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:

recordmydesktop screenrecording.ogv

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 xwininfo).

Electric Sheep

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 electricsheep 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:

t@b Software:

ZS4 Download:


Psychological Image Collection at Stirling (PICS):


JPEG to MJPEG-AVI Converter:




Electric Sheep:



Auteur Non-Linear Editor:


Pencil—Traditional Animation Software:



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)