Top-flight DVD-Authoring Tools

There really is no competition at the higher end of the DVD-authoring scale. Sonic owns this market. Although some Hollywood movie studios use some custom-built DVD production hardware/software suites from Panasonic and others, most rely on Sonic Solutions products.

For the multimedia professional, Sonic offers DVD Producer for Windows and upgraded versions of DVD Fusion for the Mac.

For feature film production, Sonic offers DVD Scenarist for Windows and DVD Creator for the Mac. These come in numerous configurations, with or without hardware. Prices range far and wide.

To cover specific features would go beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say, if you've seen an exciting graphical or interactive element in a DVD movie, the developers probably used a Sonic product to create it.

One media production firm that quietly has been on the leading edge of this technological and creative wave is Chicago Recording Company. Here's a brief look at its latest work.

Creating Interactive DVD Fun for Children

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The Chicago Recording Company is a DVD "graybeard," says Hank Neuberger, CRC's executive VP and general manager. The company purchased Sonic DVD Creator more than three years ago after a client said it wanted to create 13 music/video combo DVD titles. "We ended up working closely with Platinum Entertainment to repackage archival audio tapes, VHS footage of concerts, and videotapes of television appearances," he recalls.

One of Chicago's leading music and advertising recording studios, the 26-year old CRC has found DVD Creator's audio-friendly orientation an invaluable asset for sustaining a steady flow of music-related DVD productions, including titles by Roger Daltry, the Beach Boys, Cheap Trick, Luther Allison, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, and Harry Chapin.

But those music/video compilations are yesterday's news. The company's latest DVD products are "light years" beyond those early pioneering efforts says CRC's DVD-authoring specialist Sean Sutton. "We are pushing the envelope of the DVD specs."

CRC's latest efforts have focused on creating innovative and interactive DVDs for children. Working with Big Idea Productions, developers of Veggie Tales, 3-2-1 Penguins! (see Figure 23.1), and Larryboy videos and games, they've produced DVD movies with kid-friendly mazes, trivia quizzes, and other fun activities.

Figure 23.1. CRC creates Big Idea Productions' 3-2-1 Penguins! DVDs as well as Veggie Tales and Larryboy.

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The challenge is to use "a technology designed only to play nice-looking pictures and good sound," says Sutton, "to somehow make games that are fun and accessible to children who may not yet be able to read." Navigating the maze in Figure 23.2, for instance, requires only the use of the arrow keys on a DVD remote control. Each button click seamlessly displays a new screen showing the changed location. It takes 300 such images and some horribly tedious coding of If-Then statements to create this maze.

Figure 23.2. It took 300 stills to fashion this maze.

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The deceptively straightforward-looking penguin quiz in Figure 23.3 took advantage of part of the standard DVD specs that allow randomizing?sort of like hitting random play on your music CD player. Sutton exploited that function to display questions in different sequences each time children play the DVD.

Figure 23.3. Official DVD specifications include a randomizing feature used to keep this quiz fresh.

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Other elements create additional DVD design complexity:

  • Fashioning a way to get the DVD to respond to wrong answers by returning to the original question

  • Having it not repeat previously asked questions

  • Getting it to keep track of a child's score.

Another fun DVD feature that took some programming magic is the Veggie Tales Voice Swap, illustrated in Figure 23.4. This lets kids give characters the voices of other characters in a variety of settings. Because DVDs can have multiple audio tracks, you'd think this would be a fairly routine process. Far from it. Timing issues and varying character interactions precluded the use of parallel audio tracks. Instead, Sutton calculated all the permutations and created separate video clips for each possible choice?96 clips in all.

Figure 23.4. This mix-and-match character and voice activity required 96 different video clips.

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Clearly it's no longer enough to simply slap a 30-minute video on a DVD. CRC fills each Big Idea product to the limit.

Coming up with these workarounds is just part of the joy of DVD authoring. "I love it," says Sutton. "I get to combine several creative arenas?video, audio, and programming. It's lots of fun."

Looking to the future, Sutton sees authoring becoming easier with software taking on more of the tedious tasks. For now, he enjoys sitting in on kid focus groups as they play his creations. "It's a real positive experience."



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