Create screencasts with menyoki

Moving Pictures

Article from Issue 249/2021
Author(s):

Short snippets using animated GIFs are often sufficient to show what's happening on your desktop. With menyoki, you can create these animations from the command line.

If you need to demonstrate complex desktop processes, a video can be worth a thousand words. Conveniently, numerous screencast tools let you record what is happening on the screen and generate a video from your actions in MP4 format. However, GIF animations are far better suited for short events. They do not display annoying blocky artifacts, can be easily sent via a messaging app, and can be quickly integrated into websites.

The menyoki [1] screencast tool lets you create animations and save the captured processes in GIF or APNG format. If so desired, menyoki can also break down videos into individual frames, which proves useful when fishing a screenshot out of a rapidly moving process or monitoring such a process in peace afterwards. Conversely, menyoki can also create an animation from individual images, making it possible, for example, to integrate photos from a wildlife camera into a short movie. In addition, menyoki lets you create screenshots and – within narrow limits – edit the individual images.

Currently, menyoki only works in an X11 session; capturing images on Wayland is not supported yet.

Installation

To get menyoki up and running, Arch Linux users can retrieve the program from the community repository by typing:

pacman -S menyoki

For other distributions, you can download the current menyoki version as a tarball from GitHub [2] and proceed to unpack the archive.

You only need the menyoki program in the current directory; call it by typing ./menyoki. If you want to make menyoki available to all users, copy it to a suitable directory, such as /usr/local/bin/, which allows you to run menyoki directly from anywhere by typing menyoki. Either way, you will be responsible for updates in the future. For other installation options, see the "Alternatives" box.

Alternatives

You also can install menyoki with Docker or Cargo. Both are a bit more complicated than downloading the menyoki archive, but they make it a little easier to update the tool in the future.

If you are familiar with Docker, just call:

docker pull orhunp/menyoki

to set up the appropriate container. You can then call menyoki by typing:

docker run orhunp/menyoki menyoki

Depending on your system, you may also need to prefix the commands with sudo (e.g., on Ubuntu).

Menyoki also can be integrated via the Cargo package manager for the Rust programming language. All major distributions have Cargo and Rust in their repositories, but these are mostly outdated versions that are not suitable for installing menyoki. You should therefore always install the latest version of Rust manually in your home directory. To do this, first use the package manager to install the curl tool, a C compiler, and the developer packages for the libX11 and libXrandr libraries.

On Ubuntu, line 1 of Listing 1 provides everything you need. You can download an installation script for Rust with the command in line 2. Run it, and enter 1 at the prompt. After installation, open a new terminal and install menyoki (line 3). Don't forget to regularly update Rust (line 5) and menyoki (line 6) later.

Listing 1

Setting up menyoki via Cargo

01 $ sudo apt install curl build-essential librust-x11-dev libxrandr-dev
02 $ curl --proto '=https' --tlsv1.2 -sSf https://sh.rustup.rs | sh
03 $ cargo install menyoki
04 [...]
05 $ rustup update
06 $ cargo install menyoki --force

And, Action!

To capture what's happening in a desktop window as a GIF animation and save it in film.gif, just call menyoki with the command shown in line 1 of Listing 2. This long line of instructions may initially look cryptic, but upon closer inspection it nicely demonstrates the menyoki command structure. Immediately following the menyoki command, you need to type the action that you want menyoki to complete. In Listing 2, that action, the record switch, records an animation.

Listing 2

Recording with menyoki

01 $ menyoki record --countdown 5 gif save "film.gif"
02 $ menyoki record --with-alpha --countdown 5 apng save "film.apng"

You then use parameters to influence record's behavior. In Listing 2, following record, the --countdown 5 parameter tells menyoki to start recording after five seconds. This not only allows time for preparation, but – very usefully – it also lets you hide the terminal window with the menyoki call. Without this parameter, menyoki waits for three seconds by default. The action and its parameters are followed by the file format for storing the animation. Listing 2 uses the GIF format in line 1, but APNG is also possible (line 2).

Finally, save tells the software to save the video in the film.gif file after recording. If you omit this specification, menyoki independently chooses a storage location along with the file name, which it outputs on exiting – typically ~/pictures/rec.gif.

Framed

After calling the command from line 1 of Listing 2, a delicate frame appears (Figure 1). Menyoki will record whatever is inside the frame. You can record a different window by clicking on the desired window. In its own terminal window, menyoki informs you of the associated Window title and Window size. Armed with this information, you can determine whether menyoki has chosen the right window content. You have 60 seconds to select the desired window. If you need more time, specify the required number of seconds with the --timeout parameter.

Figure 1: If menyoki's selection frame seems too thin, you can expand it to five pixels, for example, using the --border 5 parameter.

Gnome and KDE draw a shadow around their windows. Since the shadow belongs to the window, menyoki also draws it. The selection frame therefore appears to be far larger than the actual window (Figure 1). In the final animation, however, the shadow is shown as a black area.

To get around this, you have a couple of options. First, using the --with-alpha parameter tells menyoki also to record transparent pixels. However, this only works smoothly with the APNG format (Listing 2, line 2). Alternatively, you can hold down the Alt key and then use the arrow keys to reduce the size of the selection rectangle. You can enlarge the recording area again by holding down the left Ctrl+Alt keys. Pressing the left Shift+Alt keys along with the arrow keys lets you move the entire frame. However, exact frame placement around the window can be a fiddly process (Figure 2).

Figure 2: By reducing the size of the selection frame, you can restrict the recording area to the areas that you want to show.

Alternatively, turn off the shadows completely in the system settings (not all desktop environments let you do this). As a final measure, you can post-process the recording with a video editing program.

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