Adobe, AVID, and Maxon all make amazing tools, but can community-built, open-source options be the way of the future?
It doesn’t get any better than free, especially when we’re talking about filmmaking tools. Things like software and hardware that are released under an open-source license allow the end user to utilize the source code, blueprint, or design in almost any way they see fit. It can also be modified and shared under usually very open conditions.
But what kinds of tools are out there, and how can filmmakers benefit from this open-source approach?
Open Source Filmmaking Software
First, we start with software. This is usually where you can find most open-source tools since they are easy to modify and make available for free.
Very recently, DreamWorks make their in-house renderer, called MoonRay, open source, which made it free for creatives to use on their projects or modify for whatever needs they have. DreamWorks is also still using MoonRay and has said it will continue developing the renderer. You can read a bit more about it here.
As of this article, MoonRay is still only available as source code for Linux, but the community and DreamWorks are hard at work making it available for applications like Blender. Speaking of which…
This piece of software is the poster child for open source. Built completely with the concept in mind, Blender is a 3D modeling application, compositor, and video editor all rolled into one. You can make anything from VFX, full animated features in various different art styles, and even video game assets. It’s even been used in features films:
It’s been in development since 1994 and is overseen by The Blender Foundation, a non-profit organization. Additions to the software are created by the massive Blender community and implemented into official releases by the foundation. If you know how to code in Python, modifying Blender to your needs is a breeze.
After decades, Blender has become a powerful tool that can rival even some of the best industry tools on the market. While it won’t win in all categories, the fact that it’s free and open source means it’s an amazing tool for budget creatives to learn and add production value to their projects.
There are many options for video stabilization software out there, but Gyroflow is open-source and free. While it was initially targeted at drone operators, the software has expanded to support mirrorless cameras from Sony and cinema cameras from Blackmagic and RED.
Visit the Gyroflow site to learn more, or check out its full feature list.
This is a big one… kind of.
Lightworks is an NLE (non-linear editing system) that’s been around since 1989. It was used on films like Pulp Fiction, L.A. Confidential, 28 Days Later, and The Wolf of Wall Street, to name a few.
It’s a powerful tool that a lot of Hollywood editors have relied on. While the software isn’t open source yet, the development of an open-source version was announced in 2010. However, not a lot of news has come out about an official release. In July 2020, it was confirmed that development is still underway, so we’ll still have to wait a bit, it seems.
For now, you can still get a free version of the software at www.lwks.com
While DaVinci Resolve isn’t open source, it’s still the most powerful video editor, compositor, and audio suite out right now. It’s also an industry-standard color grading tool. Almost every film made today is color graded on Resolve.
The Studio version costs $295, but the free version gives you 95% of the tools you’ll need. I’m pretty sure if Grant Petty had his way, the whole thing would be free. Even though this software isn’t open source, as we said, we just had to put it on this list with how powerful the free version is.
Open Source Camera and Hardware
Next, we have the hardware. While it’s impossible for open-source hardware to be completely free, these tools still provide a unique approach for filmmakers as they can be modified and utilized as you see fit. All without an end-user agreement getting in the way of how you make your movies.
Apertus Axiom Cinema Camera
Apertus has been working on the Axiom project since around 2006, which is a completely open-source camera. The team plans to create affordable and free software and open hardware for the professional digital motion picture environment. What makes this project so interesting, is the partnership with Magic Lantern.
Currently, the Axiom cinema camera is in beta and includes a developer kit, so you can build your own or the Beta Compact, which includes an enclosure. While news about the project has been slow these days, development is still moving forward, and it’s exciting to see such an option available to filmmakers who want to tinker with their gear.
Have you ever wanted to learn how to control camera hand wheels for a motorized camera rig? Well, Kino Wheels may be an interesting solution that is not only great training but satisfies that need to build things from scratch.
The Kino Wheels hardware project (as it’s not really a product) is modeled after the hand wheels used for operating a camera on film productions. Since operating this tool requires a bit of practice, creatives would need to rent expensive equipment. Or, you can build your own Kino Wheels to practice at home. A full set of plans and tutorials are available on the Kino Wheels site to get you started. Creatives are also encouraged to modify and improve the design in any way they like.
Motion capture is quickly becoming a staple in the film and gaming industry. But the tech behind it can be prohibitively expensive. Chordata Motion hopes to change that. As an open-source motion capture system, the company aims to take the world of motion capture and make it open-source.
Its system is designed to be flexible enough to meet any project demand that may require the capture of human (and non-human) movement. This can then be used in video game design, animation, digital arts, or even Gait analysis or Physical Therapy. Currently, the team is hard at work creating a native plugin for Unreal Engine, which is also free to use!
An Open-Source Future
Dedicated filmmaking tools are a necessity for our industry, but no matter how big a company gets, these tools will always remain niche with respect to the big picture of product sales.
That’s why open-source options are so attractive. They take the immense R&D that usually goes into these tools and spreads it across a massive community of creatives, filmmakers, and tinkerers. This approach also opens up the tools for everyone to learn not only about how they work but how to make them better.
What do you think about the open-source approach? Would you want to use any of these tools on your next project? Let us know in the comments!