anna.morris's blog

Just another FSFE Fellowship Blogs site

Chapter One: A Voyage Into Video

Welcome to Anna’s Blog:

Free-software blogging from a non-technical activist.

This little video pretty much sums up my adventure into Free Software video editing. Things did eventually get better… eventually… as in after another bout of repetitive strain injury and a couple of migraines! I can’t tell you if my computer is just too slow for the task, I have no idea how many Rams the little lady is packing, but she is only a year old and cost a lot of money…. how slow can the thing be?! I would love to blame the hardware – however – I think that would be avoiding the real issue here.


My first task…

Was to make an intro sequence and end credits for my animated short. Here was what I did to get started:

  • I looked in my Ubuntu software center and found that Openshot and Pitivi were rated well.
  • I downloaded them and messed around for a bit.
  • I decided to use Pitivi because it showed me the “waves” of the audio track, which seemed useful.
  • I refused to read any manuals of any kind – too dull. I dove right in!



Was easy to use and quite intuitive. I knew immediately what to do to start making my video – great! However, it kept “crashing” – by this I mean the program would close completely, and without warning. When this happened, all the files and backups became corrupted. I took the funny video above when trying to export my finished end credits – the time started counting upwards (haha!) so I clicked cancel and the application cashed … 4 hours of work and 3 backups were simply gone (not funny anymore!) I assumed the files for video were “linked” in someway – like when you use Scibus – however, I couldn’t seem to find any help on the IRC and had no time to dally – so I moved on to Openshot and started again from scratch.



Was much less intuitive than Pitivi. It’s one of those bits of software where nothing is quite in the logical place – you right click expecting a menu, but there isn’t one. You left click expecting to edit something directly – but you can’t. You really have to learn how to use it – which I didn’t need to do for Pitivi, and even if you do learn it seems pretty non-nonsensical sometimes.

While Openshot has more features than Pitivi (many many more) it is also missing some really basic things – for example the ability to move groups of clips together: if you have 500 little video clips in a row and you delete one near the start of the sequence, you have to move all of following clips backwards individually. You also can’t manipulate the volume if your audio track using “keyframes” like in Pitivi. Exporting from Openshot was a nightmare too: I ended up with a ton of videos looking like this:

Frustratingly, Pitivi and Openshot seem to have incompatible formats, so unless you export the video over and over, playing around and exploiting the strengths of each program is tough.


Task one completed:

The credits in this video were all made using free software, however, the editing for the main animation was done using a very very not free bit of software. Watching this part get assembled told me just how far behind Pitivi and Openshot are. Miles and Miles. It’s truly depressing.


My Second Task

Was to make a funky video of our MailPod (watch the space!) server being made. I was feeling a bit more confident by this point.

I used Avidemux to make a time-lapse video from photos I took on the day – I don’t recall how I found this bit of software, but it really is just great! It did exactly what I wanted with the absolute minimum of fuss (unlike the “add image as a sequence” setting on Openshot, which wouldn’t work at all).

I used Openshot to put together the video from start to finish this time. I did miss some parts of Pitivi, like being able to see the sound-waves in my music score – not having this made syncing the music with the video unnecessarily difficult – but I couldn’t face the file corruption scenario again.

I also had a small problem trying to put little .gif animations into the video, which I eventually solved by playing the animation and recording the section of screen using Istanbul. I discovered Transmageddon during this little .gif-to-video-battle; it couldn’t read the .gif file, however, it has been very useful for turning .ogg files into something that Youtube will accept nonetheless.

I reduced the crashing problem significantly by making the video in smaller parts and putting them together in a masterfile – this was how my proprietary using software friend handled his animations, and it sure did work. Perhaps my problems were all caused by being a clumsy noviceĀ  – but I must say, his proprietary software just got slow and grumpy when it was overtaxed… it never crashed without warning!


Task Two Completed (ish)

(it’s not quite finished yet but you get the idea)



From what I can see, Free Software for video editing is a long long way behind where it needs to be. I am pretty sure it wont possible for me to do green-screen CGI, for example, using the tools I have seen so far (and I needed that in my plasticine animation). The video editing Free Software people seem to be insular too – the IRC’s were silent to newbie/*dumb* questions and documentation either basic to the point of uselessness or totally full of jargon.


On the plus side

In my estimation, my real hero’s of my voyage into video have been ccmixer, freesound (accessed with bugmenot login) and wikimedia commons – my proprietary loving buddies couldn’t believe the wealth of music, sound and video I got “for free” from these great places!

Still – shame I wont be boastfully showing them the video editors anytime soon – they seem to be the Free Software equivalents of an embarrassing fungal infection. Oh dear!