Lightworks: (sort of) open-source NLE available now, first impressions

December 5, 2010

Lightworks is the grandfather of NLEs and went open-source, well at least sort of, a couple of days ago: it currently only works under Windows (so no use for me at this point) and you need to register. There is no source code available yet and Mac and Linux versions are said to be available later in 2011.

So this is basically like an Alpha/Beta test run for getting started with Lightworks if you don’t mind using Windows and know what you are doing.

Having seen Paul give a Lightworks demo at our last final BUG meeting I was still quite impressed. So assuming the source code will be released in 2011 and all remaining issues they might have will be solved I definitely can see the potential here:

* I believe after seeing that 30 min. or so demo I’d feel comfortable enough to start editing/working on a (short test) project without any further manual reading (assuming I’d have a stable version already installed). Lightworks is pretty easy and intuitive to use while also being different to others NLEs:

* Basically there is not much to see at first except for that left hand (floating) side bar with those icons. What you then do is choose the tools you need for the particular task you wish to perform. So at first it’s tabula rasa and not the usual timeline with the player/recorder (or whatever they might be called) windows on top. Experienced Blender (2.49b) users will be familiar with this kind of philosophy…

* It has advanced trimming features some of which not even Avid has. Again these tools are easy to use, also easier compared to what you need to do in Avid and certainly much easier and much more useful than what in comparison seem to be only half hearted trimming features in FCP.

* While the Blender VSE (see my Tutorials page for more) is a wonderful, minimal style NLE that already works on all major platforms and will most probably remain my tool of choice for my own (3D) shorts, Lightworks has the potential of becoming something like the LibreOffice (was OpenOffice) of the NLE world: it’s a specialised tool for (film) editing, it’s very powerful, quite elegant and has a well known track record in the industry.

From the Lightworks website:

Having cut hundreds of films such as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Centurion and Shutter Island, it includes a full feature set of editorial tools, from advanced trimming and media management, through to stereoscopic support and realtime effects including multiple secondary colour correctors.”

In any case: competition is always good for the users. :-)

There will be another Lightworks session at the next final BUG meeting, so drop by if you are in Berlin and want to check out what may well turn out to be the (open-source) film and video editing solution in the not so distant future.

So Avid, FCP and all others beware of that shark…!

Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne

Und die trägt er im Gesicht

Und Macheath, der hat ein Messer

Doch das Messer sieht man nicht

(Source)

Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,

And he shows them pearly white

Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear

And he keeps it out of sight

(Source)

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Editing with Blender, Ubuntu: Screenshots, workflow from my Notic Nastic live clip

January 21, 2009

“Sleep Tight” Notic Nastic Live Clip (1 min. 14 sec.)

*24.03.10*

As of today the Notic Nastic “Sleep Tight Live Clip” is no longer available. The act is now a member of their local equivalent to the American RIAA. Since I have nothing in written form that would give me reassurance that the deal I thought I had with them is still there (I make a video and get the right to show the video with the music on my blog), this is now simply what I need to do.

Every video I make is also a part of myself. In that context there is now a whole new meaning for me to the old saying that “The RIAA eats your babies.

I’ll be writing more about this on my blog in the days/weeks to come.

(Watch the Flash Video above or download (“Save Link As…”) the .mov.)

1: Selecting “the good stuff”

01_clips_in_top_row_selected_for_further_use

Click the image to see a larger version.

I load my whole footage into the Blender Video Sequence Editor (VSE) and start selecting “the good stuff”: with the mouse over the Image Preview window (see screenshot 3: Selecting “the really good stuff”) I use Space for start/stop and Right/Left Arrow for going back and forth. In the timeline (= Sequence): K for Cut and Shift S for snap editing (shortens/extends clip to the playhead when start/end is selected). The “good stuff” gets moved upwards a row (= Channel) with G for Grab and Y for Y-Axis. I keep the uncut original inside a (muted) Metastrip should I need it later since I am working without timecode. (You can use the Stamp render option for overlaying time information.) Then I make a back-up of the .blend.

2: Selected vs. original footage

02_selected_clips_moved_together

Click the image to see a larger version.

I move the selected clips together using Ctrl for snapping clip to clip. The white numbers on the right show the last frame of “the good stuff” (top), the music track (middle) and the not used clips etc. that are now also inside the muted Metastrip (bottom).

3: Selecting “the really good stuff”

03_further_selection_of_clips

Click the image to see a larger version.

Same procedure as above (1: Selecting “the good stuff”) with the mouse over the Image Preview window (top right) and Space for start/stop, Right/Left Arrow for going back and forth… Since I easily get realtime playback using DV footage (no effects applied) with Ubuntu 8.04 and Blender 2.48a on my PC (current Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM and a reasonably fast 250 GB harddrive) this workflow allows me to find my in and out points while looking at moving images the way the audience will see it… Frame 6 067 is now the last one after “the really good stuff” is moved together (that’s down from 20 520 from the previous step). I use the Blender Text Editor for taking notes. Again I make a back-up of the .blend.

4: Sorting the clips

04_clips_get_sorted

Click the image to see a larger version.

I add a Text Editor window left of my Sequence and name/tag my tracks. I adjust the Sequence window with (Number Pad) Home and then use Middle Mouse Button and Ctrl to fit the Channels to my tagged tracks. Then I move “the really good stuff” clips in the appropriate track (for moving clips up or down without moving them in time I once again use G and Y, for selecting multiple clips I use B for Border Select…).

5: Editing the video

Click the image to see a larger version.

I use Markers for the points where the singing starts. Then I move the best of the previously sorted clips to roughly where I need them and work on the details again using Shift S for snap editing and also G for Grab to shorten/extend a clip’s start/end… The basic structure for the edited video: details/close-ups at the beginning, the artists performing in the middle and a longer zoom out close to the end. I move the unused clips into Metastrips on the left.

As before I use (Number Pad) Home for seeing everything that’s in the timeline. But since there are the unused clips on the left now I then select the music track and (Number Pad) Dot/Del (normally used for “zooming in” on a single clip) for focusing the Sequence window to the area that I actually want to see when editing…

I export the edited clip as a PNG Sequence (= series of .png images). (F10 (pressed multiple times) for switching between the Sequencer buttons when editing and the Render buttons when exporting.)

The annotations in the screenshot above show what’s important for exporting/rendering.

6: Through the Compositing Nodes

Click the image to see a larger version.

I load the previously exported PNG Sequence into the Compositing Nodes and let it run through a series of filters: DV video artefacts get smoothed out and my own graininess/structure and artefacts get added. The particular filters used here may be experimental and only make sense for this clip, but a couple of combinations can be useful for other projects (values would need to be adjusted): Gauss-Darken for a toon look, Screen-Overlay-Mix for optimising an image, Sharpen-Soften for focus related compositing tasks (high values for Sharpen may introduce artefacts).

The yellow and blue annotations in the screenshot above show what’s important for processing a series of PNGs with the Compositing Nodes: in this set-up navigation is possible by moving the Sequence playhead (the green line at frame 90 940) for previewing different parts (individual frames) of the Nodes processed video. I export the Nodes filtered PNGs once more as a Sequence of PNGs.

7: The final look

Click the image to see a larger version.

I load the Nodes processed PNGs into my VSE Sequence (Space to Add Image Sequence), add and finetune a Glow (with clip selected Space to Add Glow), make a Metastrip of both (with clips selected and M) and use Color Balance (with clip (Metastrip) selected: Filter tab > Use Color Balance) for creating the basis of the yellowish (but at this point rather dark) look. I then add a one step Strobe (Filter tab > Strobe: 2.00). With Shift D I duplicate the Metastrip, move it up one Channel and also move it one frame out of sync (see screenshot). The Glow for this FX 1 track gets removed (Tab to open/close a Metastrip) and in the Edit tab I select Blend Mode Add and Blend: 33.00. (31.01.09: And Use Color Balance – as can be seen in the screeshot above – gets also unselected for this FX 1 track.) I also duplicate the FX 1 track, move it up one Channel and also move this FX 2 track out of sync for yet another frame. There is one last step not shown in the screenshot: a final, subtle Glow is applied to all strips.

I once more export the clips as a Sequence of PNGs, import them one last time and change the export settings in the Render Buttons > Format tab to FFMpeg, make my selections for the video and audio format/codec and make sure that Multiplex audio is selected in the Audio tab before exporting the finished video clip with sound.

8: Credits

08_making_the_credits

Click the image to see a larger version.

This is actually done somewhere before finishing the editing (5: Editing the video) and using my own 2D Titles Preset .blend/tutorial. I adjust the text to the right size first. In order to have the Center where I need it for my title animation: Object > Convert Object Type… > Mesh. Then: Object > Transform > Center New.

Tutorials etc.

Download my Video Editing Preset .blend (Quick Start tutorial inside) for all the basics you need to get started with the Blender Video Sequence Editor.

Download my 2D Title Presets .blend (tutorial inside) for making “crystal clear” titles with Blender.

*Update* These presets are meant to be used with the old/classic stable Blender 2.49b: get it here!

Or get a recent version:

Download Blender for all major platforms.

Thanks to Paul for hosting these .blends on the Final BUG server!

See Using VSE (and Previous/Next pages) from the Blender Wiki for the official Blender Video Sequence Editor documentation.

See Using Nodes (Blender Wiki) for getting started with the Compositing Nodes.

Check out Ubuntu for getting started with GNU/Linux.

Notes for editors new to Ubuntu

While many to most things in Ubuntu will “just work” this is not the case for most things related to FireWire. Either plan some time for testing/research or get help from an experienced Linux user. It may be best not to rely on external FireWire drives for anything other than copying media to your internal drive as long as you are new to Ubuntu.

For help with all things related to Ubuntu and multimedia see also the Ubuntu Studio pages.

(26.04.09:) Ubuntu 9.04 users who experience problems with opening Blender 2.48a, exporting video with sound or audio playback in Blender see my comment below (April 26, 2009) for solutions!


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.

new_in_quick_start_v011

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…

Why…?

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.)

text_size_changed_and_timeline_added_under_preview

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!


Blender 2.46 released – Sequencer updated!

May 20, 2008

Blender 2.46 has been released yesterday (download from here) and one of the many changes worth mentioning are the updates to the Sequencer (video editing). This is such an elegant, minimal and yet powerful NLE…! To my knowledge there is no other video editing software, be it open-source like blender or a commercial solution, that runs on that many platforms (blender works under Linux, OS X, Windows, Solaris and OpenBSD and .blend files are 100% compatible across all of these platforms!).

There sure are some limitations, but after a first couple of tests and playing around with the 2.46 release candidate in the last couple of days I can only repeat that I am very impressed by the blender NLE. It has so much potential… Just don’t make the mistake of underestimating its capabilities when only quickly looking at the “Sequence” preset that blender offers by default. Read about it in the blender Wiki. There is room for improvement when it comes to certain workflows, but in a way this is also another strength of the blender NLE: it provides you with all the basics you need for non-linear video editing and lets you configure the tool in ways that are just not possible with traditional NLEs – since blender is of course a 3D application you can load 3D scenes directly (!) into the NLE or find a workflow where you combine the NLE with the Compositing Nodes.

I think with this update the blender VSE is now more than ready for wider, commercial use for (short) lengths video post production: it is free, open-source and runs on virtually any platform a production company might be using – no licensing fees have to be paid to anyone and if you need to make changes to the application, like adding a feature, you can always do it – it’s open-source! One reason why blender is growing so quickly is because individuals as well as companies constantly improve its (3D) capabilities and give code back to the project: so basically a small investment that one company makes can be shared with all others and instead of just getting one new feature you might get as many as in this latest 2.46 release – giving away something in the open-source world means getting more in return in the long run – everyone wins (except for a few big companies that have monopoly like power in the NLE world).

BTW, if anyone reading this is wondering about vivaldi rock: I was waiting for the new blender and I am rendering (again) now… There is still one technical issue that I have to solve, I was hoping there would be a fix for it in the new blender version but it looks like I have to try a workaround for now. More about that once the video is online… (If you don’t know: instead of checking back if the video is online already you can also simply subscribe to my video RSS feed: just (right) click/Copy Link Location and paste it in e.g. iTunes under Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast…: the video will then be downloaded automatically for you once I’ve posted it!)


Life after Final Cut Pro

April 7, 2008

Sometime good things come to an end

I’ve made up my mind (final reason) to phase out all Apple products from my production pipeline: OS X, Final Cut Express and GarageBand (FCE 2.0.2 is now unusable, GarageBand 1.1 very close to unusable under Leopard).

I was thinking of investing in the Final Cut Studio package and new Apple hardware, but I really dislike Leopard, I dislike the way Apple treats its decade long customers, how they cheated me by selling me a buggy product like Leopard and made me loose valuable time (and money) by making me figure out on my own that Leopard never was ready for prime time on the PPC. This was most dishonest… Before that Apple had sold me a very noise iMac G5 – since bitten by Leopard I like to call it “my little Hoover” (Apple: ever tried sound editing…?).

That’s just it, folks! This is a goodbye from a platform I loved and promoted passionately (just ask any of my friends) over the course of many many years – I even made a bet with one of my best friends when things looked really bad for Apple in the mid-90’s. My friend said Apple would not make it, I was sure they would get their mainstream success sooner or later. My friend now ows me an apple, a McIntosh to be precise… Well, next time I see him I let him know that he may keep the wager – I have no more interest in it.

This was not an easy decision, but looking back Leopard was really the final reason. I had thought about alternatives for quite a while, but Ubuntu seemed not ready and I wanted to wait and see what Apple offers with Leopard: I was hoping it would be awesome and give me a good excuse to stick with the Apple ecosystem, the polished interface, its easy of use…

You can’t always get what you want

I let the Rolling Stones say this one for me:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

I wanted OS X and FCP but what I need is Ubuntu and a set of free and open-source apps that will allow me to replace the Final Cut Pro product line step by step over the coming months, possibly years: I am aware that today there is no finished open-source solution to FCP (we were introduced to Cinelerra at the TOSMI training last spring and unfortunately I was not convinced by what I saw, but I will have another look at it within the next couple of months).

What I plan to do now:

• document all free and open-source alternatives that seem attractive for high-end film- and video editing

• research, describe (write tutorials) and link to workflows and solutions in regards to open-source non-linear video editing and help bringing it to the mainstream

• help designing and developing (by giving feedback, discussing, bug testing) a free and open-source NLE of my choice

• discuss the possibility (and usefulness?!) of setting up a non-profit fund where film- and video editors worldwide can (if they wish anonymously) donate money to speed up the development of a fully featured, open-source alternative to Final Cut Pro

The last point will be a long term project, right now I’d say that the best existing open-source solutions seem about three to five years away from being able to compete on a feature-by-feature basis with FCP. But: I believe it is possible to start phasing out FCP of your production pipeline right now – read on for more!

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”

… is my favourite Albert Einstein quote. So what opportunities brings me the fact that I am getting rid of Apple in favour of a free and open-source non-linear editing solution…?

cheaper, more customisable and expandable hardware (ever bought RAM from Apple…?)

a free and open-source operating system (I’ll probably go for Ubuntu) that is being developed and tested in all possible openness (so it’s less likely to have a wild leopard bite you in the neck when you just don’t expect it)

a wide range of high end free and open-source audio, video and 3D applications that can be customised in ways that closed-source commercial products like Apple’s Final Cut Pro just can’t be due to their closed-source nature

• the certainty that all my investments (bug reports, how-tos, donations, …) end up in a product that will always be available free of charge for me, for others and for future generations

total independence from a multinational corporation like Apple that currently can decrease my productivity by selling me buggy software while being totally dishonest about possible shortcomings of their product

support of an emerging Linux PC hardware market that brings cool design and usability to the former “beige boxes” world – this will further help with the adoption of Linux and speed up the process of frustrated Apple users like me migrating to the free software world

• Apple will have to try much harder to satisfy its user base and start innovating (instead of decorating) – competition is good for users on both sides

• I will be forced to learn new software and will have to solve problems along the way – perfect for improving my skills, deepening my knowledge

A start

Last summer the offline editing for my Blender made 3D animation Visual Machine no. 1 was done with Final Cut Express and it was onlined with the Blender NLE. Once I’ve got my PC hardware together and the latest Ubuntu is installed and configured, I’ll try using Kino for offline editing. I’ll keep testing workflows involving the Blender NLE (for onlining, possibly also for the actual editing). There are a couple of limitations you have to work around when doing this, but as I learn more about them I’ll be able to develop strategies and tools to overcome those limitations – one idea is to use (Python) scripts for automating certain cumbersome workflows – once tested those scripts could be shared in a handy library with the free software editing community and will allow:

• a highly optimised workflow within a particular app like Blender that currently might lack certain non-linear editing features

• the creation of a user friendly trans-apps workflow e.g. for combining the best of Kino with the best of Blender to have one package (incl. documentation) that can be distributed and promoted to e.g. Final Cut Pro users

I have done a bit of research already over the last two years while working on the P2P Audiovisual Guide and when collecting links for my remixlinks project. Now I have to figure out the whole thing in all its details, make tests, find solutions that work for me. But since my main project currently is a 3D animation and after that another one is already waiting, I will have to make this switch from the Apple to the Linux world in a series of smaller steps. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll have a first (set of) workflow(s) that I successfully tested and can recommend for production use – or maybe I will just be surprised by finding out what others already have in place and things will go much faster…?

Conclusion

I never really thought I’d come to this, but Apple messed up things with Leopard in an extreme kind of way (it’s not quite as bad as Vista seems to be, but for sure it feels like a Vista light) – and since Apple is not willing to listen (final reason) I have now come to the conclusion that it would be limiting or even foolish (and at least lazy) – to further rely on Apple when it comes to non-linear video editing.


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