Video Art: Experimental Animation and Video Techniques in Linux
Animation and video editing in Linux can be treacherous territory. Anyone who has tried working in these media probably has experienced the frustration of rendering a huge file for an hour only to see the program crash before the export is finished. A bevy of tools and applications for manipulating video exist for Linux, and some are more mature than others.
The most mainstream of GUI applications have been covered quite a bit in other Linux-related articles on the Web and in print, including in previous issues of Linux Journal. Some of these names may ring familiar to you: Kino, PiTiVi, Openshot, Cinelerra, Kdenlive and Open Movie Editor.
Although I refer to these nonlinear editors (NLEs) from time to time here, the main purpose of this article is to introduce some video effects and techniques you may not have thought of before. If you are producing a film or animation in a conventional format, such as a DVD or a Web video, you most likely will want to employ a suitable NLE at some point in your process. Many of the ideas I present in this article are experimental.
LiVES is primarily a VJ (video jockey) tool for performing live audio-visual effects, but it also can encode and export video via its MPlayer back end. The interface has two modes: clip editor and multitrack editor. The clip editor view is more suitable for live VJ sets, while you'll probably lean toward the multitrack view if using LiVES as your NLE.
Figure 1. LiVES in the Clip Editor View
LiVES is highly extensible. In addition to the built-in effects, you can apply custom RFX (rendered/real-time effects) plugins. Several of these scripts are available for download from the LiVES Web site. You also can share LiVES' real-time effects with other applications using the frei0r effects API.
The number of options and the advanced effects in LiVES are comparable to those of Cinelerra, but I strongly recommend LiVES over the latter. Cinelerra is indeed a powerful video editor, but the interface is antiquated and difficult to use. Although LiVES can seem foreign to new users, it is not hard to become acquainted with it.
ZS4, formerly known as Zweistein, is a unique—and quite strange—video editor and compositor. The developers of ZS4, who go by the name "t@b", are a duo of musicians who use their own software to create music videos. They are hard to pinpoint on the Web, as they use several sites for different purposes.
I admit that I was confused by the existence of both zs4.net and zs4.org, as well as the Viagra advertisement lines that appeared in Google search results at the zs4.net domain. The two sites both contain download links for ZS4 as well as some other software.
If you plan to use ZS4, I recommend downloading the t@b Media Converter and/or installing Avidemux, as ZS4 is picky about importing video files. Most videos are not compatible out of the box, so it may be necessary to convert them to a format ZS4 can work with.
Working with ZS4 can be frustrating at first because the interface is far from intuitive. Menus are not where you would expect them to be, and you might find yourself aimlessly clicking your cursor in different places to accomplish a simple task, such as dragging a media file into the timeline. The media viewing windows are vaguely labeled "rectangles". To show or hide a track, you click on + or - instead of the typical open- or closed-eye icon.
It took me years to gather the patience to learn my way around this program. So yes, the GUI needs some serious work if it ever is going to reach a mass audience, but it doesn't seem like mainstream appeal is a major concern for the eccentric-minded developers.
So, why tell you about a bizarre-looking application that hasn't been updated in years when there are plenty of other video editors for Linux? Well, for all ZS4's graphical quirks, it can accomplish some very interesting compositing effects.
Figure 2. Tiling Effects in ZS4
Rebecca "Ruji" Chapnik is a freelance creator of miscellanea, including but not limited to text and images. You can find her experiments at http://rujic.net