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.

Video Editing


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 and, as well as the Viagra advertisement lines that appeared in Google search results at the 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


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That was the excelent and the

Pooja's picture

That was the excelent and the best article ever.Your ideas are so clear.
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apo's picture

nice article. Just for the info Puredyne is now a dead distribution. you should probably update your article.
there is other ones still updating their distro such as
check out.

This site is very nice to

anr's picture

This site is very nice to commenting here. Thanks a lot.


blackbelt_jones's picture

I'd always had problems with stopmotion, but about a year ago, I started using videoporama to render animations, with help from KDE live. Videoporama is a program for creating slide shows. I changed the setting to create a slideshow with one image per second, with no transitions (i.e., no fades, no wipes, etc.) More recently, Videoporama has been superseded by ffDiaporama.

So I load all my frames into ffdiaporama, and I get a video of all my frames playing at one frame per second. I can sync that up using the "speed" effect in kdenlive

Two examples

In the second video, the animated part of the video is at the beginning and the end. I'd take a 30 second clip, and use mplayer to generate about 900 frames:

mplayer -vo jpeg video.mpg

I use gimp to alter the individual frames, and put them together with ffdiaporama, then I used kdenlive's speed effect to sync up the the output to the the original clip, which I use as the source of the audio for the final version.

with my old pentium 4, it takes more than one rendering session. The first time I speed it up 1000 percent, the second time roughly 300 per cent. It syncs up very nicely.

It works just fine, but it's pretty time consuming. I'm looking forward to trying some of the tools I discovered here.

Awesome tutorial brilliant

Facebook Application Development's picture

Awesome tutorial brilliant explanation indeed (Y)

Indeed, those were pretty

Markymark's picture

Indeed, those were pretty nice examples...

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Stopmotion is not dead

Velmont / Odin H. O.'s picture

The last year, raffa of Cinelerra community fame, has started up Stopmotion again with the new name linuxstopmotion. She has two developers and they have fixed irritating bugs and are looking to make the software really nice and fast to use with dslr cameras.

Also, everyone and their dog starts making video editors... Its a very very hard problem. If anyone wants to make one they should join PiTiVi or Lumiera IMHO. :)

Where is Blender?

Mfoxdogg's picture

Where is blender ( in this list? Blender can do all those (except drawing) and is in one package, that's twice today i have seen articles like this but omit Blender

What are you going to do with

NinaN's picture

What are you going to do with the blender?

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jedi junior's picture

All my school friends that come over use KDEnlive without any problems even though they use mac-win at home.
Have been using it for 3-4 years now and it is the best video editor I have used on Linux.
What Im looking for is for something in Linux to do After Effects stuff...

Im planning to get serious about Blender this year. Its a really powerful tool but the learning curve is as steep as the first time I used Adobe Premiere.

No mention of Kdenlive?

Anonymous's picture

I can't believe that you failed to mention Kdenlive. It is a powerful but easy to use non linear video editor. Openshot is a good choice too but I find Kdenlive as easy to use but much more powerful. Both are actively updated. Kdenlive reminds me of Sony Vegas in many ways.

openshot and pitivi are worth looking at

nick black's picture

two weeks ago, never having used NLE of any kind or done any production work, i made this in about 24 hours:

it's nothing awesome, but it was more than i thought i'd accomplish in that time. it was mostly openshot, which crashed when you looked at it hard, but given enough instances would produce real output.

Excellent article, good to

Anonymous's picture

Excellent article, good to see some Linux' oriented things you would normally do on Windows.

WHere's synfig?

Anonymous's picture

You forget SYNFIG (cartoon anomation)