Simply put, the making of a DTS DVD-A disc is no easy task. It requires an extraordinary amount of organization, coordination, and communication, as well as the technical expertise of many talented people. This article will examine the creation of a DTS DVD-A using Toy Matinee’s original self-titled album as an example. As we follow the project through many of the unique phases it takes on, you will see that it is truly a team effort.
“When I heard Toy Matinee, I thought it was brilliant,” comments DTS executive producer Rory Kaplan. “It was one of the first records I heard that was very dry, not a lot of reverbs, just pure music and pure audio.” Originally tracked by Bill Bottrell, this Pat Leonard production, co-written with Kevin Gilbert, is looked upon by many professionals as a benchmark audio recording.
“I had been working with Pat on a previous project, and we were talking about doing this record, which he had just licensed back from Warner Bros. for his own label, Unitone records,” continues Kaplan. “He mentioned it would really be a cool thing to do this in surround.” Kaplan and Leonard then called Botrell, but he was unavailable to work at the time due to family issues. Leonard, wanting to find someone that he felt could do justice to the record, mentioned Elliot Scheiner to Kaplan.
Soon afterwards, a breakfast meeting was set up in L.A. between Scheiner, Leonard, and Kaplan. “It turned out to be a great meeting, since both guys really showed a lot of respect for each other,” says Kaplan. “Pat went on to say how much he loved and respected Bill Botrell. Elliot agreed, and said he would do his best to maintain Bill’s integrity, and thought they could work through it as a team.” Leonard turned over the masters to Scheiner, and the long road to the making of a DVD-A was underway. Scheiner went on to mix the surround tracks at Presence Sound, in Westport, CT. Peter Lewis from DTS helped set up the studio for the multichannel work, and once Scheiner completed several mixes, he sent them out to Kaplan on a DA-88. “Pat happened to be over at Oceanway at the time, working with Joe Chicarelli,” continues Kaplan. “I went over, picked up Pat and Joe, got them over to Capitol where I was working with Al Schmitt at the time. Al was kind enough to take a break to listen to the mixes, and he was also excited about hearing it. So Al, Joe, Pat, and myself were all in the studio having a listen. Pat liked it, got on the phone with Elliot to talk over a few minor changes, and that was it. They kept the dialog up throughout the mix, and the project progressed from there.”
Kaplan notes that they had originally planned to do this project simply as a 5.1 DTS disc, which was sent to Gateway Mastering for completion. “I did the original DTS 5.1 session several years ago, as one of the first half-dozen surround projects I had mastered,” recalls Gateway’s Bob Ludwig. “Elliot Scheiner had mixed it on a bit-split DA-88, so it was six channels of 20-bit audio at that point. When we had to make the DVD-A, we already had a DTS 5.1 stream and a Dolby Digital stereo of the original 2-channel mix. We took our file copy on the Sonic Solutions system, unarchived it, and had it ready to go.”
DTS’s production supervisor Jeff Levison was responsible for providing Ludwig all the various additional audio and graphic elements that composed this DVD-A title. “I had gone to Patrick Beard at Animated Designs and had him prepare all of the artwork for the menu screens and the lyric pages,” Levison comments. “As for the audio elements of Toy Matinee, there are two zones on the disc. Think of it as two folders on a computer disc. One folder is the audio zone and one is the video zone. All the DVD-Audio assets live in one folder and all the DVD-Video elements live in another. The DVD-Audio players can play the contents of the audio zone and play the contents of the video zone, whereas the video player can only play the video zone, which includes the 2.0 mix as well. On this project, we put a 5.1 MLP in the audio zone, and the DTS 5.1 and 2.0 in the video zone. For the video zone elements, its had to be upsampled to 48 kHz.”
Once the audio elements had been recalled and prepared by Ludwig, and after all the graphics had been assembled, it was time for the actual scripting of the DVD-A itself. That task fell to Gateway’s Brian Lee. “We first wanted to save some room on the disc by using MLP encoding,” Lee notes. “We had to hand-script the user interface by manually piecing in all the stills, buttons, video assets, and menu designs. DTS wanted this to be a hybrid disc, with both a DVD-V and DVD-A portion so it would play on any player.”
The script language, literally thousands of lines, had to be written in by Lee to make the disc work. “We would do it in sections because, if you make one mistake, the disc won’t format,” he continues. “We would try to get the DVD-A section working perfectly, then add the code in for the DVD-V portion, then from that point we would format the whole thing.” Lee states they would then QC the project by burning a test DVD-A disc in order to make sure all the elements worked. “We found that different players have different bugs based on the way you program the DVD-A,” he says. “We had to find different ways of doing things, within the specs, to help get around these player bugs. Even though this was due to the fact that this was an early disc, it’s still the same way now with the bugs. It’s not easy.” Jeff Levison would also assist in the vital QC’ing aspect of the project: “Bob would ship me a reference burn, and I would send it over to Intellikey, who would do functionality tests on a number of players, checking for such things as navigation problems. They would then send me a report, and I will report back to Bob about what we found. He could then go back and make some adjustments if needed.” Levison notes that, at that point, Gateway would then send him a DLT with the finished project on it. He would then send that final copy to the replicator, who would make a DTS data sample, which is a pressed copy of the glass master. “I would then send that back to Intellikey, and they will run it through their entire test matrix on every machine they can,” Levison continues. “Then it will either be okay, or there will be fixes. We will go through that loop as many times as we need in order to make it a final product. There is a lot to it.”
As you can see, the making of a DVD-A multichannel title is quite complex. David DelGrosso, DTS Entertainment’s vice president of marketing, comments on the company’s plans to work with the new format: “DTS Entertainment is focused on our roll-out of DVD-Audio, and Toy Matinee is certainly a great project. We will have MLP 5.1, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 on every disc from now on. That’s really the best of all worlds. You have the MLP for people that do have the new audio players, you have DTS 5.1 for any DVD-Video player connected to a 5.1 playback system, and you have Dolby Digital stereo that allows the disc to be played on any DVD drive anywhere in the world. It’s simply entertainment that blows away what we’ve been doing for the last 20 years.”
Right on, David!