The manager of Disc Makers’ Authoring House talks about common mistakes, post-production, and multimedia programming
Tell me a little about what you were doing before you came to the Authoring House.
I have over 25 years of experience in video and film production. I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Arts, with a concentration in film and television from The University of South Carolina. I worked for Comcast and then Sony and was a freelance producer before coming here. I’ve done everything from writing, producing, editing, and shooting to pulling cables – all the jobs involved in production and post-production – and I also was a multimedia programmer.
Is multimedia programming what you’d describe as the work we do here?
It’s a combination of multimedia programming, DVD authoring, and video post-production.
Tell me about the distinctions between those two. DVD authoring involves what?
DVD authoring involves taking a finished video or film and encoding it, designing a menu or interface, then putting everything together – programming it so the menus work, the chapter buttons go to the correct spots in the video, and then converting it to the DVD specification so that it will play in a DVD player.
With DVD replication you can’t send in a video tape and get 100 DVD copies made like you could with VHS duplication. For DVD, you actually have to take that content and encode it and covert it to the DVD format. From that master, you can then make your copies.
What is multimedia programming?
That involves taking raw files – video, word docs, etc. – and creating an interface so the end user can play the video. This can also link to a website or other documents like PDFs and Word docs. It’s very similar to having a website play from a CD.
Are you typically getting a finished master from the client?
No. When something comes to the Authoring House, it’s mostly just the raw parts – a video tape, a digital QuickTime file, an AVI file, or sometimes even the previous version of the DVD. With the latter, the client often needs us to make a change – a phone number or removing a small section of video. We can’t go in and just erase it like it’s a Word doc. We have to rip apart the DVD and extract the video and the raw parts – the menu and the audio – at which point we can make the changes and then re-author the master,
Also, there are some clients who don’t have the equipment or ability to put their content together – in which case we can author it for them. And if they don’t have a finished video we can make one for them. Or like I said, sometimes the client has their video mostly finished and they need someone to put finishing touches on their project like color correction or sound mastering. They may even just need a couple of tweaks done. Sometimes they can’t burn the physical master and they send us their authored files and we can create the master for them.
What about sound editing?
That would usually coincide with the video editing, and if they want audio mastering, we can send their files to the SoundLab. They’ll master it, send it back to us and we sync it back to the video and then finish the DVD. We will also encode videos for the web and digital distribution on platforms such as iPod and iPad.
So that’s for films as well as corporate videos?
Yes, films, corporate videos, and music videos. We can work with whatever format you have at whatever stage in the process you may be. And it’s always best to give us the original, most uncompressed files (video, film, audio) to use for your project. For example, we can work from a DVD, but it’s compressed, so after we make changes, it will be recompressed, which may not always yield the best results. Oftentimes it’s fine, but it’s always best to start with an original video master and audio master because it’s uncompressed and will produce a better quality product. But sometime that’s just not possible and the client only has a copy of the DVD.
Is there any number of common mistakes you generally see people falling into?
People wanting to send a Flash file and make that into a DVD, or a PowerPoint document – mostly sending in some sort of computer file and wanting to make it into a DVD. We can do that, but oftentimes it means starting from the ground up and rebuilding it. If they haven’t designed it as a DVD from the beginning, the screen size is going to be wrong, the resolution may be wrong, and it may cost more to convert it to a DVD then had they designed it for TV from the start.
They’re coming to you with something that’s designed for a computer?
Yes, so they have a PowerPoint or a Flash project and the interactivity is not going to translate to a DVD. We have to eliminate most of it or re-program some of it. Another issue is having web-sized videos that aren’t the (720×480) standard definition video size or the (1920×1080) high definition video size. They’ll send in a 320×240 web video and want us to make a DVD, which means it’ll have to be stretched and blown up and it’s going to be grainy and fuzzy and not look as good if they had sent us the uncompressed or original file. And keep in mind, an uncompressed video file is going to be huge. We’re talking about 101 Gigabytes per program hour for Standard Definition video. You’ll need to send it in on an external drive. (we prefer firewire 800 drives)
For someone who is planning on using the Authoring House for post-production work, do you recommend they confer with you before they even get their project started?
Yes. Any of us are more than happy to speak with someone ahead of time to make sure they’re on the correct path. It can save a lot of headaches and a lot of cost down the line.
What are some of the questions you’d want someone to ask you if they called you up before they went into production?
What format should my video be? What format should my artwork be? What is the best method to send in my assets? Basically the more questions you have and the more information you can give us the better we can meet your expectations. One important step for DVD authoring is to fill out “The DVD Menu information Guide” and the “The DVD Authoring Checklist” to the best of your ability. They are available on the Authoring House FAQ. These forms provide us with the information to be included in your DVD and also provides information about how you created your project. This information is invaluable. We use it to determine the best way to author your DVD.
You mentioned color correction earlier, what exactly is that?
One of the best lessons I ever learned in college was when a professor told me that every production is a compromise from it’s inception, meaning it’s never going to be exactly the way you see it in your head. There are always issues that arise on the set. Somebody forgot to white-balance the camera, the lights don’t match, you’re using fluorescent overhead lights which are greenish… the shooting conditions are never perfect, so what happens is you have your final footage and there are some things that aren’t very desirable and you want to change them.
For instance, as you’re shooting over the course of the day, the sun changes angle, clouds move in and out, so when you turn around to get the reverse angle, the lighting may be different. Color correction can match shots to make them look like they were filmed at the same time or the same place. You can also do colored effects like sepia tone, bleach bypass, or film look.
You can even just balance colors. For instance, say the green of the trees doesn’t look right – you can modify that. And the sky – one of the biggest problems with the new digital cameras is if the sky’s brightness is too “hot,” it tends to blow out and you can lose all the detail. The better quality camera you use, and the more uncompressed the footage is, the more information we have to work with. So in the example of the sky being too “hot,” if you shot with a high quality camera, the detail in the sky – clouds etc – may be there, but not currently visible. With color correction, it may be possible to bring down the brightness of the sky and see some clouds and other details.
But if you weren’t careful with your exposure and you’re using a cheaper camera, that information is lost and color correction won’t do a thing. The same thing applies to faces. We can stretch out the contrast of an image so that you have white whites and really dark blacks with some detail, and all tones in between, while making sure the facial tones are accurate. With today’s color correction tools I can even mask out a window that’s too “hot,” bringing down the brightness to match the levels in the room.
So color correction can be as simple matching shots or as complicated as trying to pull details out of an image. But again, it’s important to shoot with a high quality camera because if the detail isn’t there, it makes it much more difficult to produce the desired effect.
Do you do evaluations to determine whether Authoring House services might benefit a given project?
Yes, someone might send in a project and ask, “Will color correction help this?” or “Can you do anything with editing?” Or maybe they have a finished DVD and they’re not happy with it and they want to know if we can make it better. Most of the time we can improve on or create a more interesting menu for their DVD. We create all custom design for every project – not cookie-cutter menu styles you might get out of a program – but a custom design that really suits the DVD and matches the quality of your project. We do that a lot. And creating a new custom menu won’t affect the quality of the DVD. We’ll take it apart, but the integrity of the original video quality won’t be affected as we’re just working on the menu and then reassembling the pieces.
In concert with the SoundLab, we will screen the audio to see if the project will benefit from audio mastering. We can also look to see if something like color correction will improve the final product, and we’re going to be honest. If it’s highly compressed, I don’t know that there’s really much we can do with it and we’ll let you know.
Is there a service or two that you’d like more people to be aware of?
Post-production editing, absolutely, and DVD authoring. A lot of times people will come to Disc Makers with a finished DVD master not realizing we can handle the entire project under one roof. I’ve spoken with plenty of people who are surprised to find out we offer post production, color correction, and menu design. Plus, we’re going to guarantee our work, and there’s no fear that your master will not meet the DVD specification and not be suitable for replication. We do this every day and we guarantee our work. We work on many DVD projects that were produced elsewhere and then failed testing when it came time to replicate. Then the Authoring House is called in to tear apart the DVD and rebuild it. If they had come to us in the beginning, we would have guaranteed a master that’s going to work and not cause any problems. In the long run it can save time, money, and frustration.
For more information about the Authoring House at Disc Makers, visit the Authoring House website.