First look at Lightworks beta for Linux
If the story of making Lightworks a free application taught us anything, it's patience. After three years it's finally possible to download and run the awards-winning non-linear video editor on Linux, for free.
First of all, let's be honest. If you are a digital filmmaker whose videos proudly wear "Staff pick" badge on Vimeo, the only reason you haven't tried Lightworks yet is either because open beta for Mac is still to be released, or because you were too busy making the human race not such a complete waste. So this quick review is targeted at the minority of us who sit on Linux and wonder if Lightworks would improve our workflow.
Any bugs mentioned below should be understood as weird glitches that will be eradicated between now and the final release, whenever one happens. There's always a possibility of design limitations, of course, but that's between you and the bug tracker.
The first thing you will notice is that Lightworks creates its own fullscreen desktop, which might bring you back the fond memories of StarOffice, should you have any.
A lot of floating windows can be pinned to their position or collapsed and moved out of the way. Any part of a window's border can be grabbed to move the whole window, no need to go for caption. Right-click menus also work as windows and can be pinned. Within a single project you can switch between rooms to work on different things.
As for the rest, Lightworks operates on pretty common concepts like tracks, keyframes, or effects. Some differences, however, are striking.
In Lightworks you do not save projects. Everything you do is automatically saved to a database. For that very reason I haven't lost a single bit of edits in those few cases Lightworks actually crashed. A lot of desktop applications would benefit from this approach.
The application also has a concept of edits which you can treat as scenes. Inside a single project you can create multiple edits.
If you are coming with the background of using simpler non-linear editors like Kdenlive or OpenShot, cutting in Lightworks is going to take some getting used to.
The application uses the so called 4-point editing. Basically, if you need to fill part of footage on timeline with another clip, you choose in and out points in the timeline (I and O shortcuts respectively):
then in and out points in the clip:
then click the Replace button in the timeline window:
Additionally you can press:
- Delete, to remove the in/out section and move the rest to the left to fill the gap;
- Remove, to remove the in/out section and keep the gap.
Here's e.g. what Remove does:
The timeline is pretty slick. There are tons of useful things, including little features like the configurable captions for clips (names, reels, descriptions, durations).
Color grading and effects
This part of Lightworks, and the way effects work in general, is among things I enjoyed most. Personally, I'm not into effects as such. Give me 3-way color tool, simple blends and fades, and I'm a happy puppy (admittedly, an overgrown human-shaped one). What I care about is how easily I can manipulate them.
The nice bit about Lightworks is that not only that effects can be stacked and bypassed. You also get internal node compositing, and you can save your composition for further use.
Color adjustment tools are all implemented as effects and are keyframeable. Apart from the usual 3-way grading tools (working in various color spaces) there's also Selective Correction effect which is great for scenarios like affecting just skin tones.
Effects also come in handy when you need to place a PNG file on top of a video track (which is what I do a lot in Blender VSE). Since Lightworks doesn't support alpha channel in PNG, you need to apply Blend effect. The automatically chosen “In Front” method works like a charm, an you can use keyframes for opacity slider to control transparency of your PNG file over time.
Since all the calculations are made in real time, scrolling a complex project would give your workstation tons of hiccups. This is where rendering effects helps a lot. The idea is quite similar to the freezing of tracks in a DAW: you just render all effects into a track non-destructively, which eliminates the need for Lightworks to recalculate all fades and suchlike live.
A simple way to “unfreeze” is to right-click on a clip and choose Reconfigure. This will make the effects stack for the clip editable again.
Lightworks has a rather sane user interface for keyframes. In the effects stack you get just an overview, but if you click the button to the right from the overview widget, you get a new window with curves for all animatable parameters.
The window also has controls for jumping between keyframes and removing excessive ones.
The beta for Linux has a problem with redrawing the curves widget, so you need to resize the window back and forth to get rid of the garbage on screen. It could be an Nvidia-specific issue, though.
In Lightworks titles are implemented as effects. So if you want the common zoom-pan-dissolve title, all you need is to use keyframes for X, Y, font size, and opacity. Here's a typical setup:
Unfortunately, this is also where Lightworks fails badly right now: font size steps are way too large, so the zooming effect is simply not smooth enough.
Here's one awesome thing though: if you want simple fade in/out for the titles, you don't need to go for keyframing. The effect has its own “Effect” tab where you can enable fade in and fade out and set duration for each of them.
Release notes lists a number of limitations for this first public build. Here are some of them:
- no Firewire or Lightworks USB/Serial console support;
- no H.264 MOV, Quicktime/MPEG4 or AVI exporting;
- incorrect DPX image sequence exports.
In my experience, it also doesn't read some combinations of common containers and codecs.
Last but not least, Lightworks only comes in 64bit version right now. But if you really are into filmmaking, you deal with gigabytes, if not terabytes of data, and there's no way you are cutting that footage on less than 4GB of RAM.
As a primarily screencasting guy I'm not exactly in the target group of users. In this business my job is to keep the videos as short as possible and use very little tracks stacking. Hence a lot of features that any filmmaker would consider to be crucial for getting work done are simply extra fancy stuff to me.
However the sheer amount of possibilities that Lightworks opens, makes me wonder, if doing just a tiny bit of filmmaking would turn out to be as fun as tons of jaw-dropping shorts on Vimeo suggest.
The basics of using Lightworks are very well explained in this set of 10 tutorials published by EditShare:
Finally, as already mentioned above, this is a beta, and various mishaps are only to be expected. Don't treat it as a complete product just yet, and you'll be fine.
Downloading Lightworks beta for Linux requires registration. Source code release is still pending.