On The Lot

By Nimish Chandiramani Published Date
01 - Aug - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Aug - 2007
On The Lot

It's no coincidence that this article shares its title with one of TV's most popular (and you must admit, inspiring) reality shows. Eventually, if it hasn't already, the thought of your own movie will pop into your head... "What will it be about? Who will I cast? How will I get it done?"

We can't help you with the first two questions-you're going to have to figure out that for yourself-but we can give you a friendly nod in the right direction for the third.

But First...
What, you might well ask, is an open source movie? The concept has two interpretations: the first is that an open source movie, like open source software, is available not only in its final, finished form, but also as a collection of raw footage and soundtracks, so anyone can make their own version of the movie using the same material. The second interpretation doesn't need the movie's source footage to be available, but slaps on the requirement that the movie be made only with open source software. It should then be released under an appropriate Creative Commons License (the Attribution-NoDerivatives-NonCommercial license seems to be the popular one). Of course, you can still make the source files for your movie available to the general public, and they might thank you for it.

How you release your movie is your decision; we're here to tell you about the best open source software to help you get there. You'll find nearly all of them in ArtistX, which you can boot into using this month's DVD.

Before It All Begins
You can't just inflict your camera-toting self on the world and hope to create the next big thing in film-making. Apart from a sense of reality, you need a plan. Convenient though it might be, great movies don't just happen-they start with scripts, storyboards and characters. For that, you need Celtx.

Celtx calls itself a "media pre-production" tool for prospective movie makers.
It lets you take your movie from a fleeting idea to a well-planned project

Celtx (you'll find it on our July CD) calls itself a "media pre-production" tool for prospective movie makers. It lets you take your movie from a fleeting idea to a well-planned project. It lets you outline your story, create a screenplay and storyboard for your movie and add characters' profiles. If you're a more serious film-maker, you can use Celtx to set filming schedules, manage actors, wardrobe and props.

If you're serious about making your movie, you should start with Celtx

Celtx starts new projects with a screenplay and a storyboard, and you can right-click in the left pane to add items like a story outline to descriptions of special effects you intend to employ. A logical way to start would be to add a story outline before anything else. Next, add your characters: give them family backgrounds, eccentricities, even a physical description. The next step would be to start building your screenplay, and then the storyboard. While you're writing your screenplay, Celtx makes things easier for you by letting you add annotations and notes, and by giving you an autocomplete menu when you start typing character names.

Once you've made a plan, you just need to execute it.

You don't really need to go out and shoot real people and real things to make a movie-if you've got a webcam or a respectable PC and lots of determination, you can create your own stop-motion or 3D movie, Ã la Elephants Dream, which is easily the most famous open source movie in recent times. What you need:

Its interface takes getting used to, and creating a good 3D model takes plenty of skill-not to mention animating it-but Blender lets you create some really amazing animations. Setting up animations for human and animal models is made easy with its Skeleton Creation Mode and walk cycles, and you can use Python to write more complex animation scripts.

The good thing about stop-motion animation is that you only need a webcam at home to do it, but that good is quickly offset by the amount of work that'll go into your actually creating a stop-motion feature.

Stopmotion is a simple tool. There's not much technology can do when your biggest effort involves moving the arms and legs of a doll while ensuring that your set or camera doesn't change position by even an inch. But it does offer you a few helpful features like Onion Skinning, which lets you overlay previous shots over your current camera view, so you can create a tighter, more fluid-looking animation.

Aside: The Lazy (?) Way

If you don't want to shoot your own footage-whether it's laziness or a lack of equipment-there are sources on the Internet where you can get yourself a whole cornucopia of raw footage, just waiting to be edited and mixed into a new film. One such site is MOD Films (www.modfilms.com), where you can get your hands on over nine hours of raw footage, loads of concept art and more. They've even made their own re-mixable movie, called Sanctuary, which you can modify to your own tastes. But we digress...

Capture And Cut Up
If your camera uses a proprietary driver to connect to your PC, chances are you have no choice but to use its own bundled software to dump video to your drive (Sony camcorders are quite notorious in this respect). You could use VirtualDub-a greatly undermined tool-to import video from your camera to your PC, if the camera supports the Video for Windows capture driver-find out in its documentation. VirtualDub is a great tool to process and encode video from your camera, but it comes up short if you need to edit your movie in true film-editor fashion.

To cut up and edit movies, you need to use Kino, one of the most popular non-linear editing (NLE) tools for Linux. It lets you break up your movie into scenes, stitch movies together, add special effects and a lot more. It can even capture video from a FireWire-based camera.

Like all video editing tools, it takes a bit of tinkering to get used to Kino, but once that's done, working with it is quite pleasant.

A Little Make-up
Once you've finished editing your movie, you might want to consider a bit of touching up: Kino won't help you much if you have to make changes to single frames, or if you want to try your hand at rotoscoping, a technique where you draw on each individual frame to convey the impression that you've animated something very well. Think of it as a primitive version of motion capture. If you want to edit individual frames, you need to turn to CinePaint.

CinePaint-it's The GIMP for movies!

CinePaint's former name-Film GIMP-should serve as a hint to what it does. The program supports all major video formats, including high-definition formats like Kodak's Cineon and ILM and NVIDIA's OpenEXR. The interface looks just like that of The GIMP, so if you've used The GIMP before, you shouldn't have any problems. Use CinePaint to make corrections in frames that didn't come out too good, add titles to your movies if you're not satisfied with Kino's capabilities in that department, or add your own weird animations-but remember that working on individual frames can be as exhausting as it is rewarding.

Tell The World!
When your movie is finally done, you'll need a good video encoder to be able to inflict it upon the masses. If you want to make your own holiday DVD, complete with menus, use DVDStyler. For more advanced encoding features, there's AVIDemux, which also doubles up as a DVD authoring tool when extended with software like dvdauthor.

If YouTube is your chosen route to fame, then you don't have to worry much-as long as you encode your movie to be less than 100 MB and in a file format like AVI or MPEG, it'll get converted by YouTube once you upload it.

The last step is to e-mail your friends and tell them to e-mail their friends about your new creation! (The open source tools for that would be Firefox or Thunderbird, but you already know that).


Nimish ChandiramaniNimish Chandiramani