Studio Time: Digital Delivery Demands DVD
Posted Aug 11, 2004

While many event videographers still outsource their DVD authoring, the numbers that choose to create DVDs in-house has risen significantly in the last three years. Videographers, new and old, have begun to realize just how easy (and potentially profitable) it is to throw together a simple, menu-less DVD and/or how much fun it can be to take full advantage of the creative possibilities that DVD offers.

This month's STUDIO TIME takes a look into the mind of one individual who has found joy in mastering the last step in any DVD-bound event video project: Loi Bahn, founder of Vancouver, British Columbia-based studio, bluecore media, and winner of the 2002 and 2003 WEVA Creative Excellence gold medals for DVD authoring.

In the Beginning…
Bahn didn't get into the event videography racket until the digital media deluge at the turn of the millennium. Even though he had a background in video editing and graphic design, Bahn had written off a career in video production until the advent of DV and affordable computers capable of editing video. bluecore media "officially started in the fall of 2000," Bahn says, "to capitalize on the advertising window for the upcoming wedding season, with full-time business thereafter." In the four years since, bluecore media has worked exclusively in wedding videography.

While he was a relative latecomer to the field, it didn't take long for Bahn to establish himself on the cutting edge of technological development. Within a year of bluecore's inception, he dove headfirst into DVD production. "DVD-Video is the natural progression of consumer video technology," explains Bahn. "When it became economical enough to justify going to DVD, the decision was made to do so without hesitation." But it wasn't just a matter of economics. "It also made sense," Bahn says, "as the thought of putting high-quality digital video from a 2/3-inch CCD onto an analog VHS seemed ridiculous.

"I began DVD production in 2001 at the same time Apple introduced their groundbreaking line of Quicksilver G4s with Superdrives," Bahn continues. This machine has proven reliable enough that he still uses it as his main DVD production workstation, with DVD Studio Pro for authoring, Adobe Photoshop for initial menu design and layout, and Adobe After Effects for motion menus, text, and layer composites

Extras, Extras
bluecore's general service contract includes two DVDs with chapters-which Bahn recommends as a part of any DVD-but without menus or any special features. Each additional copy officially costs $75. "Mostly I give away extra DVDs at no cost, as it is advertising right there," Bahn says. "The $75 fee is just a contingency for the possible bridezillas."

Menus and other special features also are available at a premium. "Unless a client is willing to pay extra," says Bahn, "I make the DVD as simple as possible." (For particularly simple projects, DVD Studio Pro is often overkill; Bahn heartily recommends iDVD 4 to "those looking for fast and easy DVD creation.")

For clients wanting to tap bluecore's proven DVD authoring abilities, Bahn says, "Our deluxe DVDs start at $300 and up, depending on the complexity and amount of bonus material." This bonus material can include motion menus, subtitles, additional audio mixes, 5.1 surround, outtakes, vignettes, slideshows, highlights, and more. "The DVDs employ some very advanced features in the DVD spec, such as scripting and the use of variables to control how the client interacts with the DVD," Bahn says. "I'll create a script that remembers where the viewer is on a particular menu, so as they select submenus, they can always return to the correct main menu." He learned this skill simply by reading through a handful of tutorials he found on the Web and in print. Bahn credits this reasonably low learning curve as a key factor in his winning the two Creative Excellence awards. These awards "show that anyone with creativity and some skill can put together a low-cost DVD that rivals what Hollywood can produce," he says.

Taking advantage of the low cost of DVD media, Bahn's next DVD project involves creating a studio demo DVD of bluecore's recent weddings, which will be mailed to prospective clients. "This promotional DVD will undoubtedly employ many of the techniques currently in use for our client DVDs," says Bahn. "It will make extensive use of scripting and additional audio tracks in the form of a commentary from brides and the video producers, plus it will include loads of DVD-ROM content including QuickTime movies, PDF brochures, other literature, etc."

Entering the Third Dimension
bluecore's technological expertise isn't relegated to the realm of DVD authoring; Bahn has experience with 3D modeling as well. "The company name ‘bluecore media' came from the name of a superhero I conceived and modeled in 3D while in high school," Bahn says, back in the days when computer animated 3D animation was revolutionizing the way Hollywood movies were being made. Unfortunately, he hasn't had much of an opportunity to take advantage of this skill in his video productions. "Generally, you'd want to stay away from 3D graphics in wedding videos because the effect can look extremely cheesy," he says.

Because of the time-consuming nature of designing 3D titles or effects, he hasn't found their inclusion particularly cost-effective either. "The only time I've used a 3D model was in adding a digital butterfly into a real garden setting," Bahn says. Even then, Bahn says he used it only because he thought the effect would work and look somewhat believable. "Had the butterfly not looked real enough, I would have scrapped the whole garden scene and re-edited that segment."

While Bahn doesn't plan on 3D becoming a large part of his work, Bahn says the butterfly may be gaining a stablemate in the future. "Dragonflies are really big right now," he says, "so I might look into adding a digital dragonfly into my productions."

Give me the Big Picture
Another thing that Bahn thinks separates him from his competition is the use of a 2/3-inch CCD broadcast digital camera "when most of my competitors are using 1/3," he says. "The side-by-side comparison in image quality is striking."

Bahn also shoots the majority of his projects in full anamorphic widescreen, "which no other company in my competitive area can boast," he claims. That competitive advantage is only one reason why Bahn chose to go with widescreen, "16:9 allows the subjects in the frame to breathe," he says. "And since widescreen more closely mirrors our own field of view, it's actually more natural to shoot and compose for 16:9." His camera of choice is a Sony DSR500 16:9 DVCAM.

This cinematic perspective extends beyond aspect ratio, as Bahn tries to distinguish his work by giving his videos a movie-like feel. "I think it is uncommon to find the disciplines of filmmaking applied towards wedding videos," he explains. "By disciplines of filmmaking, I mean things like using the tripod whenever possible, even when it would be easier and quicker going handheld; fully manual operation of camera and audio gear; and constantly looking at capturing the action from a different perspective and from a viewpoint that re-inforces either an idea or an emotion that helps carry the movie along."

He applies this approach to his editing as well: taking 60 hours to edit down an entire day's events into a 30-minute non-linear video. "My videos do not always start at the bridal prep, but could, for instance, start at the first dance and work backwards as the story of the couple is slowly peeled back, detail by detail."