Converting Avid Locators to DVD Studio Pro Chapter Markers

Converting Avid Locators to DVD Studio Pro Chapter Markers

I have two methods for making DVDs for directors, depending on how quickly the DVD is needed and what quality level or features are required. For faster but lower-quality DVDs, I just play out to a standalone DVD Recorder. For higher-quality DVDs I usually export a Quicktime, run it through Compressor, and ultimately bring it into DVD Studio Pro. When I go the DVD Studio Pro route, I also like to take the opportunity to appropriately chapter my DVDs. It’s a pretty quick and easy thing to do, and provides a more meaningful set of chapter points than the automated ones you get on a standalone recorder. My favorite method for quickly chaptering a Quicktime uses Avid locators to provide Compressor and DVD Studio Pro with my chapter points. Below is the process I use, or for the shortcut just use the online tool I created.

TOOL: Locator to Chapter Marker Converter

Converting Avid Locators to Compressor/DVDSP Chapter Markers

In order to convert Avid locators to chapter markers, a little knowledge of regular expressions is required. You also need an advanced text editor that can handle regular expressions (I use the free and multi-platform jEdit). You do not need to add locators to your sequence before you export it. Exporting your sequence and making locators suitable for chaptering can be done in either order. You do need to have exported and processed your locator file before you go into Compressor, though.

Adding Locators to Your Sequence

To prepare your sequence, change the sequence Start time to 00:00:00:00. I normally clear out all the other locators in my sequence as well, and since I always copy a sequence to a new bin before I export it, removing the locators isn’t an issue for me. If you’d like to keep your existing locators, then just add a new video track and put all of your chapter locators there.

Once your pre-existing locators are cleared and/or you’ve got yourself a new video track to work with, go ahead and add a locator at every point you’d like to make into a new chapter on your DVD. Once all your locators are added, go to the Locators window and export them to a text file. If you’ve chosen to add your locators to a new track while keeping existing locators on other tracks, then sort the Locators window by track, select all the locators you just added, and export only those Selected locators to a text file.

Exporting Avid Locators

Exporting Avid Locators

Converting the Locators Text File to a Chapter Marker File

Once you’ve got the text file with your exported locators, it’s time to open it in your advanced text editor. An exported locator file initially looks like this:

Evan Schiff    00:02:18:09    V4    white    Chapter1
Evan Schiff    00:03:11:11    V4    white    Chapter2
Evan Schiff    00:04:57:18    V4    white    Chapter3
Evan Schiff    00:06:41:16    V4    white    Chapter4
Evan Schiff    00:07:37:06    V4    white    Chapter5
Evan Schiff    00:08:29:05    V4    white    Chapter6
Evan Schiff    00:12:33:04    V4    white    Chapter7
Evan Schiff    00:13:33:23    V4    white    Chapter8
Evan Schiff    00:15:19:11    V4    white    Chapter9
Evan Schiff    00:16:14:15    V4    white    Chapter10
Evan Schiff    00:17:44:20    V4    white    Chapter11

Using a regular expression search/replace, you can instantly reformat your locator file to conform to Compressor and DVDSP’s required marker file format, which looks like the text below:

00:02:18:09 Chapter1
00:03:11:11 Chapter2
00:04:57:18 Chapter3
00:06:41:16 Chapter4
00:07:37:06 Chapter5
00:08:29:05 Chapter6
00:12:33:04 Chapter7
00:13:33:23 Chapter8
00:15:19:11 Chapter9
00:16:14:15 Chapter10
00:17:44:20 Chapter11

If you don’t label your locators, all you’ll see in the marker file is timecode. This is fine, the only required data is the timecode, and DVDSP will automatically add chapter labels if you don’t supply them.

To reformat the file, you would use the following regular expression:

^[\w\s]*(\d{2}\:\d{2}\:\d{2}\:\d{2})\tV\d\t\w+\t(.*)$

Your text editor’s dialog box would look something like the image below. I usually do a couple Replace & Find clicks just to make sure the pattern is working before I hit Replace All and save the file.

Regular Expression Search/Replace

N.B. In the Replace dialog box, your text editor may use either $1 or \1 to make back-references.

Importing Markers into Compressor

After you’ve saved your new marker file, open up Compressor and load your Quicktime into it. Make sure the Quicktime is selected in the main window and displaying in the Preview window. To the right of the Preview window’s timeline, you’ll see the marker button, under which you can Import Chapter List. Select your file, and if everything’s been done correctly, you should see markers pop up in the appropriate places in your movie.

Compressor Menu to Import Markers

Compressor Menu to Import Markers

Successfully Imported Markers

Successfully Imported Markers

Once your markers and DVD export settings are ready to go, Submit the job. Once the render finishes, you can import it into your DVDSP template file, and as soon as you lay it down onto a track you’ll see that the markers/chapter points appear automatically.

Why can’t I just add chapter points directly in DVD Studio Pro?

You can, but there are several limitations you’ll be imposing upon yourself. First and foremost, if you make your m2v without adding the markers first, you will not always be able to add a chapter point at the exact frame you want to. To get technical for a minute, when you encode an m2v file the frames of your source Quicktime are compressed into three types of mpeg frames. These are I-frames, P-frames, and B-frames (read your Compressor or DVDSP User Guide for more detail). You can only place a chapter marker on an I-frame, and if you don’t tell the encoder where you want an I-frame to be, it will put them wherever it sees fit, and this may or may not be on the frame that you want to make into a chapter point.

Second, the Compressor and DVDSP timelines are not nearly as precise as Avid’s, and don’t give you the visual identification of where clips start and end. I find it much faster to put accurate chapter points on the Avid timeline than in either Compressor or DVDSP.

You can put your chapter points wherever you like in DVDSP if you import the Quicktime directly and let DVDSP make your m2v file, but then you lose all the advantages of using Compressor, not to mention still having to deal with DVDSP’s clumsy timeline.

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8 Comments

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  1. Great article. I didn’t even know this was possible until I saw it in action. Time for me to brush up on regex.

  2. This is the best news I’ve read all week!

    Thanks heaps for posting it this great workaround!

    Now all we need is a Mac programmer to build something that automates the whole process so that you don’t have to open up a text editor… Any takers?

  3. One could probably build an Automator droplet with a Terminal command to take care of that, I’ll check it out and see if I can’t make something like that work

    –Evan

  4. Yep, not too hard to make an Automator action from that. Thanks for the suggestion! Try it out and let me know if that’ll do it for you. Just unzip the application and then drop your exported locators file on top. It’ll create a backup of your original file in the same directory and then do the appropriate modifications.

  5. Cool. While dvdsp chapter markers suit me fine enough, as an asst it’s nice to give my editors the freedom to set their own markers in avid should they feel the urge. Thanks!

  6. Amazing article and a thoroughly useful app attached too. I found that I had to open the plain text file in Text Editor and save it from there before compressor would recognize it but apart from that it worked like a charm. Thanks!

  7. Interesting, I haven’t had that problem but I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks for letting me know, and glad you liked the article!

  8. Evan, Thanks for this info. Any method for PC windows XP users? I had been in habit of manually exporting each rendered scene separately and then re-compositing the sequence via Sorenson and Avid DVDit, but this was quite tedious. The use of locators with DVD studio Pro is highly useful. Please notify me of reply