SINGING FOR TWO TACOS

With the physical release of Chimera less than two weeks away, it’s time once more to talk about physical media. I won’t rhapsodize on the format this time; instead, I’d like to take you behind the scenes of creating our discs, particularly the bloodless turnip that was the process of creating the Blu-ray. I’ve created many DVDs in the past and I even experimented with Blu-ray when I bought my first burner. It was fun rendering High Definition CGI for the first time and watching it on my TV – this was a good ten years ago or more, back in the ancient days when it was still unusual to plug a USB stick into your TV to play videos directly. Fast forward to the Fall of 2021: it seemed like a simple notion to put my film out on physical media. After all, I’d made discs at home before and that was pretty simple. And then I saw a post by a fellow filmmaker who talked about using the DeepL AI translating engine to make foreign language subtitles for his film.


And so things became less simple.


SUBTITLES AND ASSOCIATED MADNESS


A sample of the subtitle file, with individual caption numbering and timing.

I was seized by the idea of expanding our reach with foreign language subtitles and just had to give it a try. Early experiments were a ton of fun, comparing individual subtitles translated by Google Translate to those from the DeepL engine. I would translate a block of English to the language of my choice (German, because I like to start easy), and then translate the resulting text back to English again and see how much it got corrupted. To my amazement, DeepL was mostly successful in understanding not just the words, but the meaning and intent of the phrases, and seemed to even pick up the context when more parts were translated at once. My next step was to do this to the entire subtitle script: English → German → English, then go through the lines one at a time looking for errors. This took a long time, but revealed some truly wonderful goofs: “Cobra mount” (as in, one of Chimera’s gun turret mounts) came back as “Cobra reittier,” which apparently means an animal mount, like a camel or a horse. So according to my new German subtitles, in the opening chase scene, Lt. Saverin is ordering the Cobra horse to fire. Later, when doing the Spanish subtitles for the music featurette, composer Martin Mahoney’s statement that my sister Kathryn sang on the soundtrack “for two cues” was inexplicably interpreted to declare that she “sang for two tacos” instead. Who wouldn’t?


Tempting as it was, I couldn’t put out subtitles like that. My solution was to reword the original English for moments like these and retranslate. This took a while. Ultimately I translated the subtitles into 5 additional languages this way. For the French track, letsspeakfrench.com.au graciously took on the translation duties, and I am extremely grateful for the wonderful job they did.


I attempted Japanese subtitles, but even the AI engine was not enough to rely on without massive corrections - it would have just been too much work. I also found that my authoring software of choice was either unable to render the Japanese characters or I was too dumb to figure it out. This was where the real trouble started.


ON THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF BLU-RAY AUTHORING


In order to create a DVD or Blu-ray release of your movie at home, you will need the following:


  1. A computer

  2. A Blu-ray burner drive

  3. Blank Blu-ray Discs for creating coasters (henceforth to be known as “test discs,” for the purposes of this blog)

  4. Commercial grade Blu-ray authoring software.

  5. A few choice words with which to gently coerce your commercial grade Blu-ray authoring software.

  6. A medium-sized sledgehammer for programming purposes.

  7. The patience of Job.


Years ago I used Adobe Encore CS4 for my discs. Not the most stable program in my experience, but it did the job. Sadly, Adobe discontinued the product two versions later and has not created an alternative. I dug out my old copy of CS4, installed it, and proceeded to cause crash after crash, no matter what I tried. Old software just doesn’t fare well on modern systems.


The ensuing search was long and frustrating. There are many alternatives for disc creation today, but relatively few will do both DVD and Blu-ray, and only a tiny handful will allow extra audio tracks (such as for commentaries) and fully customized menus. I could have pared back and made it simple, but I dug my heels in and tested at least 8 different programs. Everywhere was another roadblock. This continued through the remainder of 2021. In the end, it was a pre-owned, but unused copy of DVD Architect that finally provided an answer. And even then, I had to scour the internet for a “memory patch” that allowed it to actually handle all the extras I was loading onto the Blu-ray. 25 gigabytes of data.


The DVD was a cakewalk by comparison, especially since I could easily reuse most of the menu graphics for it. The one negative is that the DVD does not contain the full set of featurettes we produced. We could have gone with double-capacity discs, but the cost was prohibitive. Fortunately, we did manage to include the commentary, just as it appears on the Blu-ray.


PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER


For the case artwork, I pulled a bunch of discs off my shelf and studied how they were arranged. I’m not a real graphic artist, so it took some serious trial and error to get it to a point where I felt satisfied with it. It’s incredible to think how much work major studios do just for a single film, even with all their resources.


The final part was distribution: I signed on with a company that produces discs on demand and even provides the storefront for you. If you’re raising a skeptical brow, wondering what sketchy outfit I threw in my lot with, have no fear: they regularly produce discs for major studios, as can be seen on their website. There was another outfit I looked into that provides a greater return to the creator, but they are 100% automated: no customer service, no QC, just make the discs and ship them. After my ordeal creating the discs, I felt that having professionals do quality control checks on all my material was worth giving up some revenue.


Today is April Fool’s day, but this is no joke: Voyage of the Chimera will release on DVD and Blu-ray on April 12. I have no idea how well we’ll sell or what the future holds, but I can definitely say I’m excited and grateful to be here looking forward to whatever is to come.


Pre-order VOYAGE OF THE CHIMERA on DVD and Blu-ray.

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