Maddog's Challenge: Quick and Dirty Videos about Free Software


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Mar 22, 2009 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I have been busy over the past several weeks doing various videos, all done with Free Software, in specific the programs Inkscape, Kino, GIMP and Audacity.

These videos can be found on my YouTube channel "maddoghall" I have had many comments about them. A couple of people have critiqued the quality (particularly the singing) and one criticized the acting, but most of the comments were positive.

One of my goals was to prove to myself that the challenge criteria I had set for the maddog Multimedia Challenge of Campus Party Brazil could actually be reached, that of creating a reasonably good video, using Free Software tools, in less than two days time. I am going to have another maddog Multimedia Challenge in Columbia, and I wanted to make sure that what I was asking was not too far out of line for the types of prizes that were being awarded.

Now granted, if someone was trying to learn the tools during those two days, it might be hard. But assuming that someone had reasonable knowledge of the tools, how long should it take? I had published a list of software well before the Brazilian event, so people had time to learn them.

In testing my theories I had never really used any of these tools other than GIMP, so I was a good test subject.

My first video "Amazing Source" had no script. Dennis Jensen and I sat in a favorite bar/restaurant on a nice day, and while Dennis' girlfriend Thamy ran the camera, Dennis and I ad-libbed the script. I had brought the pirate "costumes" with me, along with the bottle of Rum, and that was our stage. We took three sets of videos, total time of filming was probably less than an hour.

I then took some still pictures of some "pirate ships" that were anchored in the ocean outside my hotel room, used Inkscape to do the lettering for the Title Slide. I exported from Kino a single frame of the video of Dennis and myself changing it to greyscale with GIMP, and adding a few characters with Inkscape made the "credit slides".

I used Kino to put all of this together, dubbing my singing of "15 Men on a Deadman's Chest" (a song from the early part of the 20th Century, probably out of copyright by now) and a religious song from antiquity which is also out of copyright. Sorry about the singing, mates!

Total time in editing and singing was probably about five or six hours, since I was learning to use Kino at the time. But it was relatively simple editing, and my biggest learning curve was how to take a single image and import it to be a part of the video for the titles and credits.

The closed captioning on this video came much later, after I had already put it up on YouTube...but I have written about that before in another Blog entry.

The next video of any "significance" in a technical sense was "Innovation and the Patent System". This time I actually had a script, because there would be three people involved and I was not going to be any of the three. We would also have dangerous props involved (scooters, wooden blocks), and I wanted to make sure there would be no accidents.

I also needed to figure out how to make someone "transport", and having watched many early "Grade B" science fiction movies, I did not think this would be very hard....and it wasn't.

I wrote the script in about fifteen minutes, and emailed it to my three "stars". We met on a Saturday morning in a large empty room with big windows (for light) upstairs from my favorite brewpub and we finished the shooting in about two hours. It probably would have only taken one hour, but the scooter I brought had pneumatic tires, and they had gone flat, so the "Linux Guy" had to go to the nearest gas station and inflate them, which took about half an hour.

Editing was fairly simple, since I had the "Microsoft Guy" simply stand still when the "Apple Guy" walked onto the stage. A few frames with and without the "Apple Guy" left the impression of teleporting, with the static and buzzing sound made by my mouth. The first time I made that sound, all three actors looked at me and said "that's the sound...just use that", so I did.

Total time of editing that video was about five hours...I was getting better with Inkscape and Kino.

Of course all of these videos are a bit crude compared to the videos we see every day. My idea was to create quick videos on various messages that people might enjoy watching. I did not have a "big budget" (or even any budget), nor did I want to spend weeks on composing and editing these videos.

After I showed a little bit of "Amazing Source" at Campus Party Brazil, one of my sponsors of that event, 4Linux, took things to heart and made a video with many of the same tools I did. They entered that video in the Linux Foundation "I'm Linux" contest. They made it using their own employees as the actors, and only Free Software Tools. I think their video is pretty good, and if you agree with me, perhaps you will vote for it in the Linux Foundation contest.

Now it is time to make your own video about Free Software, using Free Software, to spread the word. Good luck!


  • easy and intuitive aint easy

    You want me to tell you what the Imovie and WIndow Movie Maker users do the majority of the time?

    They take pictures and videos from their digital cameras and want to make little videos about
    Helmut's futbal game or Lily's dance recital they can put on youtube and send to family/friends.

    Download the clips, crop the ends you dont want and put them together using basic transitions, maybe add
    an mp3/ogg soundtrack or even a title and then export it to a few formats. You should be able to easily changed the quality options of sound and video and have available an approximation of how big the file will end up being.

    That's it.

    Whether its the teens across the street putting compilations of their 'best' jumps, my sister commemorating her kids judo tournament victories or my friend's wanting to share their trip to Niagara Falls, these arent high tech people.
    Give them 5 of the most used options/thing that people do, make it easy to find and you will do allright.

    Another thing, there could even maybe be an 'easy' interface on AV programs for newbies and then the regular daunting interface for those that want more. ANd you know what? A good deal of people will be very happy with the easy mode interface and never feel the need to do more.

    Ive tried everything under the sun like Kino and KDEnlive and others and ease of use is not happening yet.

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