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.)


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”


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


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”


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


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

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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


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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.


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…)

Leopard is killing my iMac – next stop Ubuntu…?

March 26, 2008

Leopard is a real beast

I’ve been using Macs since System 7 and my Powerbook (145B) that I bought in the mid 90’s still works and is my back-up solution for working (with text) if nothing else is available. I’ve recommended Macs to everyone over the years who had computer problems and probably convinced quite a few people to make the switch to a Mac.

Three years ago I got an iMac G5 and it’s a beautiful machine to look at and I enjoy working with it – but it has one major design flaw: its fans. They can be very – very loud. The newer iMacs don’t have that problem, but this does not help me. Last November I upgraded from Panther (OS X 10.3.9) to Leopard (OS X 10.5) and was hoping the fan problems would go away. I was wrong – it got worse:

It seems that Leopard (and possibly to a certain degree also Tiger) was not made or optimised to run on PPC hardware, from looking at forums I see that quite a few people have exactly the same problem as I have: the iMac going to sleep all of a sudden while you are working – just like that! Recently it kept dozing off while I was repairing permissions (another Leopard bug: this can take very long). I had to force quit the permission repair process and ignore a warning that this could destroy data…

Right now I am rendering a last test version of my latest Blender made 3D animation and have to work with “automatic” processor power (significantly slower than “highest”) to prevent the iMac from constantly going into sleep mode (“reduced” seems broken altogether under Leopard, this was the option I had to use under Panther for listening to music because of the iMac’s ever modulating, Tinnitus-like high-pitched fan noise). (BTW: I’ve already zapped the PRAM, reset the SMU and checked that the power cable is plugged in correctly. Also a couple of weeks ago the mainboard had to be changed (did Leopard break it?) – so I don’t think my iMac’s new narcoleptic condition is a hardware problem.) What this now all means for me is that rendering times have doubled – because of Leopard! Wow.

What to do? I am now looking at all the options. Maybe Apple releases a 10.5.3 update in the next couple of days and all my problems will go away. This would be very cool but I am not very hopeful. Once I’m done with my current 3D project I’ll probably have to downgrade (or is it upgrade?) back to Panther.

Leopard with Vista qualities…?

Are you sure you want to remove the items in the Trash permanently?

is now a default warning. I just could not believe that Apple would do such a nonsense. I should have read it as a warning sign that there is something wrong with the OS… While you can turn off this message there is another one that you can’t turn off (at least not easily and not globally):

(App’s name) is an application which was downloaded from the Internet. Are you sure you want to open it?

There is no option to turn off that most annoying warning message!

Why this is really bad: recently I saved a few cool scans from the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive and wanted to open them: but Apple’s Preview does not recognise the .jfif extension (!). While the much better NicePlayer can open them Leopard gets in the way with its vistaesque question:

pbanimation01.jfif is an application which was downloaded from the Internet. Are you sure you want to open it?

Yes, OS X thinks that JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF) files are an application! But it gets worse: when you try to open multiple .jfif images at the same time (that you previously drag-droped/saved from Firefox to the desktop) you have to open them one by one and for each of them confirm with a mouse click (hitting return is not an option) that you really want to open “an application which was downloaded from the Internet! Or you could manually rename all of the files to .jpeg so that Preview can handle them… In any case it now can take a minute or two to open a bunch of new .jfif image files on my iMac. What a mess…!

This is only one of many examples where Leopard gets in the way of my productivity. Here two more highlights:

I use the Stickies app a lot. But in Leopard there is no way to turn off spell checking permanently for the Stickies and I absolutely dislike that ugly red underline for what the spell checker thinks is a misspelled word. The problem is that you can only can turn off spell checking for each single Stickies note individually – and next time you open the app you have to do it all over again – for each note you happen to use! You’d better not have 20 or more notes like me and are used to type in German without making use of capital letters (as would be the correct way of spelling certain words): not only can you not turn off the automatic spell checking (there is not even a shortcut for doing it with the note by note method) but also the Apple spellchecker does not have an option for ignoring capital letter misspellings…

But even worse than that is Spotlight: there are certain things (like my Firefox bookmarks.html or the StickiesDatabase file) that Spotlight just does not find (I’ve tried reindexing, cleaning all sorts of cache files…). The old Apple search might have taken a moment to come up with results, but it always worked and was easy to use. Spotlight just does not find certain files, offers a set of very confusing and for me useless options and in the end is slower than the old search because it tries to update search results in realtime while I’m typing and my iMac is just not fast enough for that.

To make a long story short: Leopard is not an elegant, not a user friendly operating system but at this point (10.5.2) a very buggy commercial beta release with many features that I just do not want but can not turn off (e.g. Stacks, which looks like a cheap rip-off of this cool technology). At the same time it is incompatible with Apple’s own Final Cut Express 2.x (that I bought only three years ago with the iMac) while other, non Apple software – older than three years – still just works…

So what happened? Why did Apple release Leopard so early? What does it mean for me as a consumer in regards to future Apple products? And most important: can I still trust Apple…?

I will soon be needing a more powerful computer for my next 3D projects. But should I buy another Apple product after the iMac G5 fan noise saga…? My main problem is that I also need a good NLE and Apple’s Final Cut Pro (while not ideal or really modern any more) is still the best choice in terms of money for value (there are open-source alternatives but none of them offers the full spectrum of features and ease of use that FCP has). But: if I buy the Final Cut Studio package now is it going to work on Apple’s latest OS offering in three years time…? Or will it be incompatible just like Final Cut Express 2.x is today with Leopard…? I do not think I should be forced to buy new hard- and software every three years – and who knows if I will always be able to afford it…? What I want is a more permanent solution. I need quality equipment. Something I can rely on. Something that “just works”. I’ve had enough of beta products like my fan noise challenged iMac G5 or beta products from other vendors like my super buggy Sony Ericsson mobile phone that I still have but avoid to use whenever I can (I got that one before the Sony rootkit fiasco – I have not bought any Sony product since).

True world domination: be humble and D.I.Y.

To me it now looks like we’ve reached a point where the quality of commercial (consumer) hard- and software from big companies is just not acceptable any more. (Faster and faster product development cycles to keep the cash machine working while only beta products are thrown to the market.)

Maybe small, local businesses selling open-source hardware is the answer…? Or just 3D printing your own, online community developed hardware…! But it’s just not quite there yet…

This is also something the open-source movement should always remember when looking at the mistakes that companies like Apple make:

Do not release software (without the beta label) before it has been thoroughly bug tested. Buggy products can anger your most faithful, decade-long fans and customers up to the point where they are so enervated that they will switch to alternatives sooner or later.

E.g. I don’t use the VLC that often any more: under Panther it kept crashing whenever I tried to close it and under Leopard the better solution often is to use the NicePlayer and having Perian installed – I just can’t see that stupid warning message any more that pops up every time the VLC can’t keep up with playing back a particular file (the NicePlayer also allows you to go back and forth frame by frame and the VLC at this point unfortunately does not support the TARGA (.tga) image file format that is a very useful standard in the 3D world).

True world domination will only work if you remain humble, deliver high-quality products and are honest about possible shortcomings of your offerings.

Stuck in the middle

After Installing Leopard back in November I also wanted to install Ubuntu on my iMac but in the end had to give up: there is no more official support from Canonical for the PPC platform and while the Ubuntu live CD worked well enough I could not “shrink” my OS X partition with GParted (this is necessary before going ahead with the actual Ubuntu installation for a dual boot set-up) – GParted just kept crashing and neither the Ubuntu community forum nor the GParted forum had a solution for this problem.

I could of course now get rid of OS X altogether and just install Ubuntu, but then I would also be stuck with an old Ubuntu version while not knowing if it really works well in the long run on my noisy iMac. So it looks like I will soon be stuck with an older (but at least very reliable) Mac OS (10.3.9) for the time being. Leopard most probably is not an option for me and dual-booting OS X/Ubuntu seems not doable without being a Linux ueber-geek.

Conclusion: this is a transition period – commercial solutions like Apple hardware and OS X might not live up to the promise and and open-source alternatives might not always work (yet).

Next stop Ubuntu…?

While the shiny new Macs from my local Apple store sure look very nice I feel less tempted than ever to invest in an Apple product again – the € 129.- I paid for Leopard back in November look like a bargain compared to the time I lost trying to be productive with it. I now might end up buying non Apple hardware and installing the latest Ubuntu release once it becomes available later this spring.

It’s been a while since I recommended buying a Mac to a friend and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this again. But:

I certainly can not recommend Apple’s Leopard (tested up to 10.5.2). Think twice about “upgrading” (specially if you are on a PPC) and better don’t do it at all if you are using a PPC iMac!

This apple looked really nice, but unfortunately it was picked way too soon and now leaves me with a very – very sour aftertaste. The good thing: there are alternatives and they seem more attractive than ever to me.

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