Video Art: Experimental Animation and Video Techniques in Linux
For most of us, the notion of animation brings to mind deliberate, structured sequences. In this section, I introduce some less-traditional ways of creating mind-blowing, computer-generated effects without having to know languages like Processing or Pure Data (both of these are very powerful, but not everyone who wants to animate knows how to code).
In my own work with video, screen recording tools have been indispensable. Sometimes I use them to capture animations I make in Pencil, because the movie export feature is broken in the version I use. Other times, I just want to capture some cool imagery on my screen without worrying about proprietary copyrights, so I take screen recordings of free software.
My preferred screen recorder is the bare-bones, command-line version of recordMyDesktop. Your distribution's repositories also might provide the graphical front ends GTK-recordmydesktop and QT-recordmydesktop, but I find those to be buggy and prone to crashes when recording long scenes. You can record your entire screen with:
The recording will start as soon as you enter the command, and it
will stop when you press Ctrl-c. Read the man page for more
options, such as recording a specific window (tip: find a window's ID with
If you aren't familiar with the trippiest screensaver in the world, go on-line and look up some images of Electric Sheep. The software artist Scott Draves created Electric Sheep as a dynamic, collaborative fractal flame animation that runs on and by thousands of computers worldwide. Networked data determines the mutations of the various "sheep" in the animation, and users can vote on and contribute their own sheep. And because it's all free, anyone can use the images generated in this android dream.
So how do you take a screen recording of a screensaver? Well, guess
what: Electric Sheep is a binary. Just enter
into your terminal and watch the magic in MPlayer.
If you want to create your own sheep, check out the program Qosmic.
Figure 5. Using recordMyDesktop to Capture Electric Sheep
XaoS is a real-time, interactive fractal zoomer that will capture the eye of mathematicians and VJs alike. You can change the fractal formulae and colors with many different parameters and filters. My favorite is the Pseudo-3D filter, which extrudes lines to generate what looks like a surreal landscape. Using the left and right mouse buttons, you can zoom in and out as if flying a plane over the "terrain".
Figure 6. XaoS with the Pseudo-3D Filter Applied
Fyre is a program that generates and animates Peter de Jong maps. You don't need a screen recorder to make animations with this; you can enter key frames and render an AVI file directly from the program. As you can see from the screenshot shown in Figure 7, Peter de Jong maps make for some neat, abstract images.
Figure 7. Animating in Fyre
Alphas and More to Look Out For
Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this article or in my brain to cover all the new video-related Linux software that's in development. In lieu of a complete list, I'll provide you with the names of a few projects that I expect to be worth checking out for both developers and end users.
Auteur is one cool new kid on the block. I first heard of this project in an episode of the podcast "The Bad Apples" (which has since been re-branded as "GNU World Order"), produced by Seth Kenlon, aka Klaatu, who is also a developer on the Auteur team. Klaatu noted the absence of a truly solid nonlinear video editor for Linux, so he set out to make one with all the features he felt existing software was lacking. The Web site currently says that the project is frozen due to lack of programmers—so programmers, why not help out with a promising alpha?
Figure 8. Testing Out Auteur
The folks behind the VLC media player have a nascent project called VLMC (VideoLAN Movie Creator). The latest releases are still basic and not quite stable, but knowing what the VideoLAN team is capable of, I am sure this will mature into a serious nonlinear video editor. They currently are looking for contributors.
Pencil is a traditional 2-D animation program, which, although still in beta, already fills a gaping hole in the sphere of Linux animation tools. It allows drawing in both vector and bitmap formats as well as importing images and sounds. My trials with Pencil have been basic but mostly satisfactory, although the video export feature appears broken in Linux. I have compensated for that and made some cool videos anyway simply by taking a screen recording during animation playback in Pencil. There is an active community of Pencil users who post animations on the Pencil Web site's gallery. Pencil is similar to Synfig Studio, but I find the interface easier to navigate.
Figure 9. An Animation I Made in Pencil
Puredyne is a multimedia Linux distribution based on Ubuntu and Debian Live, specifically designed for real-time audio-visual processing. Many of the tools and APIs I haven't had the verbal real estate to cover in this article (such as FreeJ, Gephex and DataDada) are included either in the distribution itself or in optional modules.
And, there you have it, animators and filmmakers. I hope this article inspires a cool music video or two!
ZS4 Video Compositing: http://zs4.org
t@b Software: http://www.thugsatbay.com/tab/?q=software
ZS4 Download: http://zs4.net/download
Psychological Image Collection at Stirling (PICS): http://pics.psych.stir.ac.uk
JPEG to MJPEG-AVI Converter: http://sourceforge.net/projects/jpegtoavi
Electric Sheep: http://www.electricsheep.org
Auteur Non-Linear Editor: http://auteur-editor.info
Pencil—Traditional Animation Software: http://www.pencil-animation.org
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
Editorial Advisory Panel
Thank you to our 2014 Editorial Advisors!
- Jeff Parent
- Brad Baillio
- Nick Baronian
- Steve Case
- Chadalavada Kalyana
- Caleb Cullen
- Keir Davis
- Michael Eager
- Nick Faltys
- Dennis Frey
- Philip Jacob
- Jay Kruizenga
- Steve Marquez
- Dave McAllister
- Craig Oda
- Mike Roberts
- Chris Stark
- Patrick Swartz
- David Lynch
- Alicia Gibb
- Thomas Quinlan
- Carson McDonald
- Kristen Shoemaker
- Charnell Luchich
- James Walker
- Victor Gregorio
- Hari Boukis
- Brian Conner
- David Lane