Some tools for sharing

i wanted to give a quick run-down of some really cool open-source projects that i regularly use for filmmaking, both incase anyone isn’t aware of them and incase you know of any more, and can help me out! if so, please post them below and we can, y’know, share.

open-source tools have been around for a long time now. i remember early shareware and freeware from a couple of decades ago - it was pretty cool at the time to think that there were people out there, on the early internet, who were making things that were genuinely useful (and sometimes just fun!) and then giving them away for free. open source software is completely different - it’s much better, both because it’s genuinely ‘free’ (as in ‘freedom’, rather than just ‘no cost’), and also because giving access to the source code means many people can improve it, which wasn’t possible with freeware. it’s not just ‘free stuff’ - it’s a genuinely new way of doing things.

we all use programs like firefox, openoffice and the like as part of our everyday lives, but until recently i didn’t hold out much hope for open-source filmmaking. i’d tried a few programs but they were pretty basic and, apart from occasional incorporation, i couldn’t really use them for paid work - they just weren’t powerful enough. the reason is simply that a lot of the most successful open-source programs (firefox is a case in point) were created when companies went down and released their code for free online, usually in the hope that they might still hurt their rivals, from beyone the corporate grave. film programs are so massive, so powerful and dominated by so few players, that it seemed impossible that it would happen there (by ‘film programs’, i’m talking about non-linear editors, 3D modelling packages, image manipulation, that sort of thing). all of that’s changed over the past few years and, fingers crossed, it’s going to get a lot better soon too.

here’s a list of really awesome film-related programs to check out, if you don’t know about them already:

blender is an open-source 3D modelling package. it’s incredibly powerful, and at the time of writing, is on a par with the big, paid-for programs. this is massive news. all of the big programs are different, and each, including blender, has its area of specialism, but the others (like maya, 3DSMax etc) cost thousands of pounds/euros to use commercially, whilst blender is absolutely free! blender was created when a big 3D suite’s owner went bankrupt and the dutch government bought the code, got some really amazing people to do some work on it, and then released it to the world.

the gimp is a photo manipulation package - like photoshop, except more awesome. as well as typical photo manipulating, the gimp has a lot of animation features - i once used it to create an animated music video, which was a commercially-funded project, and only used paid software to assemble the video file at the end.

lightworks is a non-linear video editor. now, this is the big one, in my view, and it’s worth mentioning with some trepidation, because it doesn’t quite fit into the same mould as the programs mentioned above. but if things pan out it could be really awesome. lightworks isn’t open source, but should be very soon. basically, other NLE programs like avid and premiere have gone from being high-end, industry-only suites to relatively mass-use programs because the amount of people who now have access to filmmaking equipment has hugely expanded. lightworks is old-school - it’s used in big hollywood facilities to make features that you watch on cinema screens. that places it in a possibly weak position, because if nothing changed, it would never have the user base of other programs, and might die out. the program’s owners’ solution is quite innovative for their industry: release the source code under an open license, and make money by charging for really specific services that most video editors just won’t need, but which production companies will. these are all things that the program’s owners have to pay to incorporate into lightworks also, so it doesn’t seem unfair. and they’re planning to charge very little for even that, especially considering that their rivals’ software can cost many thousands of pounds/euros. we have to hold our breath though - they’ve promised to release the code, but haven’t done so quite yet (though you can download and use it for free already!) - the final proof will be when the code’s out there.

anyway: i hope somebody reads the above, and finds a program that they didn’t know about, because i think they’re all amazing. if they’re all new to you, though, i’d say one thing: you’ll have to put in a bit of effort to migrate to them from whatever you use at the moment, but it’ll be worth it. moving from final cut to lightworks is no harder than moving from final cut to premiere, for example, but the reward is much greater because you’ve just saved yourself a grand or two, and much, much more in the cost of upgrades over future years. as well, of course, as the awesome feeling from knowing you’ve made the switch from an old way of working to a new, radical ecology. these programs are complex and powerful and, just like their non-free counterparts, take a lot of learning, experimenting and getting used to. if you need inspiration along the way, check out some of the things people have made using them - there are some pretty impressive short films on blender’s site, for example.

i hope some of that’s useful and, whether it is or not, post any similar projects you know about below, so everyone can benefit (including me!)