Professional video editing with Lightworks 12

Sharp Tool

Article from Issue 175/2015

Lightworks, the professional video editing program that has been used on Hollywood blockbusters, now runs on Linux. However, its many possibilities can only be fully exploited on powerful computers.

Vendor EditShare offers its Lightworks video editing program [1] in two versions: a freely available "Free" edition and a commercial "Pro" edition, which you can either subscribe to or buy. The subscription costs $24.99 per month or $174.99 a year. The unlimited license costs $437.99.

The Free version differs from the Pro above all in its export options: Although the free edition produces only MP4 and H.264 video up to 720p resolution, the Pro package offers other encoding formats and various formats for exchanging data with editing systems and cameras, including Blu-ray and DVD export. The Free version also lacks some special editing features.

The system conditions for Lightworks are quite challenging [2]. The manufacturer recommends a 64-bit system with an Intel Core i7 or a similarly fast AMD CPU, 3GB of RAM, two displays with a resolution of at least 1980x1080 pixels, and a graphics card by NVidia or AMD, including proprietary drivers. Lightworks will not even launch if you have Intel graphics. On our test system with Ubuntu 14.10, the installation worked without any complications, although several software packages needed to be installed manually for a lack of automatic dependency resolution.

For some users, however, the mandatory Lightworks activation can be pesky: From time to time the EditShare server cannot be reached, and you see an error message. As an alternative, the manufacturer offers an offline activation key file, which can be generated during the registration process.

In our lab, however, an Invalid Action error was thrown. EditShare support then advised connecting an additional drive via USB, as Lightworks might not be able to create a fingerprint of the computer without a drive. After connecting a USB stick, the software then succeeded in activating.

First Launch

Lightworks launches in full-screen mode, providing sufficient space for tools and movie material, even in larger projects. In the middle of the screen, you will find the project dialog. Here you can either create a new project or select an existing one – the demo project is a good place to get started. You also make central settings such as the frame rate here.

At first, the Lightworks workspace is pretty empty. The left-hand side provides a toolbox from which you can drag the different tools and position them in the Lightworks workspace to suit your own needs. Lightworks stores the resulting arrangement with the project. The first tool you need to use is typically the Import dialog (Figure 1). Lightworks copies the files either into the working folder or just creates links to save space.

Figure 1: Lightworks either copies imported clips into your working directory or leaves them where they are on request.

Video Editing

In the Project browser, double-click on one of the files to open a video preview. You can place this anywhere on the desktop and resize the view. In the preview, you can mark the area you want to edit later on – the technical term for these marks is inpoints and outpoints (Figure 2).

Figure 2: In the preview, you can determine the section and paste the material directly into the current editing session.

No timeline is available into which to insert material. To change this, you press the Edit icon (third from the top) in the toolbar on the left side. By default, Lightworks now generates a timeline with a video and two audio tracks at the bottom, an Edit window with a red border above it on the right, and the Preview window with a blue border above the timeline on the left. To the left of these three windows is an overview populated with your clips and a toolbar to the far left. You can populate the timeline by dragging and dropping audio and video material from the project overview. If you have previously defined your in- and outpoints, then Lightworks only uses the selected areas.

Populating the timeline is easier if you use the preview window. To do this, select the area you want in the preview and one of the two arrow buttons next to the control and marking icons below the movie (Figure 3). The icon with an arrow pointing down transfers the selected area into the timeline. It replaces either the selected area or appends the new clips at the current marker position. You need to select the area to replace in the timeline with markup tools from the overlying editing window to do this. Alternatively, you can use the icon with the two lateral arrows to insert the movie. The function does not replace any existing data but shifts existing clips accordingly.

Figure 3: Preview window controls. Edit window controls look the same, except the two far right icons are red.

You can modify the individual transitions directly in the timeline. To help you, Lightworks offers different symbols as soon as you drag the mouse close to a transition: a U rotated to the left or right and a horizontal H (Figure 4). Depending on which U icon appears, you are editing the end of the material to the left or the start of material to the right. Where they meet in the middle, the horizontal H edits both sides of the cut.

Figure 4: You can correct the clips directly in the timeline with the mouse, either before or after the cut. Selecting both sides of a cut extends the preview.

While you are making changes to a section, the editing window also changes. It displays both clips side by side during this time, so that you precisely control the transition from one video to the next. After completing the change, the window automatically returns to its normal state.

Timeline Options

At the top right in the timeline, you can organize the functions of the editing area using the small gear icon. Here, you can insert or delete tracks or combine them in a group. You will also find the export and backup function as well as some commands for setting and controlling special timeline features.

Under Make, you will find the New Bin option. This creates an additional project window in which only the material appears that you are currently working on in the edit area. Especially for large collections of material in the main project window, this feature very much facilitates workflow.

In the Timeline view at the bottom right, select Advanced to display further options that allow you, for example, to change the playback speed of a video track, which gives you great effects, particularly for sports and other action-packed scenes. For audio tracks, you can specify the overall volume and the clipping boundary.

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