H.264 and The Tunnel of Babel

May 5, 2010

It’s (almost) free, use it…!!! *)

Every time I read a longer document or blog entry about H.264 licensing (www.engadget.com) my head starts spinning, every article that tries to explain H.264 gets complicated when it comes to the dreaded fine print of what you may or not may do…

And that’s the point, you see!

It’s the same trick as used on your average (mobile) phone/flat rate ad in the streets:

“It’s (almost) free to use, anywhere, anytime. Try it…!!! *)”

*) The fine print: It may cost you dearly.

The MPEG LA says they are “The Standard for Standards”. (How exclusive, almost noble that sounds…!) And to achieve that they have dug both very deep and wide and built something…

At least that’s how I think I dreamed it last night…

The Tunnel Of Babel

Here I was. A dark entrance. There was a sign but I did not have to read it, I knew that this was the entrance to

The Tunnel Of Babel

I hesitated. While being a film maker and looking for a good moving pictures (post) production infrastructure I knew what the deal was… By entering The Tunnel Of Babel you accept a set of rules:

1) Every motion pictures compression algorithm belongs to the Authorities Of The Tunnel Of Babel

2) No other motion pictures compression algorithm may exist outside The Tunnel Of Babel

3) Every time you use one of The Tunnel Of Babel’s Almighty Algorithms (known as TBAAs or ToBAAs), in particular the TBAA know as i.OU (sometimes also spelled i.Ou) you may – or may not – need to pay licensing fees. But no need to worry…! The Authorities Of The Tunnel Of Babel will let you know the moment your fees are due.

4) *New!* For distribution via the Intertubes there is now a special offer: for non-commercial use it’s free!!! *)

*) At least until 2015…!

Before I could decide not to enter The Tunnel Of Babel I woke up and realised that this was only a bad dream…

But then I looked around and saw my new Samsung WB1000 camera next to my bed and started thinking about that footage that I shot in the last couple of weeks, the footage that I now possibly can’t use commercially because it’s H.264 tainted (= possible licensing fees down the road) from the moment I pressed that record button.

Looking at the headlines on news.bbc.co.uk I was reminded of the financial situation in Europe…

What if one day I wake up living in a country that is (no more) an EU member and respects software patents…? Update 21.05.10: The EU is still standing, but software patents may be on the way to Germany

And thinking of my camera:

Could I shoot footage with that camera in a country that respects software patents and still 100% own my H.264 footage…?

Could I use H.264 recorded footage coming from a country that respects software patents…?

What about selling my footage to a country that respects software patents…?

Could I sell my camera on eBay to an American an s/he use it commercially…?! (Or is this where ACTA might come in one day, restrictions like the region code system on DVDs but for all sorts of goods…?!)

What about transcoding to an open format for editing? Where is the free, worldwide legal to use de-coder from the MPEG LA for H.264 to PNG etc. for H.264 camera owners in order to legally escape the lock-in…? Should that not be mandatory, an open-source app for all operating systems, available as a download from the MPEG LA’s site…?!

I realised I was daydreaming already and quickly got up.

And while drinking my coffee I started thinking about all the options I now still have when it comes filmmaking and staying 100% independent.

Open-source video editing for everyone: Blender VSE Quick Start updated (v0.1.1)!

November 15, 2008

What is new…?

Click the image to see a larger version.


The Quick Start guide (inside the .blend) now with “More” for “moving beyond the basics”. (Note that the layout has been arranged for this screenshot…)

Video Editing Preset (v0.1.1):

Download the .blend

*Update* This preset is meant to be used with the old/classic stable Blender 2.49b: get it here!

(Or get a recent version of Blender here.)

Next to the new selected shortcuts and tips that you can find under “More” a series of smaller additions has been made throughout the text (e.g. to “Snapping”, “Add Media” or the “Questions/Answers”) to further make sure that everything you need to get started with free and open-source video editing using Blender is there. The file now also works better as a preset as such: e.g. Scrub audio is now on but the text still shows you where to turn it on and off…


Blender works on all major platforms and you can share .blends between e.g. Ubuntu, OS X and Windows. At the same time Blender is free and open-source and the Blender VSE also works on older hardware – e.g. recycled with Ubuntu (or the lightweight Xubuntu): if no other solution happens to be available you could still get some work done or discuss a project using an old PC…!

Whether you are a video artist and always curious about new tools, a production company specialised in (3D) short format video (even if you don’t do your 3D work with Blender) or a (non-profit) organisation with a tight budget: the Blender VSE brings high-end video post to virtually any PC at no cost. (See the official Blender Wiki for more (“Using VSE”) including current limitations and workarounds.)


Change the size of the tutorial text with one click (see image…) or add Blender’s actual Timeline (e.g. under the Preview window, see tutorial for details) that offers more features for Markers.

Missing features…?

Blender is very flexible and can be customised in ways that commercial and closed source NLEs simply can’t: e.g. you could add smaller features like (a currently missing) Time code display via Python script (or simply use the built in Stamp option (Render buttons) for overlaying time information…).

The Blender VSE is not Final Cut Pro or Avid, but in the long run you might find that Blender (which is a 3D programme after all) allows you to realise projects that you previously simply could not do without an extra investment in yet more proprietary (and possibly limiting) commercial solutions (see all the new VSE feature (“Sequencer changes”) since Blender 2.46).

Suggestions and feedback

…for improving the tutorial/preset welcome!

And special thanks

…for hosting the .blend to Paul from the final BUG blog!

*02.01.09* Ubuntu (8.04, 8.10) users who experience problems with sound playback in Blender, are looking for solutions for FireWire related issues or have problems with the windowed (= not fullscreen) Blender version see the second comment!  (And feel free to post solutions to other related problems as a comment…)

Blender Video Sequence Editor: Quick Start

July 25, 2008

Video Editing Preset: Quick Start Tutorial

Quick Start shows the very basics needed to quickly get started with the Blender Video Sequence Editor (VSE).

*Update* This preset is meant to be used with the old/classic stable Blender 2.49b: get it here! (Or get a recent version of Blender here.)

*link updated* (v0.1.1, 15th November 2008)

1) Download the Video Editing Preset .blendQuick Start tutorial included (works without extra video files!)

2) Download Blender (in case you don’t have the latest Blender 2.46)

3) Double-click the .blend

Since Blender works under FreeBSD, Linux, OS X, Solaris and Windows the Blender VSE offers free and open-source video editing for almost any platform that an editor, video artist or company might be using. This means you could start working on your old iMac, send the .blend to your co-editor who has a Windows PC and once you get it back you could finish the project on your new Ubuntu workstation – the same .blend can be opened and edited on all platforms!

See all the new features that the Blender VSE offers since Blender 2.46. For more information, including some current limitations and workarounds, see the Blender Wiki: Using VSE.

2D Title Presets: Updated

*Update* This preset is meant to be used with the old/classic stable Blender 2.49b: get it here! (Or get a recent version of Blender here.)

*link updated* (v0.1.1a, 15th November 2008)

1) Download the 2D Title Presets .blend – the tutorial (included) now begins with a few quick steps to get started in no time

2) Download Blender

3) Double-click the .blend

Tutorials = CC Licensed – Your Work = Yours!

Both .blends/tutorials are (now) distributed under a Creative Commons license (Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported) – however you may use these .blends as starting points for your own commercial Blender made projects! Simply remove the tutorial texts (and rename the .blend) before sharing your .blends with others. The license restrictions only apply to the tutorial text and the tutorial as such!

Your editing projects and titles are yours!

If you are an educator, teacher or trainer: you may use these .blends in your classes (e.g. film school, multimedia training etc.) as long as they are distributed in their original form (no changes made) and free of charge.

See the .blends and the CC license for details.

One reason for the restrictions: I plan to update the tutorials, maybe extend them and simply can not support multiple versions. Thanks for understanding.

Special Thanks

…to Paul from the final BUG for hosting the .blend files!

Open-source animation tools, indie media links and end of a journey

June 30, 2008

P2P Audiovisual Wiki: open-source animation June 08 update

With the June 08 update I am stepping down as the maintainer of the P2P Audiovisual Guide, I’ve been working on this project for the last two years and now need to focus on being productive with some of the tools we list. The June update features a small but fine selection of the best and most promising free and open-source animation tools (2D, 3D and code based animation) that could be of interest to both beginners and experienced animators: P2P Audiovisual Guide (scroll down for the June 08 update…)

Indie media links

A couple of weeks ago I already decided to stop updating another one of my online project, remixlinks.ning.com, one reason being that since the latest ning.com update it became clear that “older” apps like mine (I was an early adopter of the ning platform about three years ago) would not remain fully functional in the future without extra work on the app’s code – while I am now starting to look into Python scripting for my blender 3D works I am still far away from being a programmer and don’t want to spend time fixing my bookmarks app…

Both the P2P Audiovisual Wiki and remixlinks.ning.com feature selected (open-source) tools, sites and services that could be of interest to indie film makers, artists or researchers… I am still thinking about how-to organise my future online projects, I am not sure if the Wiki format is ideal for me, nor do I want to start using another web 2.0 service that might not function properly in a couple of years time or (like previously del.icio.us) sell out to a company that I don’t feel comfortable being with. Probably an open-source solution running on my own server will be what I’ll end up doing, but those are just plans for the time being…

End of a journey

In a way this is now the end of a virtual journey through the Wild West of (indie) online web services and projects for me that has been going on since about 2004: after surfing on del.icio.us waves for a couple of months I started my own link collection on del.icio.us, moved on to ourmedia.org (first as a user then as a moderator), started remixlinks.ning.com and for the last two years now helped building the P2P Foundation’s Wiki by writing/maintaining the P2P Audiovisual Guide. See this page for all my (other) online projectsfor now I am putting all of them aside, including my indiworks channel that I probably will not update any more. The current video RSS feed solution via videobomb is far from ideal. Still, my indiworks channel/video RSS feed will be available as long as the videobomb service remains functional. Later this year, once I’ve found a satisfying solution for all my online projects, I plan to offer some sort of replacement for it. In any case: all my videos will of course remain available for download via the Internet Archive, I have no plans whatsoever to change that, the IA is the best and most reliable service of its kind that I’ve had the pleasure to use since I uploaded my first online video to their open-source movies section around autumn 2004. (Note that the download numbers on a video’s IA page only include the downloads made directly via the video’s page – those made via a link or a video RSS feed are not included…)

And now…?

After exploring (indie) online video distribution, researching free and open-source media creation tools, learning (and still learning…) blender for two years now and recently switching from OS X to Ubuntu the time has come for me to focus on the production side of things as well as finding a more satisfying way of presenting and distributing my work. I’ll keep (updating) this wordpress.com blog for a while to come, but plan to have a better (= more online video friendly) solution in place when the reorganisation of my online projects is done…

See you in Cyberspace!

Film 2.0: The Open Video and Story Remix Platform

June 20, 2008

The following text was originally written for a publication about online video to come out later this year. I was asked to make a series of changes that I just could not agree to and therefore took back my text. The integrity of my work means more to me than having it published in print.

I am aware that the text might come across as a bit extreme or seem strange to some – others just might find this particular style and energy interesting – I do and that’s why the text is the way it is. Sorry if you don’t like it, what I tried with this is to write down all of my thoughts about online video and the new medium itself – how I see film, video and storytelling developing into something new: the open video and story remix platform – an online “theme park theatre”.

I see a medium evolving from film and cinema, not as its replacement, but as “the next thing” – I believe that there will always be something like cinema – in one form or another – and this text is about that other form…

The Online Theme Park Theatre: an Open Video and Story Remix Platform

(1.0 version, 04.04.08; for this blog post, 20.06.08: three minor changes/corrections concerning the hyperlinks as well as bold highlighting for skimming the text and some underlining for layout/clarity reasons.)

The author likes to thank Till Alberts and Nicolai Gütermann for giving their valuable feedback and input to a first draft version of this text.


This is a collection of thoughts about the collaborative possibilities that online video offers and a look at free solutions for setting up an independent online video remix platform powered by free software.

This is not a technical manual nor is it a detailed business plan – it is a “free idea”. Free as the air and in the sense of obvious.

This text is the introductory chapter to a book that has not been written yet. And, when thinking about it, you might agree that this would be a book where everyone just has to write their own version: the theme/story platform concept is about just that.

This is also a new look at the medium itself that we are dealing with – the medium that we simply refer to as “online video”.

A free idea for free stories

One of the biggest possibilities for online video lies in its collaborative potential. What we are witnessing today is the birth of a new medium: grainy, handheld phone cam YouTube videos watched on laptops instead of silent, static, b/w film projected onto a screen. But this time it all seems to happen so much faster – and there are two key differences: this time the tools needed for producing moving images are much more accessible, while all potential participants are connected via networks and channels of all kinds. It is this powerful combination that makes the web, seen as a platform, an extremely exiting place to be as a film maker: an open video and story remix platform, a “virtual theatre” – a new, mashed-up medium, a “killer app” for the web.

A little more than 100 years after film was born the aristocratic/monopolistic structures for the production and distribution of moving images (and media in general) are falling apart (we even have phone cams and online video editing solutions now…) and rising is a much more diverse, richer and powerful infrastructure for moving images creation. But video sharing platforms and media archives are only the beginning – just like when editing a video you first get all the footage in one place (on a media platform you upload it) and make a preselection while organising your work (on a media platform you label/tag the video). Once that is done you start with the actual, creative editing process…

In the video editing world “online” can mean two things (that have nothing to do with the World Wide Web as such): “available” (footage from a disconnected hard drive that is still part of the project you are working on is referred to as being “off-line” – it is not available). The other meaning: “online editing” (meaning you were first working with a lower quality copy of the video and now that the actual editing is done you replace the lower quality copy with its original master footage – you “on-line” it. Now, from an editor’s point of view and in the context of the World Wide Web, there is a third meaning to “online video”: video footage that is free and legally (or you just don’t care like the avant-garde has done for decades) available on the web for reuse (and for retransmission to the collective audiovisual information stream). If you connect all three meanings from above the unified definition for “online video” turns out to be “free available master (footage)”.

Editing is about structuring and a film editor can be seen as someone who is programming a series of moving images. As increasingly well connected internet users we have started conversations on a multitude of levels – e.g. by making a video, reacting in one way or another to a video we’ve seen. Reacting becomes remixing. Fake movie trailers, popular online in recent years, will most probably prove to be real movie trailers, in fact. The remix feature film is likely to be “coming soon to a browser (and portable media player) near you”. We’ve finally build ourselves repositories and networks that allow us to start realising so complex undertakings as the community made open-source feature length film. Example for a finished remix feature length documentary made by one single editor (with the Final Cut Pro files available for further remixing): “Panorama Ephemera” (2004) by Rick Prelinger – http://www.archive.org/details/panorama_ephemera2004.

How it works

Within a few years the world of blogs (the “blogosphere”) has established itself as a highly effective, alternative infrastructure for publishing and delivering news (open for anyone to participate, accessible for minorities and specialists of all kinds). Something very similar is happening right now with the world of moving images: the cinema of the future seems to crystallise itself to be an online video remix platform – open for anyone to participate, allowing the audience to interact with the content on a multitude of levels. An existing example is YouTube: you can make playlists, find clips that are related to others, react to a video by making and uploading your own video and allowing others to view and share it and to react to it again – YouTube really is a new kind of movie: a dynamic, interactive show with thousands of channels and millions of clips forming a part of the “free available master (footage).

Just like YouTube seemed like a far out vision only ten to fifteen years ago (remember the time when there was no internet and when no one had a mobile phone?) the cinema of the future might seem like an idealist’s dream today while in fact it is materialising already – in platforms such as YouTube. In the end it is likely to be some kind of open, social media network: the “online theme park theatre”. Core product of such a platform will be a cinematic presentation of a story that relates in a strong way to the theme that the platform is centred around. Since different themes attract different audiences, and different people develop different kinds of stories, a multitude of such platforms (possibly evolving as “genre platforms” and offering a multitude of theme centred, individual projects) will exist. At the same time these shows will also be screened in real world cinemas while digital distribution/projection will further help to democratise the new medium and bring high quality, content rich community produced projects to large mainstream audiences and their established viewing environments. And online you’ll be able to watch a movie in a virtual theatre (either alone or with many others) that you (can) create/interact with while you are watching. The stories you’ll see will have a life of their own, might first need to be developed over a longer period of time (just like e.g. Linux took about ten to fifteen years to mature into a mainstream product), but in the end these multimedia shows will turn out to be our generation’s online classics: myths, legends and stories with heroes and heroines from the new world. It also seems very likely that real world/online (story) worlds will melt into one another in unprecedented ways – which again is only reminiscent of one of the oldest movie themes we know: the exploration of that fine line between dream and reality.

Movies today are prepackaged dreams – movies of the future will be modular, dynamic and interactive dreams.

A visualised stream of thoughts

Online video allows creators to innovate, something a big Hollywood studio just can not afford because of ever exploding budgets – and the budgets themselves are just consequences of the attempts to fix with money what a special effect can’t buy: a good story. And so it became possible that simple stories – told from one person to another, by people gathering in groups, sitting around computer screens (our modern day fire places) – that these simple stories are now a serious competition for the industrial FX magician from Hollywood who lights very bright, very expensive fires that may look nice, but too often turn out to be illusions of fire places with no storyteller around.

In ten to fifteen years time we might already visit a (virtual online) theatre offering a 3D holographic experience and connecting tens of thousands of people at the same time – a bit like today’s “massively multiplayer online role-playing games” (MMORPGs) – people coming together in one place to experience a multimedia show that can be consumed, customised, contributed to, shared with others, remixed and retransmitted to another remix node in the network. The most effective way of realising this will be by using a totally open, non proprietary infrastructure without any kind of DRM or creativity restricting copyright laws.

But since this is a new medium we should not limit ourselves to think of it as a 90 minutes long experience…

Moving images are a visualisation of thoughts. And since the human mind likes stories we arrange those images into stories that can easily be shared and communicated: video is becoming a unifying language that almost everyone understands. Online video, our “free available master (footage)”, is a visualised stream of thoughts in an ongoing global conversation with feedback loops of all kinds – with each conversation a video stream gets better, smarter – like a programmer’s code evolving from a 0.1 beta version to the 1.0 final release – and all of this is happening while old media still tries to adapt, e.g. by suing its fans and costumers who try to integrate the static, old media content with the dynamic online one by sharing and remixing it!

Some tools and questions

Some of the tools needed for a meta platform like a virtual remix theatre already exist, others are just being built. We already have a couple of open-source movie projects (e.g.: “The Digital Tipping Point”http://www.archive.org/details/digitaltippingpoint or “Big Buck Bunny”http://www.bigbuckbunny.org) while a multitude of high-quality, free and open-source media production and distribution tools are flooding the market that was once dominated by commercial, closed-source, proprietary software from monopolists.

Some of the free and open-source tools (many, many more available) already in place are:

– on the content creation side:

Blender (3D modelling, animation, rendering, video post – http://www.blender.org), Gimp (image and photo manipulation – http://www.gimp.org), Inkscape (vector graphics editor – http://www.inkscape.org), Ardour (digital audio workstation – ardour.org), Kino (DV video editor – http://www.kinodv.org)

– on the distribution side:

Miro (internet TV and video player incl. BitTorrent support – http://www.getmiro.com), VLC (media player and streaming server – http://www.videolan.org), Songbird (media player and Mozilla based Browser – getsongbird.com), Plumi (Video CMS – blog.plumi.org), MediaWiki (Wikipedia’s Wikisoftware – http://www.mediawiki.org; for Wiki style video editing see: sourceforge.net/projects/kaltura), WordPress (blogging software – wordpress.org), Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora (patent/royalty free audio and video encoding – http://www.xiph.org), Croquet Consortium (creation and deployment of collaborative multi-user online applications and metaverses – http://www.croquetproject.org).

Next to semi-open/closed platforms like YouTube – does not support Creative Commons licences (creativecommons.org) – there are CC licence friendly platforms like blip.tv (blip.tv) and the incredible non-profit Internet Archive (www.archive.org). Other sites like Ning (www.ning.com) let users create their own social networks including pre-built micro video sharing sites à la YouTube, free to use, CC licence friendly.

In the end not technology but the quality of the actual story that a virtual story park is centred around will make a project work. More helpful than any rules and how-tos for story development are simple questions – they always work! (Rules are too specific – questions are open, universal and lead to new questions…) So here a couple of questions for online storytellers and remix video producers:

Who is my/our audience? Who is/are my leading character(s)? What does he/she/they want? What forces are opposed to our hero’s goal? In the end, will our heroine get what she wants? What’s the story in one sentence? What’s the story in three sentences?

Note: possibly these question might seem “too simple” and not appear to be useful – in that case come back once you’ve started developing your project! Being able to answer those simple questions will give you a good foundation for developing a working, complex story – if answered well those are in fact rather hard questions! For more questions read Linda Seger’s classic “Making A Good Script Great”, for the eye-opening, mythological approach to storytelling read “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler.

The next step

Now before proceeding please click to confirm:

Commercial Break To be Continued… The End

new “vincent” preview image

February 9, 2007


vincent (austria 1996/2003, feature, 44 min.)

this is the new preview image on the vincent download page at the internet archive. i think it works much better than the one i had before.

if you have a video/film in the archive’s open-source movie section and don’t know how-to add an image to your movie’s page: read this short how-to on my indiworks @ blogger blog…

indiworks – works of valentin spirik

October 22, 2006

all works are mpeg-4 (h.264) encoded

free and open-source vlc media player available

indiworks channel


preview for the indiworks channel, 1 min. **)


kevin’s world – a 3d vlog

episode 1: kevin & ginger, 2 min. *)


his girl friday – between the lines edit (2005)

editing experiment, 8 min.


from station to station

remix music video, 4 min.


d.o.a. – remix xs

remix video, 2 min.


vincent – interview (extra)


extra/bonus footage for vincent, 1 min.


vincent – teaser


short sequence from vincent, 1 min.



indi feature film, 44 min.
download via archive.org


*) music: g minor swing by jonah dempcy, cc “by“; video: “by-nc-sa

**) music: back in the day by jonah dempcy, cc “by“; video: “by-nc-nd


tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Creative Commons License
This work – except where noted otherwise – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License

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