Beretta Designs: Menu Choices on DVD
By Kathleen Fairweather
Thursday February 3, 2000, 12:10 AM PST

The advent of DVD has created career opportunities for graphic artists in this new media technology. Menu design for DVD is one of these jobs, combining graphic arts with motion-picture production. Tiz Beretta of Beretta Designs, based in Vancouver, british Columbia has embraced this new design technology.

Beretta Designs specializes in designing motion graphics for television, film and video, menus for DVD and playback graphics for film, using applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and Media100. Her clients include Rainmaker Entertainment Group, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Vancouver, Full Frame Productions, Electronic Arts Canada and Big Picture DVD Productions.

Beretta received her formal training at the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design in Vancouver, and worked at the CBC before founding Beretta Designs two years ago.

How did you become involved in menu design?
I worked for the CBC in broadcast and the company had cutbacks, eliminating a large portion of the staff – myself included. While I was there, I worked on a project with Ryan Mullins, a free-lance producer. One day he gave me a call and said, "I’m involved in DVDs now and would you be interested in maybe doing the menus for the title I’m working on?" which was "Super Speedway."

Super Speedway won the awards at the DVD Association Summit Conference in Dublin, Ireland, correct?
Right. That was the first disc I worked on.

Are you primarily involved in DVD menu design?
Yes. I deal with the design issue of it. I work primarily with Rainmaker Digital Pictures and they do all the authoring, so they are the DVD service bureau. Once I’m done with my menus, I hand them over to them.

So they receive the DVD order and give it to you to do your part?
Yes. They have their own clients that need a DVD done such as Fox Lorber Films or Trimark Pictures. After they get the order, Rainmaker contacts me with the title and sends me the logic diagram, plus any other assets they have for the movie, such as the artwork or text. I’ll create a couple of screens for them to look at and once they are approved, go ahead with the design.

When you design the menus, are you doing what the studio wants or are you free to design something you think will capture the viewer’s interest?
Generally, they come up with all the navigation. Usually they give me the logic diagram first with the menus they need. It includes the buttons and the links that have to go on the menus. I mostly have free reign over what images to work with and the kind of look I want to give the menus. I have to say 98% of the time they let me go ahead and do what I want and they’ve been 98% of the time happy with the results.

That’s an impressive ratio.
Thank you. I’ve been able to work with good clients that have allowed me that freedom. Of course there’s the odd time where a producer has something specific and I try to make them happy and match their ideas. I also keep to the look that has already been created for the film. If the movie has played in theatres and gone out on VHS, the viewer already has certain expectations. I have more freedom with film festival or unreleased films that don’t have a brand look.

How would you describe a logic diagram?
It’s like a flowchart for how the disc works. It has all the screens that need to be created and buttons that have to go on the screen. It’s like a visual map that lets me know what goes on the screen and it’s useful to the authors to see how the navigation is supposed to work.

They give you the diagram and that’s your guide to follow in terms of the art, but do you have any freedom within that diagram to change it?
Generally speaking, I follow the logic diagram, but sometimes the project will change for whatever reason: Maybe they couldn’t get a hold of some assets or they’ve been doing something a certain way and discover a better way to do it. And by all means, if I have a suggestion or someone at Rainmaker thinks my idea would work better, then we suggest it to the client. I was working on a title and the project coordinator thought one of the menus was redundant. We suggested another link on a different menu to the client and they changed it. That happens on occasion.

Describe what happens once you’ve received the logic diagram.
I receive a VHS copy of the film with the time code burned into it, along with the logic diagram. I watch the film several times. Once, to get the idea f what the movie is about, the second time for visuals and dynamic shots that I think will work well in a menu. Then I send a list of time-coded screen shots I’d like to have, and think I can work with. I use those in conjunction with any artwork or high-rez images that they have and begin creating a menu. A lot of my menus are photo-collage-based and I try to incorporate good shots that are visually interesting into the menus.

What are the biggest challenges you face in doing that?
Some titles are easier in terms of having good shots to work with. Like action films: There are always shots that are dynamic and compositionally interesting. A lot of the films I work on are character-based, and I wind up with a lot of head shots. Don’t get me wrong, it could be a great film, but in terms of creating menus, head shots are not as exciting as action shots. "My Dinner with Andre" was the most challenging DVD I’ve had to design. There’s not much going on–it takes place over a dinner table and is one big, long shot.

When I design a set of menus, I want them to look like they’re part of the same disc, but I don’t want each one to be identical. There’s an average of 10-12 menus for each DVD. I want them to have some variety with different characters and shots. It was quite a challenge to get menus from "My Dinner with Andre" to look interesting and different from one another.

That must have been hard for you to watch two or three times?
I think I may have watched it in fast forward after about the first half an hour. It was a movie about dinner and the first approach I took incorporated images of food. The client didn’t go for that at all. That was one of the 2% of films that the client said, "Mm, no. Revisit this."

I wound up playing with different scales and angles of the characters–basically the same shot but toying with scales and opacities, treating the image in Photoshop with colors and then adding solid graphic bits within the menu. I realized that if I could create menus for "My Dinner with Andre," I would design menus for any film.

What’s your favorite menu?
A documentary called "Rock’n Roll Invaders" and a four-part gardening series called "Wisley Through the Seasons." There was no real artwork associated with the films and I got to do things that were different from most of the DVDs I work on. Without the artwork, there was no point of reference and it was like a clean slate where I wasn’t restricted to a certain look. I was very happy with the results of those menus. There are also some films I worked on that may not be Academy Award winners, but the menus were fun, like the thriller, "Warlock."

The "Warlock" menu looks great.
Thank you. The "Warlock DVD was really fun to do. It was the kind of DVD where I could throw in elements that would look inappropriate in more traditional titles like "Antonia’s Line."

Do you ever come up with ideas such as games or interactive features that would enhance the sale of a product? Is that something the client might want you to do?
I think that’s something they’re more comfortable handling themselves because they probably already have some kind of standing agreement in terms of cost to produce these titles. So anything extra like that would probably cost more. But I have noticed that producers are asking for more enhanced features and more interactivity. On a couple of titles I worked on, we tried a pop-down menu. It was the subsection that popped down, but it was laid over top of the first screen, giving the illusion of a pop-down menu. Clients are staring to ask for more unconventional ways of navigating and moving menus–things that they don’t see on every single disc.

I imagine that probably comes from the marketing side where anything new could enhance the sale of a DVD.
Yes, and I think that when DVDs first came out, everybody was waiting for someone else to make the first move. Now that it looks like DVDs will be around for a while, the studios are tired of just doing cookie-cutter DVDs. Of course, certain titles probably didn’t do well in the box office and the studios still may not want to put their money into the DVD version. But for certain titles, I think it’s worth it to put in a little extra effort.

What kind of equipment do you work on?
I work on a PowerMac G3 with Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects. Like I said, we’re starting to see more moving menus, so I’ll create an animation sequence in After Effects and render it out for Rainmaker and they’ll encode it as a piece of video with moving menus.

Would you describe menuing as a graphic art in a multimedia sort of way?
Yes. It helps to have an understanding of broadcast. If someone has a background in television, they know how certain colors will look on an NTSC monitor. They are also aware of the limitations and the kind of typefaces that will look good on television. That background definitely is an asset in creating menus for DVD.

What changes do you see coming up in the DVD industry?
I see a lot more moving menu designs and more motion. Even in something as basic as ambient movement in the background while the menu is on pause.

Now that DVD has gained enough popularity, consumers will be more demanding about what they want to see in titles. I think studios will realize that titles that have extra features will do better and will add more bells and whistles such as an audio loop or more animation.

What limitations do you find right now with the technology you work with?
I think the biggest limitation right now is how to access different parts of the disc and navigate through the menus. It seems to be fairly standard in that you have a certain number of buttons on the screen. But now that DVD is becoming more cross-platform, it will need five buttons on the screen and more creativity in how to navigate through the disc. I see a day where television will be interactive TV and we can put a cursor over something and choose from many options.

Are there many women involved in menu design?
I don’t have a lot of contact with other DVD artists, but my guess would be that there aren’t too many involved at this point, but ironically, a couple of other DVD designers are female. I know that Rainmaker primarily uses three graphic artists, and two of us are women. I think we will start to see more women becoming involved.

There are now more companies that design for DVD. Before that, the production facilities attempted their own menus, even though design wasn’t their area of expertise. Now there are studios that specifically design for DVD.

If someone was interested in becoming a DVD menu designer, should they study graphic arts?
Definitely, a design background helps. I would say the same design principles are going to come into play whether you’re doing print, broadcast or web.

Consumers are becoming more demanding of their DVD titles. When DVD first cam out, the film looked good but the menus hurt–they were painful to look at. People want to see menus that are well-designed and were created by designers who understand proper animation techniques.

There are subtle things that make one disc good and another great. There are a lot of things in terms of the technical side, such a how the video and audio has been encoded, but I see the menus as the packaging for the disc. I would be disappointed if I saw a disc that had a film with great packaging – but the menus were only an afterthought.

What is the future of Beretta Designs?
Growth. There are a lot of large design studios out there that do titles for companies like Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. But they don’t need to hire a big studio to produce good artwork.

The tools to create DVD menus are accessible to any artist. It all comes down to an artist’s individual vision and sense of design. It is possible to get great looking menus from small studios. The only limits are your imagination and your client’s pocketbook.