Novacut delivers distributed collaboration in HD-SLR video editing |

Novacut delivers distributed collaboration in HD-SLR video editing

open source button on keyboard
Image by :

Subscribe now

Get the highlights in your inbox every week.

Subscribe today.

Most visual artists will use any camera handed to them to make their art, secure in the knowledge that it's not the camera that makes a picture, it's the camera operator. This holds true for post-production tools, as well, and most good video editors will make great art regardless of the video software given to them.

On the other hand, without the tools a professional needs in order to do their work, it's difficult for an artist to make much at all, and one area that Linux has been weak in is choices of video editing applications. There have been small applications that allow an editor to cut (or, sometimes, hack) footage together, but most of them are considered hobbyist tools at best.

Recently that landscape has shifted. One of the projects being developed toward the goal of a GNU Linux truly designed for multimedia creation is Novacut, which promises distributed collaboration, an intuitive UI, and HDSLR-centric workflow.

Novacut, the brainchild of Jason DeRose, aims to be a complete editing environment, based on Gstreamer, Dmedia, CouchDB, and Webkit, that will revolutionize the way video editors are able to work and interact.

Distributed collaboration

Novacut is one of the few multimedia applications being designed from the ground up that applies principles that software programmers have learned about collaboration and workflow. For instance, if a scene in a web series is being edited by one editor, and that editor calls out sick one week, it would normally take quite some time for another editor to reverse-engineer, as it were, how the scene was being edited, how its assets are being managed, and the overall direction and intent of that cut. With Novacut's collaborative editing features, multiple editors can have a hand in how the assets are managed, how the scene is cut, and where the scene is headed so that if one of them drops out for a day or two, no momentum is lost.

In other words, Novacut creates a truly agile environment for the creative process. While this may not be a feature that a one-man show would need for a personal film project, it's something that only the most expensive editing solutions even begin to touch. For a free, GPLv3 video editor to be based on such a paradigm is not just unique; it's a game-changer.

It's mildly interesting to imagine an editor and a director bouncing back and forth ideas on a project from halfway across the world, but the real power in distributed editing is the ability to manage an edit more like a software project, where changes in edit decisions are inherently backed up with the use of local copies, changes can be maintained via branches, and any editor on the project can keep up with the progress of a scene and either adapt their own scene's cut to better match the overall feel of the project or take over a scene if its primary editor is not able to continue. A number of web-based video series have already expressed interest in and, in some cases, contributed to, Novacut.

User interface, user experience

By now, everyone knows more or less what to expect when they are presented with a video editor. Even the most obtuse editing system, like Blender's VSE, uses a set of established, common concepts, such as a video timeline with video strips or regions, a viewer window, cutting and overlapping footage, and so on.

Novacut's innovation in the UI or UX space is not so much a revolutionary new way of looking at editing. In fact it aims to be quite "normal" so that a new editor will be able to sit down at a Novacut editing station and fall into editing with a minimal learning curve. More often than not, the annoyances of an editing system are different depending on an editor's own preferences, so Novacut's UI design seeks to enable the editor or an editor's team to customize the workspace to suit their individual needs.

The entire UI is based on Webkit, meaning that for major interface changes, a user will only need to know HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other common, high-level languages. While a video editor may or may not have an understanding of even these languages, it's a lot easier for them to reach out to their own artistic community and find a web developer or two who can customize their workspace, while most circles of filmmakers and artists don't have an abundance of C++, Objective-C, or Python programmers hanging around.

By having greater control over their own work environment, visual artists will be able to adjust their space to maximize their efficiency and workflow. They'll be able to script common tasks like media ingestion, conversion, rendering, and more. Companies can brand the workspace, enforce specific media management practices, and built their own workflow or integrate Novacut into other open source services they use.

HDSLR and beyond

As most professional videographers know, the latest trend in production is the use of HD-SLR cameras to acquire footage. HD-SLR cameras are intended, in theory, for the still photographer, but coincidentally these high-end digital cameras can capture motion.

These professional-grade cameras are not inexpensive, but they are more affordable than many of the professional HD video cameras being pushed out to the prosumer and professional markets. They have a quality that easily matches (and in some ways, surpasses) the most expensive videography cameras, and they utilize real camera optics, making it possible to achieve film-like depth of field. In addition to that, they can be used not just for videography but also for still photography.

Novacut saw this trend coming and is basing its early work around the assumption that the videographer will be using an HD-SLR camera and something like the popular Zoom H2 or H4n for sound capture. It's a workflow custom-tailored to the current tools of the trade, with an eye for the future.

The multimedia back-end for Novacut is the popular Gstreamer framework, which powers many of the GNOME desktop's multimedia tools. Gstreamer is robust enough to ingest any number of video and audio formats, so Novacut is hardly limited to HD-SLR and .WAV sound files, meaning that Novacut will fit nicely into any existing workflow without requiring timely and CPU-intensive transcoding.

In development

After a wildly popular web demo of its core technologies, Novacut managed to get enough funding together to have one full-time programmer work on the project. It builds upon existing work, such as dmedia, Gstreamer, and webkit, but there is always extra work to be done. Visit Novacut's Launchpad site or the Novacut IRC channel (#novacut on the Freenode network) to inquire.

Novacut DEB packages are available directly from its Launchpad page, with RPM packages being posted at


Image by Flickr user Tara Oldfield

About the author

Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon - Seth Kenlon is an independent multimedia artist, free culture advocate, and UNIX geek. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time. He is one of the maintainers of the Slackware-based multimedia production project,