Monday, November 23, 2015

Little Nemo Meets Lieutenant Kijé -- Having fun with Kdenlive

Back in the late 90s, I picked up some extra money producing a set of videotapes to accompany a college algebra textbook. They were the most God awful things you ever saw, but the publisher didn't care as long as they had some kind of media to accompany their books and the check was large enough to pay off  the last 5K on my car.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, if you wanted to make a video, unless you had a tremendous amount of money and cutting-edge equipment, you had to do it linearly. Imagine three large, professional grade VCRs stacked on top of each other, two for the source and one for the recording. Next to that would be a large pile of tapes. For every shot you needed, you would have to dig through that pile, fast forward to the part you wanted, hit the preview button, make sure you had what you expected, then hit record.

And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

That record button, by the way, represented a real commitment. This was linear editing. If you decided later to make a change at the beginning of the tape, you pretty much had to scrap all the work that came afterwards.

Now jump forward about a dozen years. You get a decent desktop computer for less than $300, spend another hundred on video editing software (or put a Linux based operating system on it and download an open source editor). You are now looking at perhaps a couple of orders of magnitude improvement in speed, cost, training and functionality. Shift your time frame a bit and you see the same jump across virtually all media.

Every now and then I do some video editing on my old computer which is currently running Windows/Kubuntu. I might put together some footage for a musician friend or just play around for my own amusement. I don't really know what I'm doing but the software I'm using -- Kdenlive (KDE Non-Linear Video Editor) -- is remarkably intuitive, so even after a year or so of inactivity, it takes very little time to get back up to speed.

As for the video above, I was looking through an online collection of  Winsor McCay's still stunning Turn-of-the-Century Nemo pages. As I was studying a couple of the winter-themed cartoons, Prokofiev's troika kept running through my head. I downloaded a public domain recording from the Internet Archive, did a rough storyboard then just started trying things.

Even among the free-software options, Kdenlive is probably not the best tool for making one of these pan and zoom videos, but it's more than adequate and it replaces what would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment twenty years ago.
I'm reasonably happy with the results, but that's not why I'm posting this.  The important point here is that what would have been a big, expensive project requiring trained specialists less than twenty years ago is now an afternoon project for a complete amateur using technology that pretty much everyone has or has access to.

We are living in what appears to be the second great media revolution. The first occurred around the turn of the last century when we actually learned how to record video and sound and how to transmit the latter (and made real strides toward transmitting the former). This is the lesser of the two revolutions, but not by that much. In terms of genuinely new functionality, it is almost impossible to beat that first surge, but in terms of cost, speed, portability and ease-of-use, we aren't doing bad at all.

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