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Shortcuts with Shotcut

by Alan German

A Catalan tradition in Barcelona is for local citizens to dance the Sardana in front of the cathedral around noon on Sundays. I came back from the city with a number of video clips on my digital camera of this dancing. As it happened, I had recorded two particular videos, one a slow section, the other fast, where the dance was being done to the same piece of music. My thought was to combine the two videos by clipping individual segments to provide a more-or-less natural break between the two at the point where the musical tempo changed.

Note, in the stills from the videos, that between the end of the slow section (left image) and the start of the fast section (right), that the camera view has changed somewhat. In addition, the dancers raise their hands above their heads as the faster section of the dance commences. What I needed to combine the two shots was some video editing software that would allow me to clip the videos and join them together with a reasonably seamless transition.



Of course, my first thought was to find a free (and even better – open-source) software package to achieve these goals. My first foray into video editing was using a package recommended in an on-line review. As indicated by the review, the software proved to be quite intuitive, simple to use, and hence seemingly perfect for my neophyte purposes! However, it quickly became apparent that the “free” version of the program was actually a limited-use free trial and so it was not a viable option for the long term.

More research on the Internet identified Microsoft’s Movie Maker as a potential candidate, with a number of glowing reviews of this program’s power and simplicity. Then a further search found that development of this software had been abandoned by Microsoft and the download link discontinued. Sigh.

Two more products proved to be just too difficult to use but, eventually, I came across a review of Shotcut – an open-source, cross-platform, video editor. This package was said to have tremendous power, and lots of video tutorials on-line to provide a reasonably easy learning curve. Now, all of that sounded too good to miss.

Shotcut’s modus operandi isn’t readily apparent just by starting the program. Sure, it’s easy to open a video file – but then what? There is a forest of controls and on-screen options. This is where those on-line video tutorials fit in!



Opening my first video file brought it into the preview area where I could use standard video player controls to view the content. In order to select the video clip that I required I simply had to move the start and end markers, by dragging them horizontally, along the timeline in the preview area (top-right of the program’s window). A frame counter, with forward and back arrows, enables any single frame to be identified and displayed, making it fairly easy to set up the clip length exactly.

Once I had my clip selected, I pressed the Copy icon in the menu of the timeline window at the bottom of the screen, followed by the Paste icon, in order to place a copy of the selected clip into the edit area (the lower portion of the program’s window). I then opened the second video file and repeated the process to produce a second clip in the edit area, to the right of the first clip.

By default, the two clips are placed immediately adjacent to each other. To create a transition, I simply had to drag the second video clip to the left so that it overlapped the first video clip. The minimum amount of overlap that I seemed able to create (about 30 frames, or one second of playback) seemed to give a fairly smooth transition. No doubt professional video editors would wince at this methodology but, what the heck, this is my video, and it’s my first ever video edit!

By default, the edited product has the same properties – video format (e.g. MP4), resolution (640x480 px), and frame rate (30 fps) – as the original video files from the camera. However, a vast array of options for exporting the video with different parameters is supported by Shotcut. For my purposes, simply selecting Save, browsing to a folder on my hard drive, and creating a new file name allowed me to safely store my newly-created masterpiece!

Working on some other videos with Shotcut, I found the above-noted process to be ideal for simple cropping of video files. This allowed me to eliminate the frequent shaky start to videos, presumably as a result of pressing down rapidly, and much too hard, on the camera’s Record button. Similarly, I found combining clips with a smooth transition to be ideal for instances where, in my non-videographer’s wisdom, I had zoomed the telephoto feature of the camera’s lens during a recording, resulting in transitional footage that was both shaky and out of focus. The fix was simple – copy clips from both before and after the zoom sequence and merge. The edited product looked almost professional by comparison with the original!

No doubt, if the Internet reviews are borne out, Shotcut has a myriad of other features, both simple and advanced, that will allow users to create superb videos. For my part, I’m just happy that fairly simple techniques can produce vastly improved footage for a rank amateur.

Bottom Line:

Shotcut (Open-source)
Version 17.06.01
Meltytech, LLC

Originally published: December, 2017

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