|A Creative COW "Real World" Book Review
San Francisco, California, USA
© Alex Alexzander and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
Recently Alex Alexzander decided to explore Adobe's new video collection. As many often do, he found himself looking for that all-important supplement to the product manual before long. In this article, Alex reviews his choice: Designing Menus with Encore DVD by John Skidgel. Read on to find out why Alex gives this book 5 COWs.
Not too long ago I decided to explore Adobe's new video collection. I had heard good things about the tight integration between Adobe's Photoshop and After Effects and their new DVD authoring application, Encore DVD. By the time I actually started with Encore DVD, the 1.5 version had just been released and so I skipped 1.0 and went directly to 1.5.
As many often do, I found myself looking for that all-important supplement to the product manual before long. Just to prove that reviews really do matter, I found myself reading many reviews in the Amazon.com store. I finally settled on Designing Menus with Encore DVD by John Skidgel, which even stated that it is a version 1.5 specific book. As most of us do, I bought the book without ever seeing it, simply because many people said it is a good book and I was having trouble figuring out how the layers tab in Encore functioned. I had been building the menus directly in Photoshop and then importing them. I knew there must be a far easier way, and there most certainly is.
Part of the problem for me is that I am already an experienced DVD author. I have a method I use to build menus. I am active in the many forums that are available to all of us. This can sometimes be a problem when a new application like Adobe Encore DVD shows up. You see, people like me will often tend to believe we already know how this works. We do, for the most part, but every authoring system has its own process. We need assets to build our DVD, but how we work with these assets can be similar yet different in work flow and so we need someone to show us the process. That's my cue to start talking about the book, by the way.
This book is divided into four basic sections:
I want to go over each section to give you a good idea about what is in this book, and what makes it a great book to own. I already let the cat out of the bag so to speak in saying I think this book is great. Now let's talk about why I feel it is exceptional.
Section One: Introduction
From the start of the Introduction you are given a simple overview of the work flow between Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, and the Encore DVD authoring application. We are then shown the basics of DVD menu structure. This is useful because this book is not a re-write of the product manual. It does not start off talking about all the features of Encore DVD, or how to set the preferences and so on. Instead, this book is about great menu design. You need to understand the work flow of the applications and the structure of the menu to begin that process and that's exactly where this book begins.
The introduction goes over Highlight Groups and the differences between Still Menus and Motion Menus, Main Menus and Secondary Menus, and even a new concept for me: the Slide Show Menu.
Section Two: Designing for the Screen
One of the things that caught me a little off-guard about this second section is a chapter on interacting with the client, and pre-defining the menu design. I have been a professional consultant since the early 1990s and so the term RFP and I go hand in hand. If you are not familiar with this, I highly recommend you read this section of this book. In sales, there is a term called "selling what isn't there". It's a very hard concept for salespeople to understand this. Your typical salesperson will ask you for a product SKU and a price, but consultative sales are another animal all together. So why is this topic covered in this book? Because in reality, menus are what make a DVD a DVD in the first place. Without these menus, you have no interactivity and may as well use a VHS tape. It is this interactivity that creates the value-add you are building. It's your job to understand that building these menus is important work and it takes planning to achieve the design everyone can agree on. You want to avoid something we in the field used to call, "working in a vacuum". John Skidgel has some solid ideas about how to deal with clients in terms of presenting your ideas and working in a changing environment. If you are new to this, or are one of the many people that ask questions such as, "what should I charge for my services?", then this is much needed food for thought before you begin your new journey in the field of "selling what isn't there".
Also in the second section is a chapter on design principles. We're not talking about the way to add a button, mind you, we're talking about good design itself.
- Graphic design principles
- Combining type and images
- Production tips
Many people reading this review are the same people that have before asked how to improve the overall appearance of their menus. Have you wondered why it is that some fonts look horrible on television, while others do not? Are you aware of what complementary colors are? This one single chapter will improve your DVD menus if you take the time to apply the lessons learned here.
Section Three: Creating Still Menus
Section three begins to introduce the entire application to us. The interface is detailed extremely well. We are given a solid foundation in which to begin the tutorials, which start in this section beginning in chapter seven. The tutorials are broken down into very simple steps that anyone can follow.
You start by opening up a simple background in Adobe Photoshop which will serve as your DVD's main menu. You add text and subpictures while working with the layers pallet. Lesson one is just eight simple steps, and by lesson two, you will have learned to import your menu into Encore DVD. Here is an example of just the first two lessons. We can see that already we have learned how to create a menu, menu buttons, and the subpicture.
By following these twelve simple steps you learn to create a DVD from the ground up. This is a great way to learn Encore DVD because rather than just reading about it, you actually follow along and do it. As you see the applications working together, you reinforce the lessons. I found these lessons to be quick and simple. You don't get too lost in the process because they are each very short, sort of component tasks of a larger project. Each lesson is designed to teach you a simple task.
By the time you are done with Section Three, you will have finished most of what you need to know.
Section Four: Creating Motion Menus
Section 4 continues the lessons, which at this time are now focused on timeline and a simple motion menu. Here the topic is a thumbnail menu with six buttons each holding a clip from the timeline.
This section is especially helpful because in it you learn how these shapes and layers between Adobe Photoshop and Encore really work. Here the frame of the thumbnail menu is a button highlight item.
While working with the timeline, you will also learn to add subtitles and poster frames as well.
So what's left over from all this? Well, there is a lot more to this book than the exceptional ideas it presents. The book itself is extremely well designed. It is one of the few books printed entirely in color. But even more amazing is how the author presents every concept in such a visual way. I have seen many books with a screen shot here and there, and labels such as figure 1 and figure 2. This book isn't just screen shots and text. These pictures really are worth a thousand words. They are thoughtful images of the actual work flows involved in the authoring process. The author doesn't simply talk about good fonts and bad fonts, he shows you the fonts. He explains typography. He points out the curves, the thickness, and the principles you need to know to create better menus than you have created before.
There is an additional techniques section at the end of the book as well. This shows off a transition menu and comes complete with the Adobe After Effects project.
This book really goes beyond what others typically will. It complements the user manual rather than re-writing it. It gives real examples, lots of tutorials that are very easy to follow, and best of all, the presentation is simply outstanding.
You can download a sample of the book from John Skidgel's web site, which I encourage you to do. If you prefer buying it from a book store, then absolutely flip through these pages and compare it to other publications. You will easily see the difference in quality.
(C) Copyright 2004 Alex Alexzander / Creative Cow
All Rights Reserved
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