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Can 4:3 and 16:9 Get Along?

By Eliot Hochberg (eliot@high-mountain.com), October 2, 2002

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Last time we went over how to prepare your anamorphic 16:9 footage for use in a DVD. This time, we’ll review the basics of making 4:3 menus in DVD Studio Pro, and look at some tips on how to blend 4:3 and 16:9 elements seamlessly.

For still menus, I use Photoshop. There are some writers on the subject who discourage developers from using this method. I think the main reason is that sound isn’t available when using Photoshop generated menus. However, in many instances, sound loops aren’t necessary. In these cases, Photoshop menus work great!

The first thing to do is start with a file that’s 720x540. This is your standard 4:3 size for NTSC. (Just a reminder: to date, all of the articles in this series are done assuming NTSC as the video standard. Not to leave the rest out, but I don’t have PAL available to me at this time. Perhaps in a later article…). Make sure that when you create your various button layers that you keep in mind the action and text safe areas of the screen. You can see a full tutorial on how to make Photoshop menus here. The main thing I wanted to mention is that when you have completed your menu, you then must resize your file to 720x480. This (I believe) is to compensate for the computer screen’s square pixels. This aspect ratio will end up being the proper size in your actual DVD.

A cool trick that I figured out for making efficient menus is to make users click only when necessary. For example, on this disc there is a director’s bio. One way to display this would be to create two menu elements in DVD Studio Pro and link them together with buttons, making the user hit enter after selecting the “Bio” menu item. However, I have found that a button can change the entire screen. So, instead, I have the bio text come up when the button is selected. To do this, simply choose the Photoshop layer that contains the text as one of your layers for the button’s selected state. This would be very difficult to do, if not impossible, in a non-Photoshop menu. (See the accompanying screenshot.)

One of the techniques I like to use in a DVD with still menus is a short video clip to act as a transition. In the DVD for “The Bad Father,” I first come up from black with an ad for my DVD services. This fades to black, and is then followed by a fade up to the image for the still menu. It’s important to note that Photoshop and Final Cut Pro handle color a little differently, so it will take some effort to get the video and menu to match perfectly. I have yet to discover a quick technique for doing this (if you have one, let me know). My current methodology is to first create the video footage, then do the color matching in Photoshop on the menu elements.

Once the menu comes up and the user selects play and hits enter, there is another little clip of video. This is where the smooth transition comes in. What I did was this; at the director’s request, I zoom in on the menu background. As the zoom gets to the proper point, I then fade to black. Once at black, it’s easy to transition to 16:9 without any visible transition. The main film starts at black, so the user need never realize that anything is different! How cool is that?!

Next time, I’ll go over a way to use tools that you may have on your hard drive to do smoother zooms than are possible in Final Cut Pro.

The New Hollywood Workshop is dedicated to using Macintosh computers and software to do what the big boys do. Want an example? Check out Duality, a short made completely with Macintosh products.

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over seven years’ experience. Apple’s new professional tools are just the ticket for a sole proprietor like Eliot to go to the next level. Right now, he’s seeking DVD duplication services that support DVD Studio Pro. If your company does, let us know. We’ll list you in future articles.

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