Video Production with Linux

I’ve recently started a video production business. I decided to use Linux for my “office” type applications for security, stability, and budget reasons. I’ve really been impressed with the quality of these applications. I use Open Office, KOrganizer, Mozilla, and Gnucash for most of my work. After having such a pleasant experience with these programs I began to investigate what Linux apps were available for video production. I found a linux counterpart of just about every program I use:

Photo manipulation / The Gimp
Sound editor / Audacity
Video editing / Cinelerra
Motion graphics / none??? *(see conclusion)
Music creation / Soundtracker
Windows Compatibility/ Vmware Workstation


This isn’t meant to be a review but more of a my personal experience with these programs. I just want to say that if you like Linux/ Alternative platforms you should support these projects any way you can.


Machine Specs:
Dual 1.2 Ghz Athlon
Ati Fire GL 8800 128mb
512 mb ram
SoundBlaster 5.1
LindowsOS 4.5


All of these programs were available from the Lindows C&R and free to download for other distros except Vmware which is the 30 day trial from their site.


The Gimp:


click for a larger version If your reading this then you probably know what the Gimp is, so I’m not going to go into an overview. I use photo manipulation for a number of things in production. The main thing I use it for is editing individual frames from a video clip. This comes in handy when you need to remove quick mistakes. For example: a microphone dipping into the video for a split second. The Gimp has all of the regular features that I need for editing individual frames but, the one big thing that its lacking is the ability to import filmstrip files. This is a sequence of frames that can all be edited together. It would be nice to see this added in a future version.


Adding and altering alpha channels is another task I do a lot. Most of the time when A client sends you an image or logo it wont have an alpha channel. The gimp has great support for this. Unfortunately there is know motion graphic program for linux to import the finished image into.


Audacity:


Audacity is a really slick sound editor. Its interface is very simple and straight forward.


click for a larger version Anyone who has ever used a sample editor before should feel right at home. It can import & export Wav, Mp3, and OGG files and export Wav & OGG files. It has all the usual cut, paste, zoom options you would expect. Its a little lite on the effects that are included but it does have noise removal & amplify which are vital in video production. There’s nothing more annoying then a client giving you footage that has someone using a weed eater in the background.


One feature that audacity is missing is a import audio from video option. This is crucial when you want to clean up the audio from bad footage. Until then I would have to use a separate program to do this. Overall audacity is a very nice simple editor that should fulfill just about every basic sound editing situation you could throw at it.

Cinelerra:


click for a larger version This was the program that I was the most excited about. It has alot of the features that I use on my Windows based editors including: compositing & editing with real time effects, unlimited tracks, and network rendering. I was particularly interested in the network rendering feature. If you have a couple of spare machines lying around (Like most geeks do πŸ™‚ ) then this can come in really handy. One of the first thing that jumps out out you when you load this program is the color scheme. Its very different. Personally I really like it. It reminded me of the good ole days on my Amiga when I would change the color palettes on every program to some really load setting.


I proceeded to load some files into the program and this is were the trouble began. The first two quicktime .mov files I loaded completely crashed the program. I thought that maybe it was the source of the files so I tried some different ones. One loaded but only showed a blank screen and the other crashed the program. I finally got a video clip to load on the third attempt. I then needed some music & stills so I loaded a couple of jpegs & mp3s in. Thats about as far as I got. everytime I would pull down a menu on the time line it would just get stuck and hang there, in fact almost everything I tried would crash the program. This was just complete mess . Even after a few hours of online searching and reading all the docs I just couldn’t get any further so I just gave up. Its to bad because this program has a lot of potential. I’ll try it again after another release to see if I have any better luck with it.


SoundTracker:


I’m an old school computer musician. I started out writing mods with Octamed on my Amiga. I later moved to the Windows version of Octamed and was disappointed by the performance. I tried a couple of other windows trackers and had the same results. It was just sad that a tracker ran better on my 25mhz 68030 Amiga then it did on my 400 mhz Pentium II. I decided that it was time to try a tracker on another x86 OS. I loaded my computer to dual boot Windows/Red Hat linux and started to do some research on audio. After a little trial and error I found Soundtracker. It was free and it had all the features I needed from a sample tracker.


If you are unfamiliar with trackers I would take a look at www.united-trackers.org to see what its all about. Its an interesting way to write music. The best way that I’ve heard it described is that it works like an old time player piano. instead of notches in the paper roll triggering piano keys its numbers triggering samples as they scroll by.


VmWare Workstation:


click for a larger version Vmware Workstation is an application that lets you run other operating systems on Linux or Windows. This is really useful if there is an application that you have to have but its not available for your current OS. In my case I really needed to use After Effects. I downloaded the 30 day trial from their site and had it up a running in a few minutes. I altererd some settings for a virtual machine and had Windows 2000 and After Effects going with no problem. After Effects runs surprisingly smooth on this setup. I was pretty impressed with the overall speed of everything I loaded up. It seemed much faster than Virtual PC running Windows on the same hardware.


Programs like this are going to open up the gap between OS’s. Its not an end all solution but for now its a really great way to run everything you need on one machine.


Conclusion:


There are a few up & coming programs that I didn’t discuss here that are definitely worth checking out. One of them is Jashaka. Its an all in one program that does video editing, motion graphics, titling, etc… I’ve been playing with the current alpha realize and it’s going to be very cool. Check it out at: www.jahshaka.com. Another program that I’m waiting for is the linux version of Main Actor. Its an editing program from Main Concept and its going to be a commercial release.


I guess for now I’m still forced to use Windows machines for most of my production work. Its to bad that I really want a choice but its just not there for my current hardware.


Maybe in a year or two I’ll try this whole experiment again. If its still not possible to make the switch then maybe I’ll sell all my stuff and buy some new Mac’s.


About the Author
I run a video production company based in Raleigh, NC. My first computer was a Atari 400 with a touch pad keyboard and a basic cartridge. A few years later I began writing music on a Amiga 2000. Currently I have a variety of x86 PC’s running various OS’s including: Windows, Linux, AmigaOS, QNX, MacOS 8 (68k emulation), Contiki, and AROS.

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