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Video Editing on GNU/Linux: It’s Easy with Kdenlive

I wrote a quickie on Kdenlive last time and wanted to do a more thorough job this month because this is one killer video editor. If you like to make movies and show them to your friends, or even need software for a presentation, Kdenlive is your candidate. If you want to create something that looks professional, I can tell you that while it may not stand as tall as Final Cut Pro, Kdenlive comes quite close to Sony Vegas Pro or Adobe Premiere.

It doesn’t matter if you have a Web cam, a mobile phone camera or a high-definition camera; Kdenlive is ready with all the punches. The software supports so many formats that it’s not possible for me to give the list without missing out something (for the full list, visit kdenlive.org/about-kdenlive/audio-and-video-formats).

Window shopping

Once you install Kdenlive, the rest is as easy as a walk in the park. In Figure 1, you can see multiple panes. The first window is the project tree that shows you the clips/images/audio files you are using in this project. You can just browse for the files here and bring them to the timeline, or a simple drag-and-drop will work too.
Remember one thing: when you start a project, do not change the location of the files being used. Otherwise, Kdenlive will not be able to find those files, which will result in a broken project. Of course, you can relocate the files using a file browser. But it is better to create folders to save such clips. That way, in case you have to move the whole project from one machine to another, you can do so easily.

Figure 1: Kdenlive comes with five panes by default

Figure 1: Kdenlive comes with five panes by default

Anyway, first, you have to start a new project. You can create one by accessing File–>New. Make sure you create it in a master folder as it will create numerous sub-folders, which it will use for editing purposes. Now, save the project in the same folder. Remember, this is not the movie, but only the project file that keeps all the references. Here you can select the video profile (Figure 2) and the format in which you want to create and edit your movie. You can also import clips directly from your video camera. However, the moment you unplug the camera, the references to the clips are gone. So, either keep the camera attached or save those clips locally, beforehand.

Figure 2: Selecting the video profile

Figure 2: Selecting the video profile

The second window is the ‘Effects window’ where you can use plug-ins to add visual effects to your clip. The third is the ‘Clip monitor’ where you can preview the working projects and clips. The fourth window is ‘Undo history’ where you can see all the latest actions made by you, and you can also undo them. The last and the most important window is the timeline. This panel is what makes movies.

The timeline

You can drag your clips to the timeline. Here, you can right click and view all the options for what you can do with the clips (Figure 3). I would suggest you go for ‘Split Audio’ so that you have audio and video on separate tracks, which gives you more control over the editing procedure. You might wonder about the need for this. Well, let’s assume you have taken a shot of a conference and you now want to add your commentary to it. You will need to cut out the live audio from the conference and add your layer of commentary. Moreover, you can also boost the audio if you want to show some response from the audience. It is always better to have independent control on your media.

Figure 3: A right click gives you all the options for your current timeline

Figure 3: A right click gives you all the options for your current timeline

Here, on the timeline, you can add as many audio and video tracks as you wish. Now, in case of the footage shot at an event, you might wish to make a documentary. You could also take pictures of interviews elsewhere, or of different stalls and activities. To put them together, avoid the same track—this causes confusion and overlap. Always use different tracks for different locations/activities and then you can place them on the timeline according to your script.

Keep one track for the V/O (voice over) or your commentary and another track for background music. This way, you will have full control over your project and you will be able to edit shots easily without disturbing other clips. By right clicking a clip, you can also cut it and insert another clip (Figure 4), on a different track. You can also right click to add a ‘Guide’, which will be a horizontal line so that if your other clips are somewhere down the timeline, you can place them at the correct point. The beauty of Kdenlive is that, just like any other non-linear video editor, you can add, delete and insert clips anywhere on the whole timeline.

Figure 4: Cut and paste on the timeline

Figure 4: Cut and paste on the timeline

You can also select video transition effects from the second video to apply the right transitions. It could fade from black (good for the opening shot—see Figure 5) or you could also create ‘title clips’ by going to Project–>Add Title Clip. Here, you can type the text, add the background, colour it, or do what ever you want. Once the clip is ready, save it and it will be visible in the ‘Project Tree’. Just drag the clip to the desired place. You may also control the duration of the clip by simply stretching it.

Figure 5: Creating the 'fade from black' video transition effect

Figure 5: Creating the ‘fade from black’ video transition effect

Rendering

Now, all you have to do is render the video in your desired format (Figure 6). But here is the tricky part. There could be a lot of unused clips and audio files on your timeline and if you render this project, all that unwanted material will also get added to your film. So either remove those clips from the timeline or use the ‘Lock Track’ option to lock the tracks where they are on the timeline, so that they don’t get moved while you are fiddling with other tracks. This is very important while rendering a project.

Figure 6: Rendering the video

Figure 6: Rendering the video

To render your project, look out for the green bar at the top of the timeline and stretch it from one end to the other end of your project. Rendering will export only this portion of your timeline. Now, when you click on the Render button, you will see the Options window (Figure 7). Here, you will have to select the format in which you want to export or render your movie. This selection will recommend the correct format type for the medium in which you want to burn your film. Then select the location that you want to save the file in, under the ‘Output File’ option. Make sure you have enough space on that location as exported/rendered media can be huge, depending upon the format you have chosen. Then select the ‘Selected Zone’ instead of ‘Full Project’, unless you want the former, and click on ‘Render To File’.

Figure 7: Various render options

Figure 7: Various render options

There! You have exported your very own video using Kdenlive. I am impressed with Kdenlive because unless you push it to the limits by adding a lot of clips while moving them around, it will not crash. I have even tried this for two days and it crashed only twice, and only when I dragged a lot of clips on the timeline.

So, Kdenlive is an awesome and pretty powerful tool for film lovers. If you like making films and think FCP or Sony Vegas Pro are better, instead of wasting $1000 on buying them, get together some friends who need these tools and collect the money they plan to spend, from them. Thus, if there are 10 friends, you’ll have $10,000 and you can use that to fund Kdenlive’s development instead!

You can find the video I created using Kdenlive in YouTube.

Some film making terminology

  • Cut-to-Cut – When you add one clip after another, without using any effect
  • Fade to black or fade from black
  • Fade in and fade out – Audio volume increasing from ‘none’ and audio decreasing to ‘none’
  • Edit Point – Whenever you are shooting a video, always start shooting at least 5-10 seconds before the event/activity starts and shoot at least 5-10 seconds extra after the activities end. This way, when you go to your Kdenlive editing table, you won’t bang your head that you cannot find the edit point. The edit point is that specific frame that goes well with the last frame of the previous clip, or the first frame of the next clip.

And finally some tips

  • Never shoot against the sun, it may damage the CCD of your camera.
  • Always take care of the White Balance. If you are shooting in different lights, please adjust the White Balance of your camera as every light has its own colour temperature. If you do not do this while shooting, you might find that the colours of the object have changed in the movie.
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You can read more about the grammar of film-making here.

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Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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