Issue: November 1, 2005


With year-to-date sales pegged at $8.65 billion (August 20, 2005, DVD Exclusive), DVDs are still fueling business at multimedia and post houses nationwide. These same companies are eagerly - and sometimes anxiously - awaiting the high-capacity successor to DVD. The competing HD DVD and Blu-ray formats, each supported by its own slate of heavyweight hardware manufacturers, computer makers and entertainment companies, demonstrate the difficulty of trying to establish a single standard for next-generation DVD.


Dallas-based Vision Wise (www.visionwise.com) puts its creative, animation, programming and technology skills to work on all forms of interactive media. It has over 3,400 entertainment and corporate training DVDs to its credit in the last two and half years as well as some high-profile games."Since we do everything in-house we're able to approach clients from creative and programming points of view and create really interesting games," notes president Tim Capper.Star Wars fans are flocking to Hasbro's Trivial Pursuit Star Wars Saga DVD, which Vision Wise co-produced and authored. "They handed us the six Star Wars movies and we created 1,200 questions in 18 different styles," he says. Vision Wise helped script the game, crafted new animations, edited the content, animated the menus and programmed the DVD. "Each question is a :30 video piece with the answer revealed in the last five seconds," Capper explains. The question remains constantly on screen; some questions feature video clips from one of the movies within a game shell while others spotlight completely new animations.

Vision Wise devised templates for each Q&A style. Animations were primarily done in Adobe After Effects with Maxon Cinema 4D used for 3D segments. "We wrote a custom Java database to help keep track of 18,000 assets," reports DVD producer Chris Taylor. "We also wrote quite a bit of code to automate conversion to PAL since we made NTSC and PAL versions." Sonic's Scenarist Professional was the authoring tool of choice.

Angelina Follows Her Dreams, a new DVD from HIT Entertainment starring Angelina Ballerina, the little mouse with big dreams who's the heroine of children's books and an animated PBS Kids series, is due out in January. "We scripted three games for this DVD, including a dancing game with four ballets: two for Swan Lake and two for The Nutcracker," says Capper. "We will animate everything by hand, using [Adobe] Illustrator and After Effects, matching the movements of a real ballet dancer we shot. We also have to match the look of the series, which is so well animated."Vision Wise, which is already authoring for Sony's PlayStationPortable UMD (Universal Media Disc) format, is "really excited" about the coming, high-capacity DVD standard, Capper says. "We'd love it to happen, but it won't be another DVD - in terms of fast acceptance - right off the bat. They say there will be players available by the end of the year, but until there's a million units in the US market there won't be enough [of a customer base] to create content for.""Our clients are not asking for it yet," adds Taylor. They won't clamor for it "until their customers ask for it. Neither form [HD DVD or Blu-ray] would be a big jump for us. With our in-house expertise we could be up and running in two months once the specs are final."

DVD production facility in Costa Mesa, CA, Media Stream Partners (www.mediastreampartners. com) has been designing and authoring DVDs that mine the rich vein of vintage TV programming.The company created an all-western DVD (with episodes of Buffalo Bill, Jr., Kit Carson, Judge Roy Bean, Northwest Passage and Annie Oakley) and the quiz show DVD (featuring Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life, Beat The Clock, Break The Bank, What's Your Bid? and a very young Johnny Carson hosting Who Do You Trust?) portion of a three-pack for TV Guide's classic TV collection. Each disc has interactive trivia games and the western DVD had vintage promotional clips; menus are designed and branded for consistency within the TV Guide collection.

Media Stream used Optibase's MPEG Master and Apple's DVD Studio Pro 4.0 for the project. "The more you compress footage to fit as many shows as possible on the disc, the worse the quality gets, especially with older footage," notes executive producer Joshua Eiseman. "The Optibase card allowed us to encode footage without degrading material that was already degraded with dust, scratches and film streaks.

"On the flip side, when we do a DVD for a new 16x9 movie, the card will be able to give us a crisp, clear image almost identical to the master, and we'll be able to maximize the amount of bonus material," he explains.For Wellspring Media, Media Stream crafted DVDs of director Werner Herzog's Wheel of Time and White Diamond. Features included his filmography and a Wellspring trailer gallery. For Genius Products, the company created a five-DVD series of workouts with trainer Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser."Jillian's DVDs are very rich," says Eiseman. "There's a DVD-ROM portion with workout logs, a Fitness magazine article and recipes that enhance the user experience. The DVD itself has samples of workout music, a photo gallery, promotional material, more recipes and nutritional tips, and a motivational clip of Jillian."

While Eiseman believes "the future is in High Definition DVD," he thinks the technology, once it arrives, will face a slower adoption rate than DVD. "Consumers are worried about a Beta vs. VHS scenario" with HD DVD and Blu-ray, he notes. "And to fully appreciate High Definition DVD you need HD TVs, and their numbers are still low."Media Stream plans to "wait and see which high definition DVD format takes off," Eiseman says. "It would be a huge risk to latch onto one right now."


At New York City's Broadway Video (www.broadwayvideo.com), DVD business has remained very consistent with "growth in the 20 to 30 percent range," reports Mark Yates, president of the Video Services Group. Fueling the growth is eight to 10 of the company's own Best of Saturday Night Live titles annually and its upcoming Kids in the Hall: Season 4 release.In addition, Broadway Video worked with Kaplan testing to incorporate DVDs into medical training and courseware; Ryko Disc for comedian Bill Hicks' Relentless release; and Hart Sharp Video for Night Fangs, the latest title in its horror film series. The company is also transferring Nickelodeon's in-house screening library - some 600-800 titles - to DVD."On the retail side, clients still want to keep menus as visually exciting as possible and incorporate bonus material as innovatively as we can," says Yates. "They're always driven by the content and providing a package for it that's as stand-out as possible."

For The Best of SNL DVDs, Broadway Video aims to keep the brand consistent from release to release and create very high-end, visually-stimulating graphics, menus and transitions. Out-takes are a favorite component, along with new interviews with cast and crew. Director and talent commentary is a popular feature in the Kids in the Hall series.Broadway Video has several Sonic Creator systems and several DVD Studio Pro systems. "It's a difficult time to make an investment in technology," notes Yates. "We believe the current authoring technology will remain strong for at least two years. But we also know 2006 will bring new formats. We intend to support both Blu-ray and HD DVD, so we're eagerly waiting for the release of specs and authoring tools."Yates points out that "every service provider is in the same boat," waiting for specifications. "But we need to be ready to spring into action very quickly. Because we have our own titles, we have to take a leadership role from a distribution point of view. We have to be there on day one for our content. And what we learn will be immediately transferrable to our clients."Ultimately Yates expects one of the competing high-capacity DVD formats to gain supremacy, but he can't predict which will be accepted by consumers. "We are large enough to make the investment in both" he says. "It has to be a little frightening for plant owners though. It's a tough call which [format] to invest in. Retooling an entire facility is a multi-million-dollar expense."


Offering concept-to-completion services for DVDs, New York City's Scream DVD (www.screamdvd.com) finds that "no two jobs are the same," says DVD producer/owner Mark Ashkinos. "We work with ad agencies, Fortune 500 companies, independent filmmakers and record labels."Recent projects reflect the diversity of Scream's client roster. The Gotham City Short Film Festival asked the studio to encode all 50 finalist films for DVD playback at the competition. "Next, we'll do a compilation disc of the winners," Ashkinos reports. "We'll create menus for bonus material like behind-the-scenes footage and winners' interviews."

Scream also created English- and Japanese-language DVDs for sale at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Treasures of the Metropolitan spotlights unique objects in the museum's collection. Footage was shot in HD, downconverted to Digital Betacam, edited and supplied to Scream. Scream designed menus in keeping with the museum's other retail DVDs and handled encoding and authoring.Of special interest to Bostonians is Rex Trailer's Boomtown, a DVD based on the children's TV show popular in town in the early '60s. "It includes clips from the episodes, out takes, an interview with Rex, old promos for the show, and interviews with celebrities like Jay Leno who grew up watching the program," notes Ashkinos.

A particular challenge was dealing with the vintage show footage, some of it kinescopes, some low-quality video that had been bumped up. "We had to fit in on DVD 5 and make the bit-rate as high as possible," Ashkinos recalls. "The video turned out very nice looking considering its age."Scream encodes and authors with a pair of Sonic Creator stations and uses the Adobe suite of software for menu design. The company also offers duplication of up to 1,500 discs per day and boasts three Auto Everest II systems for thermal printing directly to disc.

Scream doesn't mind waiting to see what comes next with high-capacity DVD. "We'll sit tight and wait, but once the specs are out we'll be first in line" to acquire the new capabilities, says Ashkinos. "We would have to invest in both formats if [HD DVD and Blu-ray] emerge, but I think one format will win out pretty fast either through better marketing, better tools or cheaper consumer players."


Chicago-based multimedia company P3 Mediaworks (www.p3mediaworks.com) has recently turned its talents to producing content for athletes and dancers.For repeat client Pro Talent Inc., an agent for minor league baseball players nationwide, P3 Mediaworks crafts players' highlights discs used in efforts to get Japanese and Korean teams to sign the athletes. "[Pro Talent] originally came to us to put highlight reels on VHS," recalls Corey Gilbert, who is partnered with brother Curtis in the company. "We introduced [Pro Talent owner Chris Fanta] to the idea of doing a DVD instead. From his point of view, DVD has made it a lot easier to shop his clients. For us, it's easier to add and subtract players as needed."

Because Pro Talent needs menus which are "functional and user friendly," especially when dealing with possible language barriers, P3 Mediaworks keeps menu design simple. Gilbert edits highlight footage with Final Cut Pro, crafts menus with Photoshop, authors with Apple's DVD Studio Pro and encodes through Final Cut with Compressor and an MPEG-2 converter plug-in.The company also does a lot of DVDs for Chicago's large dance-company community. These tend to be booking reels for the company, a choreographer or individual dancers, which include two-minute excerpts from their current repertoire. The latest such project, for Hubbard Street Dance Company 2 (HS2), featured footage of new dances shot by P3."HS2 needs menus that are more visual and graphic than Pro Talent's," notes Gilbert. "We also do a splash screen for them, a quick montage of still moments in a dance with a list of excerpts overlaid and a button for contact information. It's seen when the DVD starts up and feeds into the main menu."

Non-profits are also on P3 Mediaworks' client roster. A year-long informational DVD project for The Red Cross of Greater Chicago was commissioned on the occasion of the chapter's move to the new Rauner Center. The disc includes footage, shot by P3 Mediaworks, documenting the construction; interviews with staff, volunteers and VIPs lensed by the company; historical material on the turn of the 20th century Eastland disaster in the Chicago River; and the chapter's response to September 11. "Visually-stimulating" video menus divide the screen into quadrants, says Gilbert. "A small :10 video loops in each section until you click on it."P3 Mediaworks isn't in a rush to move to high-capacity DVD. "Probably 75 percent of what we create is played back on computers," so clients aren't pushing for HD quality, Gilbert points out. "We're watching what happens but can wait longer than most companies because of our client base."


A specialty boutique for DVD design and authoring, Chroma Titles (www.chromatitles. com) in Culver City, CA, is tapping a new market. "DVDs packaged with CDs are starting to really take off," reports president Christian Gerard. "As new albums come out limited-edition CDs with enclosed DVDs hit the shelves with bonus content fans will really dig."Chroma worked closely with Marilyn Manson on the menus for the DVD accompanying his "Lest We Forget" greatest-hits album. "It's one of our best pieces," says Gerard. "We styled the menus with graphics and text representative of the look and feel of his albums. We often try to style the menus to the content you're watching. A lot of menus don't have that synergy."For the Marilyn Manson project "the trick was to grab old images and give them new life, a new view," notes Gerard. "It's the equivalent of music remixes."

Chroma also designed multiple main menus, "an idea we adopted from videogames," Gerard admits. "The design totally changes from where you started. And you can repeat the path if you want; it's not random.""Gerard says "there's nothing we don't use" in crafting DVDs. "It depends on the job, budget, turnaround time and skill level."

Authoring tools include Sonic Scenarist, Spruce and Sonic Creator. Animation is done with After Effects and Alias Maya; menus are designed with Photoshop and Illustrator. "We also use vintage '70s techniques, like shooting Super 8mm, and we manipulate and animate photography," he notes. "There's something neat about using some manual processes."While anticipation of high-capacity DVD has provided a lot of excitement for Chroma the last few years, that ardor has cooled somewhat. "Things are in limbo due to the [competing] HD DVD and Blu-ray specs," says Gerard. "Even clients want to wait and see what happens: They don't want to have to pay for both [formats] if they don't have to."Still, the potential for high capacity DVDs forecasts "a great new frontier," Gerard observes. "We're dying to play in it."