For many years, a reliable, professional-quality, free video editor has been notably absent from GNU/Linux. There have been glimmers of optimism, but in general, editors that look and feel like professional applications are prone to blockbuster-worthy crashes, and editors that are reliable are stable primarily because they don’t actually do much beyond very basic editing. Kdenlive alters the entire situation.
Kdenlive is the Linux editor in production usage at the film studio where I work, and it competes with (and often outperforms) the Mac systems in terms of price, maintenance, versatility, speed, and stability. This series of articles aims to shed light on how professional editors might use Kdenlive in place of expensive proprietary software.
A good video editor should be easy enough for a hobbyist to use to quickly edit together footage from a phone or point-and-click camera, but powerful enough for a video professional to do any task required by the job.
Both are possible with Kdenlive, but no matter the size of your video project, there are always best and worst practices to follow. In this series of five articles, we will examine both the theory and practice behind the most popular best practices for making projects a success.
Without a doubt, installing Kdenlive is a difficult process. For multimedia support, it needs the MLT backend, and to be compatible with the widest range of video codecs, it prefers to have access to as many video decoding and encoding libraries as feasible.
Using the version of Kdenlive that is already installed in your repository is the simplest solution. Kdenlive’s 0.8 release represented a turning point in terms of reliability and feature completeness; today, all major distributions offer versions 0.8 or higher through their official repositories,
“official unofficial” add-on repos, or build services (like Slackbuilds, AUR, et cetera).
Upon initial launch, Kdenlive will check its installed video codecs and input sources. Any missing components that you forgot to install will be made available for re-installation.
Last month, while setting up a Fedora 15 editing workstation, a problem with the MLT-SDL module prevented the fresh installation of Kdenlive from launching. Similar troubleshooting advice applies in this instance as well. We were back up and running in no time at all thanks to a short Internet search that uncovered the answer to our problem.
You’ll also be prompted to make a new folder for your Kdenlive project. Choosing a sensible default prevents you from unknowingly dumping crucial project data into random folders. You are not constrained by this choice, and in fact, it is often advisable to segregate projects into independent directories.
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Kdenlive’s user interface is built on Qt4, making it very modifiable. Darker themes are commonly used in video editing software to draw more attention to the actual video being edited, rather than the software itself (also, the dark theme helps during a color correction).
Using the Settings Menu > Themes option, you can modify Kdenlive’s appearance. The themes are drawn from the KDE4 themes that are installed on your computer and accessible through the System Settings menu.
Since I often edit late at night, the default theme is what I use for the majority of the edit (I find the light from the monitor eliminates the need to turn on a desk lamp and still prevents me from blindly knocking over my coffee), but the bright theme is distracting when I’m working on color correction. Obsidian Coast and Wonton Soup are two good examples of neutral color palettes.
Kdenlive’s main window has a number of different components, thus it’s recommended that you use it in full-screen mode (a near-kiosk option is available by right-clicking on the window’s title bar and selecting Fullscreen). You can tab, reorder, and float these sub-windows just as you would the main window. Kdenlive’s View menu reveals all of the program’s graphical elements.
Kdenlive can be organized in whichever best suits your workflow. You can either stick with the standard layout of your preferred video editor or experiment until you discover one that suits your needs. Once you’ve made a layout that works for you, you can save it by selecting File > Save Layout As from the View menu.
A Typical Layout Will Have at Least These Panels:
A “bin” or “clip browser” in some other video editors, the Project Tree is a hierarchical organisation of clips and media.
The Clip Monitor is where unfinished clips can be seen before being permanently included to the edit.
Project Monitor is where you can view your finished film.
The Timeline is where the clips you’ve chosen to use in your project will be placed.
First, let’s import some footage, and then we’ll go over its many controls and how to use them.
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Having a backup of your project is a must before you start importing footage. Giving your workspace a name and a location on your hard drive will set the basic framework for all Kdenlive projects, which may seem counterintuitive given that your project is now empty.
Like other high-quality editors, Kdenlive creates a large number of temporary files and information. If you begin a project without first deciding where temporary files will be stored, kdenlive will create them in the default location and then delete them after you save them.
Create a new folder to store your test project in. The default placement for my Kdenlive projects is in a subdirectory of my home directory called /kdenlive/default. This usually works quite well and allows me to offload old projects onto backup discs without thinking about whether or not each project is self-contained or whether I need to sift through files to find dependent media.
Unless you are working in an environment with shared media stores that don’t need to be stored together with your project data, it is highly liberating to keep the projects self-contained, even if it involves copying media.
Establishing a consistent route for your projects is also useful in the case that you need to transfer them to a new platform. Kdenlive is less likely to lose track of media files if their locations are always set to /kdenlive/project-name. You can always go to the Project Menu > Project Settings > Project folder to alter the location of where Kdenlive saves your work.
Kdenlive’s project settings dialogue box is a meat grinder. fewer editors’ preset on the project before lunch
You can now import media into your project. Kdenlive is versatile enough to accommodate a variety of approaches. Most modern cameras record directly to solid-state media, making “importing” footage as simple as switching the camera to USB storage mode, connecting it to your computer, and dragging the camera’s directory tree into the Kdenlive project folder.
Keep in mind that many cameras utilize sophisticated muxed formats that necessitate metadata about the clips in order to play the video, therefore it is crucial to transfer the full directory tree. It is NOT enough to just drag the “Streams” or “Clips” folder.
After transferring the files to your computer, go to Project > Add Clip in Kdenlive to incorporate the new video clips into your editing session (or by right-clicking in the Project Tree and selecting Add Clip). If the imported video does not match the current project settings, Kdenlive may warn you. This message appears when you import clips of a different format (such as CIF) into a project whose default configuration is, say, DV NTSC.
Kdenlive will automatically assign the most appropriate project profile to the imported clips.
If that’s the case, take advantage of Kdenlive’s offer to adjust the project profile to better suit the content of your clips. If you can, attempt to edit in the format that you filmed, or else transcode up-front (a topic we’ll go into more detail on in Article 5 of this series) so that you can avoid transcoding as much as possible while editing in a native environment and just transcoding when exporting.
In any other case, you’ll need to use a tape-based camera or maybe even a webcam to capture the footage you need. The View menu’s Record Monitor submenu provides access to all of these settings.
Record Monitor is a powerful video recording interface. Even while it defaults to Firewire and offers a warning if dvgrab is not present on your system, you may easily switch to another interface. To change the default service that Record Monitor connects to in the background, click the gear icon.
Firewire (through dvgrab), USB (and hence built-in webcams on laptops), Screen Grab (via RecordMyDesktop), and even third-party capture cards should all be options in Record Monitor’s configuration menu. Select the proper tail termination.
Return to the Record Monitor after establishing the default capture device, and then choose the target backend from the corresponding pop-up menu in the lower right. To bring the capture device online, you may need to click the “Connect” button on the left side of the Record Monitor. When you’re ready to preview the external video, hit Play, and then hit Record to store it on your computer.
Despite being developed and perfected over a century ago, the editing process remains as relevant now as it did then. The three-point edit is the first of these editing methods we inherited from the days when men and women worked with hundreds of feet of celluloid film.
Select a clip in your Project Tree to make a simple change to your footage. The Clip Monitor updates to show you the preview. A film editor would do something like this by feeding a strip of film from the film bin into a Moveola (a small, hand-cranked, personal film projector).
After the opening sequence (the performers setting up for the shot, the clapboard or slate, etc.), you can set a “In” point for the clip by pressing the I key on your keyboard. Play the video until you reach the point when you want the action to end. You can indicate “Out” by pressing the “o” key on your keyboard. Your three-point edit has a foundation you’ve just laid.
Third, specify where in your timeline the clip should be placed. To put it simply, if this is the very first scene in your film, then it makes the most sense to put it at the very beginning of your timeline, at the time stamp 00:00:00:00.
Shortcut: Press “v” to place the video between the In and Out points of your clip in the Timeline’s selected Video track (by default, this will be Video Track 1, but you can select a different one by clicking the track label on the left of the Timeline).
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In most other editors, you have to move the video playhead to the desired position in the Timeline before you can drop a clip there. Kdenlive provides a target tool just for this, so you won’t even have to move the playhead from its parked position to insert a new clip. A white square representing the target tool will show up in the SMPTE ruler at the very top of the timeline.
The video thumbnail can be dragged from the Clip Monitor to the Timeline for simple drag-and-drop addition.
The Basic Tools
The Select Tool (s), the Razor Tool (x), and the Spacer Tool are the three primary tools in Kdenlive (m). This set of tools is very typical, albeit it is quite simplistic. Although some editors may miss the absence of power-user capabilities like ripple edit and roll edit, I found that I quickly became proficient with the streamlined set of tools. It may be hard to justify keeping the code for most of the specialist tools updated, given how infrequently they are actually used. When I first started using Kdenlive, I was disappointed to see a dearth of specialist editing tools, but I quickly got used to working without them.
Selecting and relocating clips is as simple as clicking on them and dragging them with the Select Tool. Use it to do things like changing the active track, adding Guides and Markers, resizing video clips in the timeline, picking multiple clips at once with a control click, and so on.
In the timeline, the Razor Tool can be used to cut out segments of video. It’s true that you can manually trim a video clip to the desired length using the Select Tool, so this feature isn’t strictly necessary.
However, in reality, it’s good to be able to precisely select the part of the movie you want to cut, splice it to the part you need, and then delete the rest. A gap will appear between your new outpoint and the beginning of the next clip in the timeline if you use the Razor Tool to trim a clip and then delete the surplus video that you’ve just chopped off.
Using the right mouse button and the “Remove Space” option, you can get rid of this void. If you’re utilizing separate audio, remember to use Remove Space on both the Video Track and the Audio Track.
Instead of utilizing Remove Space, you can use the Space Tool to manually shift the video and audio regions. This tool allows you to pick any audio and video areas that will occur after the current position in your timeline and drag them to the left or right.
This is a typical requirement, but the Space Tool’s inflexible approach to selection can be a pain. Each and every media region on every track will be able to be selected and relocated.
If you wish to choose all regions on a single track, for example, Track 1, you will need to either lock all other tracks or zoom out and use the Select Tool to pick out those areas.
Kdenlive does a fantastic job at something that’s not easy: importing media from a wide variety of sources, arranging that media into projects, and letting users do a wide range of edits on those projects.
It can do a lot, is easy to use, powerful, and straightforward. As you will see in subsequent articles in this series, it is a perfect replacement for typical video editing software.
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