Video Production 101: Making a Movie with Kdenlive
By profession, I'm a music teacher. Four times a year, my students perform a show at a local coffeehouse called Coffee Amici. The room hosts regularly scheduled performers, open-mic nights and various community events. My students love to play there. It's a great opportunity for them to show their stuff for an attentive crowd, and eventually, they asked about the possibility of doing video recordings of the shows. I looked into the affordability of the requisite gear, the extent of Linux support for recommended hardware, and the availability of software that would help me produce a simple DVD from my recordings. I was happy to discover that the project was well within my price range and that my software choices included more than one adequate solution.
This article describes how I recorded a student show with an inexpensive camcorder and how I produced a movie from that footage with Kdenlive, a non-linear editor (NLE) for Linux. Kdenlive is a powerful program, but my project was simple, and the methods I describe here should be usable in other Linux NLEs.
First, I needed a video camera. My research and my budget led me to the Samsung SC-D382 miniDV camcorder (Figure 1). For about $100, I got a camera with a remote control, a DV interface (IEEE 1394, aka FireWire) and advanced settings that can be configured for a relatively good-quality recording. It's lightweight, and I found it easy to operate and control. Obviously, more money gets more camera, but I intended to keep expenses as low as possible without compromising the quality of the basic material.
By default, the camcorder produces video in an NTSC 4:3 display format, commonly associated with the square screen of a television in North America. The default audio setting appears to be with a sample rate of 32kHz with a resolution of 12 bits. The camera's advanced settings allow me to set the preferred display format to NTSC 16:9, also known as widescreen, and to increase the audio bit resolution to 16 bits. Alas, the audio sample rate is fixed, so CD-quality sound is not possible with the Samsung, a limitation I overlooked when purchasing the unit.
Of my two studio machines, only one has an integrated IEEE 1394 connection. I planned to use both boxes for video work, so I bought and installed an inexpensive PCI board that added three IEEE 1394 ports to my main machine. If you plan to make a connection with a FireWire-enabled camera, check for a port on your motherboard and make sure you have an available slot for an extension board if you need one. And by the way, even the cables need attention. FireWire cables have a variety of pin configurations, so be sure you have the right connectors on both ends of the cable. For example, my camcorder wants a 4-pin connector, and the ports on my machines require a 6-pin adapter.
I also bought a carrying case for the cameras and a good tripod with bubble levels and a variety of gizmos to position the camera in just about any direction. I've been especially happy with the tripod, and I advise anyone interested in amateur video recording to invest in a decent stand for your camera. Yes, you can solve a lot of problems in your edit stage, but you'll save time and energy if your basic material is centered correctly from a stable position.
I drew the line for my expense account at lighting. The camera provides autocorrection for lighting and focus, and my project didn't need a dedicated light system. I was ready to consider my software requirements.
I had two primary concerns on the software side. I needed to ensure that the kernel versions included the IEEE 1394 modules and that I would find a video editor user-friendly enough for a total newbie. The modules issue was non-problematic. My main box runs 64 Studio 2.1, a by-now old Debian-based system running on a 2.6.21 kernel compiled for 64-bit hardware and real-time operation, while my secondary 32-bit machine runs a more-modern Ubuntu Jaunty system with a 2.6.29 kernel optimized for real-time performance. Both systems provide the required modules—raw1394, ohci1394, ieee1394—all of which are autoloaded when the machines go through their hardware discovery during the boot process.
The process of finding the right video editor consisted of trying out the available NLEs for Linux to determine which one offered the most amenable work flow. During the process, I wrote a series of profiles on Linux NLEs that you can read at LinuxJournal.com. I worked on a simple project in each editor, and I found that more than one program could serve my purpose. I finally decided that Kdenlive (Figure 2) provided the tools I needed in a layout that was easy for me to understand and operate. For the project described in this article, I used Kdenlive 0.7.6, but since then, I've been building the program from the latest SVN codebase. By the time you read article, this minitutorial Kdenlive should be available in a shiny new version 0.7.7.
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