03-14-2010, 12:06 PM
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I was wondering, do you think menus with or without thumbnails are better? Thus far, I've been doing them without for my set, but I was just wondering on your opinion.
This is easy to answer. I'll bring a few things to your attention.

POINT #1 - Movie studios have big budgets and employ some of the most creative and skilled people they can find.

Yes, it can be argued that there are many creative people outside "Hollywood".
Yes, it can be argued that many boring/un-creative folks work there, too.
However, it still does not erase the fact that the field that creates content for and distributes commercial DVDs is dominated by creative individuals that are very good at what they do.

POINT #2 - You rarely see thumbnails on commercial releases.

Thumbnails are menus rarely add anything to the quality of the on-screen navigation experience. In fact, more stuff on screen is just clutter to most viewers.

POINT #3 - Adding thumbnails takes longer.

The common response to this is "my program does them really easy" -- however I would point out that the automatic thumbnail options in almost all programs looks like crap. While it "looks fine" in a small DVD authoring window, it's quite a bit different when viewed on a 50-60"+ HDTV set.

I'll also point out that "good" and "good enough" are NOT the same.
"Good enough" is an excuse that translates to ~ "it's crap but I'm okay with it".

To make a really good thumbnail, you need to carefully edit a piece together, giving it good fades at the beginning, end, and between any clips. It's a separate video made specifically for the purpose of being a thumbnail on a menu.

Beyond that, many authoring programs create progressive menus, not interlaced ones, so you really need to create a separate stream all the way back at the editing stages -- you can just snip off a piece of the final DVD-ready interlaced MPEG. The automatic thumbnail features in most programs just drop-frame deinterlace, and there is where the "looks like crap" comes from.

And all of this takes time, if you want to do a good job. Most commercial entities have deemed this to be a poor ROI (return on investment) -- it's just time wasted on something that is unnecessary.

POINT #4 - Remember what a menu is for, and put it in its place!

There are 5 pieces of presentation.
1. Main content, including both audio and video
2. Bonus content, including both audio and video. (If available.)
3. Menus for navigating disc content.
4. The case that a disc is distributed in.
5. The disc itself.

In review:
1. Gets hours of viewing time.
2. Usually gets many minutes (hours?) of viewing time, when present.
3. Several minutes of viewing time, selecting what they would like to view.
4. Several minutes of viewing time, looking at what's on the disc(s).
5. A few seconds of viewing time at most, as the disc is taken from a case, and put into the drive/player.

Lots of people gloss over #1 and #2, and worry more about menus, artwork and the disc. It's counter-productive, and is sometimes why I miss the days of video tapes. With a VHS tape, you only worried about the content, not all this other crap.

Do not get sidetracked on menus!

A menu is just a menu. It's there so you can find what you need on a disc. It needs to be well organized and look nice. It does not have to use every option available (thumbnails, hidden easter eggs, transitions, etc) -- it just needs to help you find what you want on a disc.

I'd honestly rather have a centered list of white text on a black background, compared to some of the stuff I've seen done by amateurs. There's no need to gaudy-up a menu, just because you can, or because the software had a big button that says "add thumbnails".

Even more people get hung up on #5, disc artwork. Of all the things a person will look at, disc artwork is virtually ignored. This one is a pet peeve. Use a Sharpie. Only worry about disc art if you're pressing 500+ discs, as it's generally free with the process.

So no thumbnails?

I do thumbnails on special personal projects only, when it's just a few discs.

In 9 years of DVD work, no client has ever wanted to pay for the time needed to do a quality thumbnail menu. When they hear it "costs extra" and "takes longer", they opt for still menus. When they do want fancy menus, they generally go for full motion menus, and thumbnails really don't fit into a motion menu (too busy).

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