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with the proliferation of DVDs, savvy companies are adding DVD services, if they haven’t already developed an expertise in the field

DVD versatility: with the proliferation of DVDs, savvy companies are adding DVD services, if they haven’t already developed an expertise in the field

Christine Bunish

When creative director Benjamin Zev and executive producer Brian Johnson founded BI Media (www.bImedia.com) in Studio City, CA, seven years ago, they already had a leg up on others in the infant DVD industry. The partners had previously worked at a broadcast design company that worked on some of the first DVD design contracts for Warner Bros. Home Video. They fell in love with the DVD format and launched BI Media as a full-service concept-to-completion company specializing in innovative DVD, game and video production.

“Our timing was right,” says Zev. “We saw DVD and believed in the medium and the technology. As a designer I had a lot of experience with broadcast graphics, CD-ROMs and the Web, so DVD was a good match with interactive and animation.” “There were only a handful of DVD companies when we started in the late ’90s,” notes Johnson. “It was a great opportunity to break out and establish ourselves.”

BI Media’s clients are major motion picture studios like Universal, Fox, DreamWorks, Warner Bros, and Disney for all genres of DVD movie releases. Among the company’s DVDs for TV series is Alias: Season 2, which netted them a Telly Award for the graphics package.

“The studios have seen what a big boost DVD is and how fans love the medium so they’re putting more energy and time into DVD production,” Johnson reports. The partners have seen the timeline become more compressed, however, with DVD release dates fast on the heels of theatrical release dates. “Sometimes we start the DVD before they have the final cut of a movie,” Zev notes. “There are times when we only have the script and have to provide concepts and a production schedule based on that,” Johnson adds.

BI Media’s technical complement includes Macintosh G5 work-stations running Adobe After Effects, custom PC workstations running Alias Maya, Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems, and Sonic Solutions Scenarist DVD authoring software.

The company is “doing everything imaginable–featurettes, games, menus, commentaries” for the DVD for the upcoming Disney animated feature Bionicle 2, say the partners.

They also created “the first true interactive featurette” for the DVD for the 1950s animated Alice in Wonderland/The Masterpiece Collection. “We produced a live shoot with Alice and the other characters and tied it together with 3D animation and a virtual environment so kids can experience a virtual tea party,” Johnson explains.

“We’d love to do more projects that require content creation,” he adds. “DVD is a continuation of what we know and love. We’ve spent a lot of time putting all the pieces together.”

CREATING A DVD EXPERIENCE

Atlanta-based Planet Studio, LLC (www.planetstudio.com) comes at DVD production “from a unique perspective,” says VP Jamie O’Donnell, “We’re not a post production house; we focus on DVD from a branding and marketing perspective. We ask clients, ‘What experience are you trying to create with this title? What is your brand essence?’ Then we create a DVD experience in line with other experiences provided by the client.”

Planet Studio’s interactive division, headed by senior account executive Danielle Lawn, offers turnkey services for DVD production including content development; navigation and screen design; encoding, compression and authoring with Sonic solutions’ DVD Creator and a Spruce system; and packaging and promotion.

Its introduction to the DVD business almost a decade ago came “from the outside in.” O’Donnell explains. Planet Studio was designing VHS packaging for PBS Home Video titles when the client “asked us to design packaging for this new DVD format, which was being authored by a company in California. When PBS Home Video felt the DVD experience the California company created didn’t maintain the PBS brand integrity, they asked us to get involved.”

Planet Studio’s first big DVD project was Ken Burns’s epic Baseball for which it did the menu design and worked with a baseball consultant to craft bonus content. The company has completed many other PBS Home Video titles, including Jazz; the Tony Hillerman mystery A Thief of Time with director audio commentary; Ric Burns’s New York: Episode 8 with footage of the September 11 attack; and the recent back-in-time reality series Colonial House featuring interviews with the producer and video diaries from the people re-enacting the roles of Colonial Americans. Planet Studio has also developed DVDs for Discovery Channel, A & E, Acorn Media and Warner Home Video.

O’Donnell notes a “pendulum swing” in the DVD business. “In the beginning it was all about features and bonus materials–people were spending $200,000-plus on a title, and we actually lost projects because our costs weren’t high enough: people trusted the highest bid. Then clients’ financial people said there’s no return on this, and they scaled back. Now the business is somewhere in the middle. People don’t want whiz-bang stuff just for the sake of it; they want it used where it makes sense like the motion menu transitions with audio that we created for each screen for Jazz.”

I WANT MY XSTV

Former professional jet ski racer Skip Fredricks parlayed his great video footage of racing colleagues into an idea for a TV show. Now in its eighth season, XSTV (eXtreme Sport Television) airs on Fox Sports Net and earned its creator two Emmy nominations for editing and production last year.

“As a small, independent production company, I was looking for new ways to generate revenue streams,” says Fredricks, whose SFTV (www.sftv.cc) is based in Ventura, CA. He considered the burgeoning DVD market but couldn’t find a program that would enable him to create professional-quality DVDs without a steep learning curve or extreme expense. Then he discovered Adobe’s Encore DVD.

“I had used other software geared toward amateurs, but once I got the hang of Encore it was very logical,” Fredricks reports. “Encore works so well with other Adobe programs I have: Premiere Pro for video editing, After Effects for animation, Photoshop for creating cool interactive menus, and Audition for sound editing. With other programs, nothing worked together, but Encore talks to everything else.”

Fredricks has several DVDs under his belt now. “I started with a DVD for XSTV and the advertisers and sponsors I approached with it said, ‘That’s cool, can you do one for me?'” he recalls. “DVDs are still new and exciting; they add a professional look to any business.” He offers full production, editorial and DVD authoring services and can burn up to 30 discs in-house.

Although mixed martial arts fighting champion Jeremy Jackson already had promotional tapes, “a DVD brought his content and look to the next level,” Fredricks says. He created a DVD with “lots of glitz and glamour” targeted to fight promoters, agents and sponsors; it contains over 75 minutes of content, including fight footage, interviews and menus tailored to the recipient.

With THAV in Australia and PIT in Pittsburgh he crafted a DVD for the debut satellite network The HILL (Healthy Impact Lifestyle Living), which features three-minute promos for each of eight programs. Designed to entice satellite providers to carry the new network, the disc has “a fresh, cutting-edge look but conservative, super-clean graphic menus” appropriate for use in a buttoned-down business environment.

Fredricks also created a recruitment DVD for the F15 Navy Fighter Jet shot at the Oceana Naval Air Station and featuring interviews, training footage, flight combat simulation and very straightforward menus, as well as a DVD for the Coca-Cola Hogsbreath offshore power-boat team designed for potential sponsors and festivals. Upcoming are projects for the World Roller Alliance about an extreme inline skating/wrestling series and for the Big Air Reno motorcross event.

“I bought Encore DVD as soon as it became available so I figure it may be another six to eight months before it comes into the mainstream,” says Fredricks. “I’m out to grab as much business as I can!”

DVD DELIVERABLES

Mark Owens and Frederick Smith Jr. have carved out a niche for themselves with Hooptv.net (www.hooptv.net), a video service company for basketball scouting and recruiting based in Raleigh, NC, and LA. The partners create player evaluation videos for high school and college players and teams, full-game coverage analysis videos for more than half of the teams in the NBA, and highlight reels for undrafted players looking for slots.

The year-old company expected a big demand for DVD deliverables, and they’ve found it, “Probably 90 percent of the product we now deliver on the high school and college level is DVD,” reports Owens. However,” The NBA is behind the curve; we still make lots of VHS tapes because they want something in their hands when the game is over,” notes Smith. “But we’re trying to bring them around to state-of-the-art DVD technology.”

In Raleigh, where Owens is based, the company has a pair of Apple Final Cut Pro edit suites, an Apple iMovie/iDVD workstation for editorial and DVD authoring, and Apple DVD Studio Pro running on a G5 with a 23-inch HD monitor. Up to 16 DVDs can be duplicated simultaneously. The LA office, which Smith calls home, has three Final Cut Pro edit rooms and an iMovie/iDVD station.

“A small company like ours couldn’t do without Apple’s Macintosh line and plug-and-play software,” says Smith. “We just don’t have to worry about things.” They use iDVD primarily for high school clients. It offers “great templates for what we need to do and has very good codecs and MPEG compression,” says Owens. DVD Studio Pro V.2 is reserved for “more high-end, complex, environment-rich DVDs.”

A considerable amount of Hooptv.net’s work is done at game sites or events. For the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, where over 100 AAU teams competed in three divisions, they imported game footage into an array of Final Cut formats for editing, burned DVDs with iDVD and offered them to the teams for sale onsite.

As bandwidth increases, the partners expect to see DVD and streaming fuse together in a new computer-television model and Hooptv.net will be there to implement it. For now, Owens says, “DVD will be the market standard of its time” thanks to its high quality and convenience.

REVIEW, APPROVAL, INDIES

The venerable Chicago post house Optimus (www.optimus.com) is witnessing an increased demand for DVD among its clients. The company offers full DVD services and creates everything from put-and-play discs to extensively-authored titles with a Sonic Solutions DVD Creator system. It favors Maxell DVD discs for its high success ratio and playback compatibility.

“It’s amazing how many more clients are looking for DVD today,” says assistant editor Vernon Cowles. “When we have to send dubs to clients’ homes they’re often disappointed if they have to play VHS tapes, so we often send both tapes and DVDs.” With burn speeds increasing, turnaround time is also more in line with clients who need things yesterday.

“Commercial editing is our main business and clients are turning to DVD, instead of 3/4-inch tape, for quality, ease of use and greater flexibility,” reports lead DVD author J. Finnegan. “Everyone at agencies has laptops today, and DVDs allow them to get a high-quality look on their computer, including consistent color,” adds Cowles.

Optimus provides agencies with DVDs of spots in the rough-cut stage for review and approval. DVD is particularly useful for campaigns since it eliminates the need to shuttle tape to get to a desired spot. And it’s the medium of choice for “anybody who needs a reel,” Finnegan notes, affording users quick and easy access to different categories of product showcased by editors and copywriters, for example. DVD is also an ideal archiving medium for agencies since it can integrate a client’s video, print and Internet advertising, says Finnegan.

Optimus also authors DVDs for independent filmmakers. Among its credits is The Honey Boy Story, an award-winning documentary about 87-year old Delta Blues musician David “Honey Boy” Edwards who still tours worldwide. Optimus was involved in aspects of the doc’s production and performed some of the online editing; Finnegan authored bonus material, which includes extra still photos, liner notes and additional biographical information.

Finnegan and Cowles believe “the next big hurdle” for the industry will be HD DVD. “With the expansion of HD into the home, people are going to expect HD DVDs,” says Cowles. “Getting enough space on the disc to do this is a challenge for developers, but it’s also a great opportunity to enhance DVD content.”

TARGETING KIDS

Children’s entertainment company Boggle-Goggle Enterprises (www.pinatta.com) in Concord, MA, released its award-winning VHS video Pinatta’s View; A Trip to the Dentist on DVD earlier this year. Claudia Miller-Snyder wrote the script, created the original music and developed the “practice to prepare” concept. Pinatta is a child-size puppet and talk show host who readies a preschooler guest for her first trip to the dentist. Pinatta’s show takes place in a treehouse where she’s accompanied by the three-puppet Cool-Man Band.

After producing the video, Boggle-Goggle had additional unused music and art assets; Leo Audette crafted all the original artwork. The Pinatta’s View DVD afforded them a chance to use those assets and create new elements for interactive bonus material: the “Mix and Match Game” with 192 separate animations that make up funny, three-part faces, “Treehouse Sounds,” the “Practice Bag” with animated contents, “Listen to Songs” and “Meet the Gang.”

“VHS is still strong in the children’s video market; libraries are primarily video-based and parents have moved the VHS player into the kids’ room,” reports Karen Miller in Boggle-Goggle business development. “But parents have also started replacing favorite videos with their DVD versions, so it’s important for us to offer both.”

The DVD’s special features were created via an all-Adobe workflow by Media Electric in Arlington, MA. Artwork and image rendering were done using a combination of vector graphics and digital photography and brought into Illustrator and Photoshop using various layering methods to create the desired effects. The final artwork for static screens was then incorporated in Encore DVD. Layered graphics for the “Mix and Match” game were developed in Photoshop, animated in After Effects, encoded, then imported into Encore DVD whose power allowed the Media Electric team to build complex structures very quickly.

Boggle-Goggle had invested in high-end production for its VHS video version of Pinatta’s View, so “we didn’t want to spend a lot to bring in new features for the DVD, but they had to be on a par with the original video,” Miller explains. “The key was to do something to make it shine,” says Media Electric DVD developer Jonathan George, “since the video was great to begin with.”

Audio was sweetened and edited by George with Adobe Audition; he tapped Canopus’s ProCoder to encode the video and audio into MPEG-2.

George sees DVD technology “expanding in a few directions” with HD DVD eventually allowing “the amount of content to increase and the style of interactivity to get better.” Web-enabled DVD has “not really taken off yet,” he adds. Right now, “the price of tools is coming down and capabilities are growing, and with that clients’ expectations are increasing as turnaround times are tightening.”

DVD FOR MANY USES

Charlotte, NC’s Limerick Studios-DVD (www.limerickstudios.com) is a post production boutique specializing in graphics, animation, DVD authoring and editing. It moved early into DVD when Mike Kelley expanded his one-man animation shop by teaming up with Jeremy Ball, an animator with an interactive design background. They launched a DVD department when the format was just getting off the ground; today about half of their billings are for DVD projects.

“We started with the corporate market, putting DVD content on CDs so companies could have broadcast-quality video that incorporated interactive marketing or training tools,” recalls director of marketing Chris Kennedy. “Then we worked on a series of 12 animated children’s movies for the home-entertainment sector.” Next came their first music DVD, Retrospect, for Sevendust, and more have followed.

Sports has been another key DVD market. “We do animation and graphics for broadcast and in-arena and in-stadium applications,” says Kennedy, “and many of these clients now need DVDs.” One of their biggest sports accounts is NASCAR Images, which recently introduced a home video division. Limerick Studios-DVD won a Telly Award for their menu design and authoring of NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Any Given Day DVD and was named a Telly finalist in the same category for A Decade at the Brickyard.

Limerick animator Tom Williams used Photoshop and After Effects to develop high-end motion menus, transitions and sound effects for both projects while Jeremy Ball programmed and compiled the DVDs with Sonic Scenarist, the company’s authoring tool of choice. The DVDs feature high-action motorsport video documentaries produced by NASCAR Images and include 5.1 surround sound, Easter Eggs, “Fast Fact” pop-up menus, photo galleries and trivia Q & As. In addition, both home entertainment titles provided PC bonus material such as screen savers, wallpaper and Web links.

Kennedy believes music DVDs are starting to gain a foothold as more players come equipped to play CDs, DVDs and MP3. The company completed a DVD for Steve Earle’s new album, Just An American Boy, featuring concert footage, several music videos and Web links to the artist and his label, Artemis Records.

Limerick Studios-DVD is promoting the “Web-DVD concept with an html-programmed interface,” Kennedy reports. “The DVD carries all the memoryhog information like the video, but when you plug it into your computer, information is automatically called up from the Web site where the interface resides. When Web TV comes to fruition, this will be one of the ways to go.” The company is negotiating with a major global company on a Web-DVD project to be used as a training tool.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group