Video effects and compositing with Natron

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Special FX

Elaborate video compositing, blue screen tricks, and other complex video effects normally only appear in high-priced programs like Adobe After Effects, Nuke, or Fusion. Natron is open source, free, and gives high-priced alternatives a run for their money.

Natron [1] belongs to the genre of so-called compositing programs in which video effects and video compositing play the dominant role. Unlike video editing programs such as Kdenlive and OpenShot, Natron offers both video cutting and effects, all in little boxes. These little boxes are known as nodes , and they can be connected to each other by lines, thus making way for more complex compositions. As a consequence, it takes somewhat longer to get accustomed to working with Natron.

Nouvelle Vague

Natron originated in 2013 at the French research institute Inria [2]. The project leader Alexandre Gauthier Foichat even won a competition with the effects program, which in turn made it possible for him to work on it full time. Version 1.0.0 finally appeared at Christmas 2014. Before that time, several preliminary versions suitable for use had been released by the developers. Each version included multiple small modifications. The developers have continued to follow this pattern with changes in subsequent versions. Version 1.2.1, for example, contained corrections for errors, and also included a new effects node.

New versions appeared each month until the developers gave themselves six months off. In the fall of 2016, they again released numerous preliminary versions until Natron 2.0.0 finally appeared in March 2016. Although a new whole version number might suggest major changes to the user interface, the program included multiple small changes, so if you used an earlier version of the software, you didn't have to spend time getting accustomed to an entirely new setup.

Among the more notable improvements to be found in the new version is the Dope Sheet editor, which edits effects and clips on the timeline. New nodes integrate effects that can be rendered by the ImageMagick image editor. Since March, the developers have been releasing a new version each month, primarily for the purpose of correcting errors. When testing Natron for this article, version 2.0.5 was available and serves as the basis for this article.

Loads of Functions

The vast number of functions Natron brings to the table confirms the program is intended for professional users. For example, it supports technologies such as rotoscoping and rotopainting, thus making it possible to trace over animated videos. The tracking function is partially automatic and tracks cars and other moving objects. Natron can be controlled via Python2 scripts and from the command line, which becomes useful when computing elaborate effects on servers.

Natron is distributed under a GNU GPLv2 license and is built on free components. As a result, OpenColorIO looks after the color features, and OpenImageIO and FFmpeg import and export practically all existing image and video formats. Natron has expanded its effects capabilities and they comply with version 1.4 of the OpenFX standard – including commercial effects. An auto-save function does away with anxieties over the potential effect of a crash. Colors are saved internally with 32-bit floating-point numbers, giving Natron precise color correction capabilities.

The compositing program harnesses all of its processor cores, so work proceeds quickly right from the start. Even so, Natron is frugal with resources. As a rule, 3GB of main memory and a 3D graphics card suffice. However, the graphics card has to support OpenGL standard 1.5 with the following extensions:

  • GL_ARB_texture_non_power_of_two
  • GL_ARB_shader_objects
  • GL_ARB_vertex_buffer_object
  • GL_ARB_pixel_buffer_object
  • GL_ARB_framebuffer_object
  • GL_ARB_texture_float

The command

glxinfo | grep GL_ARB

checks to see whether the graphics card offers these extensions.

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