DVD has become the format of choice for professional and amateur video. But while DVD authoring is easy, burning is only half the battle. For a disc to stand out, it needs a menu that does the content justice.

The process of creating static DVD menus is fairly simple and uncomplicated if you stick within a few design limitations. A menu designer will usually work in Photoshop on a 72dpi canvas, and will design within NTSC safe areas, even when designing for PAL.

Once navigation elements such as buttons are in place, a subpicture layer of simple bitmapped elements is added on top to provide the highlights on the final menu. All in all, a layered Photoshop TIFF file for a still menu will come to about 1MB.

But if you introduce motion, you take on a whole pile of extra design challenges and restrictions. First, consider the workload and rendering times – this is especially relevant if the whole disc is to contain motion menus. It is far more time consuming and difficult to correct a mistake with such menus than it is with menus that use a single, still image, because you have to re-render an entire animation.

The type of material is also a factor – the DVD specification doesn’t support small vector-based animations like Flash, so you have to use high-quality, full-motion video, often composited in applications like After Effects or Discreet Combustion.

Another factor is size – just one simple menu page with five or six video buttons and audio can take up around 100MB. Multiply this for your submenus and extra feature screens and you will really begin to cut into the 4.37GB (realistic) capacity of the general DVD-R disc.

Design decisions

A key consideration in your design is whether you can use footage from the content of the disc or whether you have to create original material. You can, of course, use a mixture of the two. If you are using content from the programme, select a clip, or edit together a new sequence from a series of clips, that best highlight or capture the theme of the content.

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The designer of Morissey’s collection of eight promotional music videos, The Malady Lingers On, began by taking a suitable grab from each of the tracks. A 30-second sequence was edited together from these clips, with the options laid out on top of the video. 
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When laying options over video in this way, a key factor to consider is legibility. Just as subtitles can be obscured by the background image (for example, white text on white), the same can happen on a DVD menu. 
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