Authoring DVD with Daikin's Scenarist

DVD players have been on the market for one year now, and the leading DVDauthoring software has been Daikin's Scenarist. This software givesDVD-Video its interactivity and lets the viewer navigate between menu pagesand different movie scenes or previously unreleased footage.

In addition to feature films, our team at Crush Digital Video has beendeveloping more DVD projects for the advertising and publishingcommunities. For example, we used Scenarist to author a DVD directory ofproduction company show reels for a new guide called "Digital 411." We usedScenarist's interactivity to create a "CD-ROM-like" feel for a video-basedproduct designed for stand-alone DVD set-top players.

We have been using Scenarist for the past two years and presently have thepackage installed on a Silicon Graphics O2 with a R5000 CPU and 128 MBs ofRAM.

The machine is hooked up to a SCSI chain that has three 23 GB Seagatedrives and a Pioneer DVD-R. For the Digital 411 project, we used Scenarist1.5.1, which has been in release for a few months. We have found thisversion to be relatively stable-something I am glad to see. Our first betaversion was .25, which basically allowed you to open the application,import a few files, and sometimes close back out of it. Progress was rapid,however, as Daikin released at least one upgrade every month for the firstyear.

The first step in the authoring process is to collect the assets that willcomprise the DVD. We create menu pages using the standard Adobe graphicprograms and digitize video and audio on Sonic Solutions' encodingequipment. Our team uses the DVD Studio suite along with Dolby Digitalaudio to create MPEG-2 video streams. These files are imported via FDDIconnection from the encoding stations.

Once we import all the elements of a DVD project to the authoring station,the process of creating the interactivity begins. Using a menu flownavigation chart, we implement buttons on top of the menu pages that willlink to different categories as well as to each show reel. These buttonsare made by blending two different graphic layers within Scenarist. We thenprogram navigation commands for the button areas of the screen. This stageis the heart of DVD authoring.

Scenarist's interface is very non-intuitive, and the application does notguide you towards what works well or even what might work at all.Essentially, Scenarist is an implementation of the DVD-Videospecifications-a large book containing not only the physical dimensions ofthe disc, but the capabilities of the players, the file structure, and theapplication layer of DVD-Video. You must know your specifications ahead oftime and then use the application to create the interactivity needed forthe project. Scenarist does not provide any templates nor does it allow youto create your own. Features such as "copy" and "paste" are not evenavailable for commands or other parameters. Therefore, each DVD projectcontains a certain amount of reinventing the wheel.

DVD is perfect for presenting a simple, high-quality index of dozens ofshow reels from production and special effects companies. You can skipbackward or forward instantly between any of the reels. All of the videoquality looks as good as Digital Betacam, and the audio sounds incredible.This is the type of project that DVD was created for. It combines superbquality with simple interactivity for use with a DVD player on a normaltelevision set.

The basic DVD navigation technique is to define hot spots on the menu pageas buttons. This button can be defined for numerous options ranging fromplaying a specific video clip, to selecting random media clips, to slightlymore complex commands that remember where you are and allow conditionalselections of media to be made. We link each button to its option and thenuse Scenarist to check each link through simulation. The simulation featureis a non-real-time environment that lets you check the accuracy of linksand jumpcommands.

Once we have created all of the links, we use Scenarist for thepremastering phase. Premastering is a process that multiplexes the audioand video streams together and builds a DVD-compliant disc image. Thepremastering for the Digital 411 disc took three hours.

Burning the disc image onto a DVD-R is the final step of the process. Youcan only insure that all of the authoring is accurate after this step. Oncethe disc is checked for quality, the disc image is ready to be transferredto a DLT (Digital Linear Tape device) and sent out for mass replication. Ifonly a few discs are required, additional copies can be made directly fromthe DVD-R.

Although Scenarist is the programming choice of many authoring companies,it has several pitfalls. One must always pay careful attention to where onesteps or clicks in the Scenarist program. For example, the button thattells the program to transfer the disc image to DLT is right beside thebutton that starts the three hour disc image creation. If you simply touchthe wrong button, the previous work is blown away.

But despite a difficult interface (which is being revamped in an NTversion), Scenarist does allow you to make fully interactive and compliantDVD-Video products. The fact is that DVD projects are big, and thechallenges presented by DVD authoring go well beyond what any program willbe able to simplify. Projects like this that incorporate hours of digitizedaudio and video, thousands of subtitles, and menus-all seamlessly joinedand linked together in a format that is still hazy at the edges-are alwaysgoing to be a large amount of work. I do, however, look forward to the daywhen the authoring process will provide greater flexibility and speed.

Jeff Stabenau is President of Crush Digital Video. Founded in 1996, CrushDigital Video was the first DVD studio in New York. Today, the Crush teamperforms a broad range of digital services for DVD and other media,including the Internet, corporate presentation, and kiosk services.CrushDigital Video is located at 147 West 25th Street, Fourth Floor, New York,NY 10001. Phone: 212.989.6500. Fax: 212.645.9093. E-mail: