This project was meant to kick start me into editing video. I would call this my first real attempt at making a complete scene. Tom and I have been kicking around various short scene ideas. We did some small stuff to play around with using the same actor for different characters. While it is cool to see a duplicated actor on screen interacting with their double, it can be a real time sink, especially when you get down to manual rotoscoping. We decided to do the video chat style to keep the scope small. Tom did a great job recording the two parts so they lined up almost perfectly. Aside from a few seconds in the latter half, I didn’t have to deal at all with mismatched timing.

The Software

I first tried to use Blender to edit but it was too painful. Blender is very slow when it comes to video editing. I read somewhere that does not use multiple cores or the GPU to speed things up. Apparently this is changing in the coming versions and there will be a slew of new features that will help bring Blender’s VSE up to date with other editors. In the meantime I decided to spend my effort learning a program designed for the task.

I used Kdenlive for the whole project. I am always grateful that free programs exist even if I did have to struggle with it. Most of that struggle is because I don’t know the first thing about video editing. A smaller part is that kdenlive is not as well known and loved as Blender and therefore doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of community support. There were also some bugs and non-intuitive interface things. As with any new program, it comes down to spending the time to learn “the way things are done around here”. Sort of the software equivalent of “lurk more”.

The Challenge

This project is different from examples I saw online. Instead of switching between two videos, I am keeping both on screen at once and changing their size and position on screen as well as changing the background. I tried three different approaches to the task.

First I tried having only two video tracks with no cuts and using keyframes to move the clips around the screen with the Transform effect. This was a monster for a couple of reasons. One, there is no way that I could figure out to easily copy values from one keyframe and paste them to another. I would have had to spend a long time fiddling with values for each transition and then do the same for the other track. Two, it would have made it very difficult to adjust anything after the fact. For example, if I wanted to move the videos up 10 pixels, I would have had to edit dozens of keyframes.

My second attempt was to cut the video where I wanted the transitions to happen and then apply the transform effect to each clip. This was a little better since there is an easy way to copy an entire effect and paste it to another clip. It was still far too time consuming and inflexible.

Pasting effects was fast but inflexible

The final method relies on a feature that allows you to apply an effect to an entire track. I duplicated both clips and put them on separate tracks and applied the Transform effect to each track. Then I cut the clips where I wanted the transitions and the Transform effect is inherited from the track. Finally, I deleted the set of clips that were not needed during each cut. This method was fairly bulletproof and allowed me to easily see which clips were active. The only complaints I had were that it requires a lot of video tracks which gets confusing and that I had to cut each track for every transition. Maybe I could have solved the second complaint by using groups to simplify the cutting.

I was glad that I had found a fairly flexible way to adjust the positions of the videos. The first draft of this project had the zoom window in different positions for each character’s screen which meant that the viewer’s eye had to move all over the screen to keep up with the cuts. I nixed that idea and was able to make sure the size and position of the videos was the same with a single effect. I also kept the Zoom window separate from the background so I could adjust it at any time.

Select a track in the timeline to apply an effect to it.
The final composition in the timeline.

The Extra Stuff

The backgrounds for each character’s computer peek out from behind the Zoom window in order to tell a little backstory.

On the authors screen I added a bunch of icons and notes to the desktop to make it look really messy and busy. I recorded some footage of the author looking at things and getting a calender notification. The first cut had a longer intro but Tom correctly suggested shortening it to 8 seconds. I like having some intro just to give the video player a chance to hide the controls and/or for people to hit the fullscreen button but it’s a balancing act.

I used a virtual machine to mock up the authors desktop. I probably spent more time getting it to work than if I had done everything in GIMP but I like having a virtual Mac so I wouldn’t call it wasted. It also gave me a lot of flexibility in what was showing and where. Recording the screen caused a lot of slowdown so I had to move the mouse slowly then speed up the footage in kdenlive.

The architects screen has Gmail open in the background. I used the inspect element button in Firefox to change the sender and subject of the visible emails. It worked pretty well and saves time as opposed to trying to edit the screenshot in GIMP. I had to make sure not to accidentally click on anything while I was working or else all my changes would be lost. I learned that you can save a page to disk, which is great for keeping the changes for further editing.

The final effect, where the screen fades from top and bottom was surprisingly tricky for me. I couldn’t figure out a way to neatly fade out all four tracks without causing the videos to look weird. My solution in the end was to use a black screen above them all and pull an alpha gradient from top and bottom to reveal it.

It’s a good thing I spent so much time messing with keyframes, otherwise I probably would have given up on this.

Ideas for Improvement:

  • Sound effects for the author’s computer at the start like mouse clicking and notification ding.
  • Some dialog from the author at the start, just muttering and grumbling
  • The calender notification at the start is pretty easy to miss, maybe make that bigger.
  • I would have liked to see the architect’s room a little more…architect-y. Maybe blueprints on the wall or something.
  • Add something to the whiteboard behind the author. Book ideas or a story chart maybe.
  • Accomplish the above with blender’s motion tracking or learn motion tracking in kdenlive.
  • The Zoom windows are messy on the corners. Could have spent a few more minutes in gimp to clean up the stray pixels.
  • The Zoom windows do not show the correct number of participants.
  • The dates on the architect’s emails are a little funky and the time on his clock, though partially hidden, shows it is not 3pm.