iDVD Diary, Part 2: Frustration and Triumph

I have burned my first DVD. All I had to do was press the button and wait a couple of hours. It was all over with much less fanfare than the first time I created an audio CD. It's not like the clouds parted or a chorus of angels began to sing.

And yet, somehow, this seems much more momentous. Things will never be the same. There is no going back.

Perhaps it's best if I start the tale of my first real encounter with iDVD at the beginning . . .

My Assets

As I said in my previous entry, my first attempt at making an iDVD would be based on the video from a trip I took last spring to the United Kingdom. In the three weeks my wife and I were there, we shot about four hours of video footage; over the course of several months I edited that to roughly 40 minutes.

Since iDVD claims to have a one-hour video capacity, and since I don't know when I'll be burning another DVD, I decided to find any other video I had from the year 2000 and add it as supplemental material to the UK trip. This was a perfect way for me to test out iDVD's Folders feature by creating a supplemental Other Stuff folder off of the DVD's main menu.

Topping it all off was a collection of still images I had from the UK trip. Some of them were taken with my Sony digital camcorder when it was in digital camera mode; others were scanned in from my wife's film camera. With these still images, I could test out iDVD's Slideshow feature.

Out of iMovie

I edited my vacation video in iMovie -- the first part in version 1.0, the rest in 2.0. I had already exported the vacation video from iMovie as a DV-format video file with the anticipation that iDVD would allow me to import DV movies. I was right -- I dragged my enormous DV file out of the Finder and into iDVD with no problem at all.

My other year-2000 videos also were edited in iMovie, but I hadn't exported them to a DV-format file. So I followed Apple's advice and downloaded the iMovie 2.0.3 update. This update adds a To iDVD option to iMovie's Export command. The update is essentially the same as exporting at the Full Quality, Large settings you find under the Advanced tab of the Export to QuickTime window, but if it means there's no chance I'll spend an hour accidentally exporting something in the wrong video format, that's fine.

It was time to get these new files into iDVD, but I didn't want them at the top level of the project. Instead, I clicked on the Folder button to make a new folder, renamed it Other 2000 Stuff, and double-clicked on the Folder icon. After the double-click, my top-level DVD page was replaced with a new Other 2000 Stuff page -- the inside of the Folder I just created. I switched out into the Finder, selected the three miscellaneous videos I had exported from iMovies, and dragged them into the Other 2000 Stuff page.

Nothing happened. For some reason, iDVD wasn't interested in receiving multiple movies at one time. However, when I dragged the movies in one at a time, they appeared in my window just fine. So after a bit of confusion, I had three movies in my subfolder. iDVD also automatically added a << icon to the page, which you select if you want to go to the previous menu. Very clever. To get back to the main menu screen of my project, I just double-clicked on that icon, and iDVD's view shifted back to it.

Image Hysteria

Now it was time to add all 50 of my still images. I clicked on the Slideshow icon on iDVD's tool bar, which created a generic slide show document next to the video and Other 2000 Stuff folder icons. Then I clicked on the slide show's name and typed in Photos as a new name, and then double-clicked on the icon itself.

When you're entering items into a slide show, iDVD stops being a what-you-see-is-what-you-get authoring tool. Instead, the Photos window inside a slide show is similar to the Finder's list view. When you drag items out of the Finder and drop them onto the Photos window, you add them to the slideshow. I selected all of my photos, all of which had names prefaced by the day they were taken so that they would appear in chronological order when sorted by name, and then I dragged them into the iDVD window.

The result was more or less what I expected: all of the images were added to the Slideshow window. And while they were essentially in alphabetical order, a few of them had mysteriously slid down to the bottom of the list. Worse, when I tried to select all the waylaid items and move them up higher, I discovered that iDVD will only let you move one item at a time.

I set about dragging my images, one by one, to the correct positions. It took forever -- iDVD doesn't scroll very quickly, and if you drag too far up, it stops scrolling altogether. Sometimes the program lost track of where I was dropping the images, and they returned to the bottom of the list. Other times, iDVD unexpectedly quit altogether -- losing all the changes I had made to my project and convincing me that I had to start saving the project every few seconds just in case the program went south again. It must have quit on me a half-dozen times while I attempted to drag images around in the Slideshow window.

What's worse, I couldn't avoid the problem by dragging images in from the Finder and dropping them in the right place in the slideshow list. That's because when you drag an image into an iDVD slideshow, it must go to the bottom of the list. And then it's time for some long, window-scrolling drag operations.

Suffice it to say that I'm not a big fan of iDVD's Slideshow interface.

While I'm on the subject of the Slideshow feature, I should mention that iDVD gives you a couple of different options for how to present your images. You can choose to put your Slideshow in Manual mode, which means you have to use your DVD remote's left and right arrow keys to move through the images (it'll even draw Next and Previous arrows on your images if you check the Display <> On Image box); or you can choose to have the player automatically step through the images, one by one, every few seconds.

I chose Manual mode with the arrows on. Once I successfully wrestled my images into the correct sequence, I was ready to move on.

Despite all the bugs in the actual Slideshow interface, the Slideshow results are gorgeous. iDVD automatically scales your images to fill the screen, and places black bars at the top and bottom or on the sides if they're too wide or tall, respectively, to fit the TV screen proportions of 4:3.

Custom Interface

My DVD project looked like the lamest one in existence: a black button representing my U.K. vacation video, a generic slide show icon, and a generic Folder icon, all on a generic background. It was time to make my DVD's interface look the way I wanted it to look.

First I clicked on my video icon and used the slider that appeared above the image to choose an appropriate frame from my movie to be used as its icon. When I got close to what I wanted, I was able to use the left and right arrow keys to move frame by frame to exactly the frame I wanted. I also picked icons for my slide show and folder, using the slider to choose icons from the items each of them contained.

With the icons set, it was time to customize the rest of my interface. Rather than using any of Apple's preformatted Themes, I decided to make my own by clicking on the Themes button and choosing Custom from the pop-up menu atop the Themes interface.

From here, I chose to left-justify the DVD's title by selecting Left from the Position pop-up underneath Title. I also changed the font to Arial Black, the font I used in all the titles in my vacation video (it's good to be consistent). Likewise, I used the Button Label section to make sure all the labels to my buttons were in the proper font. And I chose a pleasing button shape from the nine options in the Button Shape palette.

For the page's background image, I decided to use one of the still images from my trip -- a picture of my wife and I sitting on a stone wall in the Yorkshire dales. Instead of using the original picture, I brought the image into Photoshop, cropped it to perfectly match the 4:3 TV ratio (I actually used Photoshop's Image Size command to make it 640 pixels wide and 480 pixels high), and used the Gaussian Blur filter to blur the image out. The result was a blurry photo that would perfectly fit the theme of the DVD without distracting viewers with sharp details.

After I saved the image in Photoshop, I went back to the Finder and simple dragged the image into the iDVD window. It was automatically applied to the background of my DVD's main page -- and all of a sudden, my iDVD interface was starting to look like the real thing.

I did catch something on my background photo that I hadn't noticed before -- an Apple logo in the bottom right corner. Sure enough, Apple has decided that all discs created by iDVD will include a transparent Apple logo in the corner.

There is a way around this: like iMovie, iDVD's interface is located in a series of Photoshop files so you can edit iDVD's attributes, including the Apple logo. To do so, you'll need to first quit out of iDVD then open the file named Parts4 in Photoshop (iDVD: Resources: Interface Files: Parts4). Look for a layer name that starts with Name: Watermark -- this is the Apple logo. Drag it to the top of the layer stack so you can see it, and then delete the contents of the layer. Using the pencil tool (set to a very low opacity -- I chose 10%), make a single almost-transparent pixel in the layer. (iDVD won't work if the watermark layer is completely blank.)

Save the file and launch iDVD, and presto! Apple's no longer forcibly sponsoring your DVD creation.

Next: The conclusion -- preview, burn, and play!

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