in detail. If you saw the film, you already know it is a comedy. Looking at the main menu of the DVD and reading the description of what work went into it, you appreciate the menu much more. It also serves as a good example of how a simple section of the footage you already have can be used to make a spectacular menu for your project with just a little more treatment.
There are also practical step-by-step examples designed to help you enhance your menus. You'll learn to do simple things like use iMovie to create and export chapter previews for a chapter menu within DVD Studio Pro. You'll also learn complex menu transitions with Adobe's After Effects. You'll discover how to best use text over your backgrounds, or motion menus, and how to consider overlays and even audio for truly professional results.
In this last section, you learn about a few of the more innovative things you can add to your DVD projects with the use of DVD-ROM content, the use of Apple's DVD@CCESS, and the use of the InterActual and PCFriendly applications. (As a side note, a new product from Sonic Solutions called eDVD now offers access to the InterActual capabilities discussed in this book.)
You'll learn four basic components of design and interaction that work together to give users an intuitive sense of a menu's functionality.
Last-minute items to consider such as parental controls and offering varying versions of the same content are also discussed. Testing your DVD through the use of your application's simulator functions and, finally, burning your DVD is also covered here.
The glossary is filled with good explanations of terms such as Chrominance, Channels, Broadcast Legal, Field, DVD-RW, and DVD+RW and are all covered and with clear descriptions that are very easily understood.
©Copyright 2005 Alex Alexzander and Creative Cow
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