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Customizing iDVD Themes

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Want to break free of the iDVD pre-set themes and create your own disc menu screen for your DVD masterpiece? With new features and options, iDVD 5 makes it easier than ever to create professional-looking DVDs. From choosing background music to creating your own screen layout, Jaemi Loeb will help you take the best of what iDVD has to offer and make it distinctly yours.

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You've got that home movie edited and discovered the secret powers of iMovie, but now what? How do you make a DVD your own in iDVD? The answer is simple – customize the theme.

When you create a new project in iDVD 5, the first thing you are confronted with is the first disc menu theme in the list of pre-sets: called Travel Cards. With its empty-looking slide show waiting to be filled and the vaguely tribal theme music that you can't easily turn off, the Travel Cards theme may not be how you want to start your corporate training DVD or your son's wedding memories.

But, lucky for you conveniently tucked, in the lower left corner of the iDVD window is a square button labeled Customize. It's easy to miss, but it is probably the most important button in the whole program. When you click the Customize button, a drawer appears on the left side of the window with lots of useful options.

The first tab, at the top of this drawer, called Themes, is where you can , shockingly enough, choose a new theme. In iDVD, a theme is a bundle of settings including a background, music, fonts, button placements, and so on, which make up the look and feel of the disc menu on your new DVD. It's the first thing a viewer will see when they put your DVD in their player and it's the place they'll come back to in order to change chapters or select a different movie. So, yeah, it matters.

Just above the list of themes is a drop-down menu that lets you choose which group of themes you'd like to view. If you are a veteran iDVD user, leaving this drop-down menu on 5.0 Themes is probably the most helpful, since it will only give you a list of the newest themes. If you're just starting out, I suggest selecting the All option and looking through the plethora of themes that have been developed for iDVD over the years. Most of the new themes are quite professional looking, but some of the older themes, like Postcard or Kids Theater, are somewhat limited to use for home movies. iDVD 5 comes with added music for old themes, so don't be surprised if the silent theme you used to love in iDVD 4 is no longer quite so silent. Speaking of music, you may notice that much of the pre-set music is, well, a bit grating on the ear.

To choose your own music, such as a song from your son's wedding reception or your corporation's theme song, click on the Media tab at the top of the customization drawer.

When the drop-down menu reads Audio, you'll have full access to your entire iTunes library. iTunes is the only audio that you have access to from this pane, but you can always drag audio files from a Finder window into the main iDVD window. You can search your iTunes library in the Audio pane either by scrolling or by using the search box. When you find the song you're looking for, all you have to do is click Apply and that song will become the background music for your disc menu. The Play button to the left of the search box gives you the chance to preview music before making your final decision, but that's all, so remember to click Apply to set your background music.

The second option in the drop-down menu of the Media pane, Photos, gives you access to your iPhoto library. As in previous versions of iDVD, this pane lets you drag photos from your library into the various drop zones in your DVD disc menu, such as the background or slideshow panes. Like the Audio menu, you only have access to your iPhoto library here, so images not in your iPhoto library will have to be dragged from a Finder window. This is a bit more difficult than dragging and dropping audio files, since you have to make sure that the picture finds one of the smaller drop zones and doesn't become the background (unless, of course, that's what you want). I've personally found that it's a lot easier to get a photo to go where I want it to when taking it from the Customize pane.

New to iDVD 5 is the Movies option, located in the media drop-down menu. Like dragging and dropping photos, I have found that dragging and dropping movies from Finder windows is hard to control and I often need several tries before my movie goes where I want it to. While this option is still open (and probably handy for people who keep movies in places other than the Movies folder under their user account), I vastly prefer the new library palette method. Now that I don't have competing windows impeding my view of my nascent DVD project, the movies go exactly where I want them to, whether in the background as a selectable chapter, or in a drop zone as a preview image. Don't be fooled by the upper pane of this customize view—the only folder that your palette is drawn from is the Movies folder under the current user account. You can't choose another folder and iDVD won't find iMovie files, wherever they may be on your computer. So, as seems to be the norm for iDVD, this option is best if you keep all of your movies are in your Movies folder.

So, now you've chosen images and background music for your disc menu and added the various movies/chapters you want to access from that menu. How do you change the layout or the font of the menu or turn off the background music? That's where the Settings tab of the customize drawer comes in.

The first slider you will notice under the Menu heading, Duration, adjusts the length of the audio clip used as background music and the length of any movie clips used as previews on your disc menu. The slider defaults in most themes to about thirty seconds. Short and repetitive backgrounds on a disc menu can be a bit grating, so I highly recommend moving the slider up to one or two minutes, allowing the viewers of your DVD to hear most of a song, or at least have time to ponder and choose a chapter before the menu repeats itself.

Under the Duration slider, you will notice two image boxes labeled Background and Audio. These are both second chances to alter the respective elements of your DVD disc menu. You can drag any image or movie file into the Background box and any audio file into the Audio box and each will take up a position as background image and music, respectively. You can also choose to turn off background music, by clicking the little speaker icon in the Audio box. As shown, the background music is off, when the volume is on, and the icon has the familiar volume arcs like those that indicate system volume on the Finder menu bar.

The next section of this pane, Text, is fairly self-explanatory. Under this heading, you can alter all of your text settings including justification (called position), font, size, and color. The default is always From Theme for the color menu, but the Font and Position menus also get their defaults from theme settings. Font size can be altered with the provided slider, which scales the font in the main window in real time, making it very easy to choose exactly the right size for your project. Most font-style type options are determined in the Font drop-down menu, as each font has several versions like bold and italic. But, you can also add a Drop Shadow to any font. This kind of shadowing creates a nice effect, which is most useful for black text on a light background. Another wonderful improvement in iDVD 5 is that you can change font options for different text boxes independently. For example, if you select the DVD title in the main Preview pane and then change the font settings in the Customize pane, the new font settings will apply only to the DVD title. Changes to the font settings of a chapter title will apply to all chapter titles, which may be frustrating in certain situations, but generally a good idea for consistency's sake.

The final section of the Settings pane is the one I tend to use the most: Buttons. This section gives you tools to change the way buttons are positioned, including their size, style, and the way they transition into the chapters they designate. When creating a new DVD, the first setting I change is usually the button positioning—I always select Free Position instead of the default Snap to Grid. The grid that buttons snap to in iDVD is determined by the theme, not a measured alignment grid. So, selecting Free Position is critical in creating your own layout, and it's necessary if you want to move buttons to somewhere other than their default position. The Style box lets you choose the look of your chapter buttons. Generally, the default from a theme works well aesthetically, so I tend to leave that box in its default position. However, there are always exceptions and good aesthetic reasons to make changes. For example, if you want your background to contain still images, but you want moving image/video previews attached to chapter buttons, then you will usually have to choose a different button style from the default text-only option. Each option for the style box denotes a frame outline into which previews of the chapter associated with a given button will be placed. In this case, "button style" means, in essence, frame style. Choosing a new button style prompts iDVD to extrapolate little chapter preview movies for you from the chapters you have already assigned to given buttons. Choosing a different button style then changes the frame that goes around that little preview and how big the frame (and video inside it) is on the screen. Stylistic consistency between background and frame style is key here, as it will maintain the professional look of your disc menu.

If you change the style of your buttons, you can also change their size, using the self-labeled slider. Like the font size slider, this one scales the buttons in the main preview window so that you can easily find the size you're looking for. Once you've created buttons that you like and you've placed them where you want on the screen, you can decide on a transition type. This transition will be what happens between when a viewer selects a chapter and when the chapter begins playing. (Unfortunately, you have to go into preview mode to test out each option.) Remember that discretion is the better part of valor, and a simple fade or dissolve looks much more professional than a Flip or Twirl.

Now that you've created the greatest disc menu ever, how do you use it as a template for future DVD projects? At the very bottom of the Settings pane is a button marked Save as Favorite. This button lets you save the masterpiece you've created as a new theme. You can give it its own name and choose whether or not to make it available to all user accounts on your computer. It is important that you uncheck the box marked Replace existing, unless you are replacing a theme that you have previously created. Though you may think you'll never use it, it's generally not a good idea to overwrite the pre-set themes, since you never know when you'll want to use one as a starting point again.

Once you've saved your theme, (yes, it takes a while after you click OK) it will be easily accessible for future use from the Favorites option in the drop down menu of the Themes pane.

Now that you know how to customize the look of your DVD and create your own integrated theme, you can use iDVD for all of your professional and personal needs. So be confident in distributing that training video or music video your kids made— now you know how to make it look good.

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