Life & Style tutorial: DVD motion menu design

Creating multi-dimensional, interactive menus from pen-and-paper sketches is simple – we show you how.

In this tutorial, Angie Taylor shows how to put Adobe After Effects and Photoshop to work to create a DVD menu design. The example she uses here was originally created for a DVD of the pioneering all-girl punk bank The Slits, who are currently touring the US.

Tessa Pollitt, the band’s bassist, drew the sketch that the menu is based on, and the band felt that it represented The Slits’ overall aesthetic so neatly that they asked Taylor to use it in the menu.

This is a particularly good tutorial if you’re already familiar with the basics of After Effects but need a little practice. You’ll learn how to add motion to static images without animating the images themselves – a neat trick to master – by separating different elements or layers of the drawing into a multi-dimensional format, and then guiding the camera through them.

There are also tips on how to convert Photoshop drawings into After Effects documents. For copyright reasons, this tutorial must be completed using an image you’ve found or created.

01. Start by creating a multi-layered scene, possibly something similar to this, either by drawing or compositing photographs and clip art. If you’d rather use an existing image that’s in a single layer, see Step 02.

02. If starting with a flat image, you’ll need to convert it into layers in Photoshop. To do this, use a combination of the Selection tools in Photoshop to make rough selections of the individual elements. Then used Copy Selection to a New Layer (Cmd/Ctrl+J), then tidied up the new layer by handpainting Layer Masks, discarding the layer masks once you’re happy with them.

03. It’s best to animate vector files in After Effects, as they don’t lose resolution when scaled or zoomed in 3D space. Open the layered Photoshop drawing in Illustrator, making sure to preserve layers on import. With all layers selected, trace them into vector files by selecting Object > Live Trace > Make and Convert to Live Paint. To get rid of the white backgrounds created by Live, choose the Live Paint Bucket tool, No Fill and No Stroke. It’s a simple case of clicking on each layer’s background to make it transparent.

04. Make sure the document settings match the PAL 4:3 resolution comp settings for After Effects, then save the file (768 x 576 pixels, RGB). Import the Illustrator file into After Effects as a Composition, with footage dimensions set to Layer Size. We’re going to arrange the layers in 3D space and animate a camera moving through the layers, eventually zooming into the ladder, which will form a frame for the video buttons. The problem is that moving the layers in 3D space will affect their apparent size, and this will mess up the carefully composed scene arrangement.

05. Luckily, my friend Paul Tuersley has written a script to convert PSD files to 3D compositions in After Effects. It works by adding an expression to the Scale value of the layer to compensate for any movement away from the camera on the Z axis. It will scale the layer to retain its size and position visually within the comp. You can download the scripts for free from: If you use this script please drop Paul an email to let him know if it is useful to you.

06. Once the script is added, we can add space between the layers without messing up the composition. I have a little trick for doing this which involves choosing the layer above each layer in the comp as its parent. Do this by dragging the parenting pickwhip from the bottom layer to the next one up, and so on till all layers in the comp are parented to the one above them in the comp (with the exception of the camera layer).

07. With all image layers selected, hit P to open their position properties and scrub any layer’s Z-position value. As the layers are parented to each other, they will all move simultaneously with equal spacing between them. Once this is done you will need to use the PSD to 3D Remove script to remove the expression from the Scale value, and then remove the parenting from each layer.

08. To animate the camera moving through the layers, first set keyframes for Position and Point of Interest values in the timeline at 0. Move ahead in time and then use the Track Z Camera tool from the toolbar. Move the cursor over the Active Camera view and scrub left or right to move through Z-depth (hold Shift to increase the purchase). To move the camera left, right, up or down you can use the Track XY Camera tool. Don’t use the Orbit Camera tool, as this can produce unexpected results.

09. In my example, I have used a combination of Toggle Hold keyframes and Eased keyframes to create a whip-pan effect. Switch on Motion Blur for each layer that you want to blur and also activate the Enable Motion Blur button for the composition. Click on the Continuous Rasterization switch for each image layer to ensure they are 100 per cent quality even when they are scaled above 100 per cent.

10. This zooming in-and-out animation can be used as a Transition Movie in Encore DVD. When the user clicks on a link, the movie will play to take them to the next menu. It can be also played backwards to take them back to the main menu.

11. To create the looping movie for the motion menu, use the new Puppet tool to create quick and easy animations on the characters. If you hold down Cmd/Ctrl as you move the Puppet tool points around, After Effects will record the movements and translate them to keyframes.

12. I used the LoopOut expression to loop the animations for the duration of the comp. You can easily design video buttons using CS3’s new Shape layers, 3D Text layers and Layer Styles to create buttons, highlights and video thumbnails.

13. Once these are selected, go to Layer > Encore > Create Button to assign the correct scripting for the button in Encore DVD. After RAM-previewing your finished comp, it can be dragged directly into Encore DVD using Dynamic Link, to incorporate the animation into your DVD without the need for rendering.

14. Encore DVD is capable of outputting to DVD, Blu-Ray or even Flash. You can find a preview of the menus on the DVD to give you an idea of the effect that you can achieve using motion menus and transition menus created in After Effects.


In After Effects, to view only a certain set of properties in the Timeline panel, select the properties you’d like to isolate by either selecting Shift + click or Cmd/Ctrl + click, then typing SS to hide all the unselected properties.

Who: Angie Taylor's work involves producing animation, visual effects and graphics for television, film, video and the Web. Her work regularly appears on British and European TV. Her recent projects include visual effects on the award-winning short film Hibernation, and animations for a DVD album by Beck. She is the author of Creative After Effects 7, and regularly tours with Adobe and Apple giving demonstrations and seminars on digital filmmaking and animation.
Software: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Encore DVD, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator

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