Interview Raffaella Traniello

Raffaella Traniello is a Venice based videolover and teacher. She is an active member of the Cinelerra and Lumièra communities and worked on several handbooks that testify of her enthusiasm for working with free software. Following Q+A attempts to unfold some of her energetic activities.

You have posted several animations and ‘making of’ clips on the Vimeo Cinelerra group that show that you implement free software for video-editing in an educational environment.
Can you describe the situation in which you work? How do you experience combining working with children, video and free software?

I teach art and music in a public elementary school. To fight boredom, I decided to turn ordinary classes into something special: stop motion animation production. I’m now deeply in love with this activity. It has a very high educational value. In fact, despite what it might look, it offers children a wide range of important activities: planning, group work, image manipulation, … It stimulates creativity but it demands rigour. It nurtures imagination but it requires technical skills. It explores the fantastic while it forces you to observe scientifically, to think about lighting, optical illusions and so on. It requires using a computer while it makes your hands dirty. It demands personal involvement but it is definitely a group work. It frees your expression but asks you also to respect the expression of others.
Children seem to be particularly good as animators because they have very flexible and unconventional minds.

The “Making of” videos serve as multipurpose production documentaries. They confirm the kids how well they have worked. They also allow the parents to see their kids at school, to see things about them that can’t be told all that easily. Facial expression, posture, general atmosphere say a lot about how their children are and work at school.
And the videos explain the other kids in the school how hard the animation work actually is. Too often kids are fed “closed” things: cartoons, food, toys, .. the result is that they rarely ask themselves questions: Where are those things from? How were they made? By who and why?. The “Making of” videos want to stimulate healthy curiosity and tell the kids that they can look inside things.

When I mention ‘cooperation, fun, creativity, technology, common growth, curiosity, asking questions, looking inside’, you will understand that free open source software comes into my project as naturally as number 2 comes after number 1. Using free software was not a real choice since there were no alternatives to choose from that fit these keywords. Using free software was just obvious.

Since some time now, the code of Cinelerra is being rewritten into a new editing software named Lumièra. You are active in both the Cinelerra and the Lumièra community. Can you say how experiences of both developers and users guide the direction Lumièra takes?

You talk about users and developers as separate people. In fact in many FLOSS projects devs are users as well and they develop the application they need for themselves. Lumièra aims to be a pro-application. So even if the core developers could do everything on their own, to optimise contributions and to make the debate wider, a decision was taken to separate the task of developing the code from the task of studying the user point of view and analysing professional workflows. For this last task, a work group was set up to nurture the dialog between the dev’s and the user’s insights.

Besides that reworking Cinelerra code into Lumièra breeds a new software, it also is a moment to review the social group that carries the project. Can you say how the Lumièra group and the community spirit of CinelerraCV are related?

The shape of the CinelerraCV community is a little different from the Lumièra Community. CinelerraCV is headless, meaning that the original developer is not an active member of the community (he participates only occasionally). Contributions come horizontally from everywhere and the community is pretty loose. Lumièra on the other hand, has a small well organised group of 3 core developers: Christian Thäter, Hermann Vosseler and Joel Holdsworth.
Paradoxically having a limited core group helps to form a more democratic and open community. They have set git as version control system and are developing uWiki, that is a tool for creating a a git-based wiki-website, to make the code and the documentation of the software accessible. The goal is to keep the threshold for contributions as low as possible.

How can enthusiastic users help the project ?

I’m sure you are not surprised to know there are plenty of things to do. There are tasks for any level of competence. While coders can help with code documentation or uWiki, non-coders can help with any other task, ranging from work on the website ( ) to testing and administration. The easiest way to start is to simply join the Lumièra mailing list or the #lumiera IRC channel on FreeNode.

Looking for films that are produced with free software can be quite a tough job and good films are hard to find. How can this be helped? Do you think creating online repositories is a good idea? Are there films that you find interesting and worth to be checked out?

Unfortunately I must agree with you. Not many Cinelerra productions are mature films/videos that can compete in International Film Festivals. It seems that when editing video on Linux, the technical side still demands a disproportional amount of energy. Maybe sometimes that distracts the maker from the creative artistic side of the project.
Nevertheless there are very nice videos made with the tool. Watch for instance DreaMachine Lullaby by Dr Iznot, which is edited by Daniel Jircik, using Cinelerra)
And of course the Blender Foundation produces excellent works too. You can’t help loving Big Buck Bunny.
Despite the fact that it is not FLOSS software, online video platforms such as Vimeo can help free software artists because they offer places to meet and share art.

The Cinelerra Vimeo group is a small community but part of a bigger context. In Vimeo, Linux users can grow in creativity and videomakers can learn about copyleft licenses (both for software and art works). In fact it is a community where respect, quality and creativity are key. Personally, I feel artistically very stimulated by it. But if Vimeo fully supported OGG and had a special tag for Creative Commons I would be much happier.

Cinelerra integrates the different stages of working with digital video, from capturing to transcoding, in one software. You could say that this approach is not taking maximum advantage of the strengths of small, flexible unix tools that are easy to tweak and allow for variation and diversity of workflows. How would you react to this standpoint?

Cinelerra is a video editor and compositor. That means she is made to cut videos and to compose tracks. And she does it well; she is particularly powerful in compositing. She also has secondary functions, some of them work better than others. In particular, DV capturing is very buggy. And no one cares to fix it, because we have Kino that is very good on that. On the other hand the titler might seem simplistic at first glance, but when combined with effects it is a pretty effective tool.
The professional approach of Lumièra will bring just a small set of functions into focus, giving high priority to making it extremely reliable. Other functions will then be added as a plug-in. This way the tool becomes versatile and can be extended depending on the individual needs and desires.

Workflows are not static entities, they change. The way you work depends on many things: social, technical, political conditions, on corporate policies and on the type of job you have at hand. Also the emergence of new tools evoke new modes of production. How can the development of a software anticipate or respond to evolving processes?

Of course Lumièra addresses only the portion of the production workflow that is done inside the program. While it is true that a workflow is a living animal, I think it is also reasonable to consider it as stable as your brother.
In fact there are some relatively rigid workflows that are well established among professionals. Lumièra will support those, so that seasoned media workers will feel at home. But she will go further: beyond this conventional (some might say old-fashioned) workflow that is set as default configuration, it will be possible to change and evolve other ways of working with media within the application, by experimenting with optional workflows or user interfaces, extending and reconfiguring some parts, adding plug-ins or using scripts.
The goal is to offer maximum flexibility combined with a friendly and conventional approach. To a certain extent this is already present in Cinelerra where, for example, there is no rigid boundary between “editing” and “compositing” and if you want, right from the middle of a conventional “cut and past” working mode, you can start utilizing layers, animated masks, plug-ins and create a dynamic compound of media objects.

Personally, I find it a pleasure to read manuals, DIY demo’s that are nurtured by practices of other makers; a good way to learn the tricks of the profession is to see and repeat how colleagues work.
You wrote the manual Cinelerra for Grandma, which is my favorite Cinelerra guide to date because it approaches software users as human beings with a body, gender, age and most important of all: as persons that might be curious to discover tools that do not necessarily fit their profile. Can you say something about your motivation to write this manual ? What are your future plans and future desires with it?

I agree it’s very pleasant and useful to share experiences among users. But since Cinelerra is not a word processor software, not so many people actually use it. The main place for sharing user experience is the Internet, via mailing lists or IRC. Occasionally I had the opportunity to meet real Cinelerra users, with arms and legs. Just watching them even moving the mouse or doing the simplest operations was instant learning. Quick and effective.

I started translating the official CinelerraCV manual to Italian and soon realized it is not written for newbies. Meanwhile I was asked by the local municipality to give a Cinelerra course. I was supposed to provide the students with some notes and slides, but instead of limiting myself to that, I took the opportunity to make a guide for people who are new to the software.
I was deeply inspired by Doug Pollard, a community member that I truly admire for his strength and determination to learn Cinelerra at 73.
While the official Manual is about what Cinelerra can do, “Cinelerra for Grandma” is about what a beginner wants to do. It’s meant to be modular, so that you could build different workflows using different paths through the same manual. It can be used also as a FAQ. It’s still very incomplete. I hope to fix that soon, thanks to an imminent new Cinelerra course.

But I have reached a next level with Grandma. She has read through several user manuals, she has encountered obscure terminal commands, geeky kernel hacks, nerdy workarounds, permission problems and video-device issues that have made her head spin.
I’m considering writing a completely new manual, called: “Extreme knitting for filmmakers – the revenge of Grandma”. It will be a detective thriller handbook about the nerd-writers who tortured her with their geek manuals. Will she hit back with git repositories of free knitting patterns? Make them join a community of women knitting for charity? Teach them the benefits of Merano wool? Force them to be shot in HDV while knitting a pink mohair sweater?
Stay tuned and you’ll find out.

Thanks to Adam Williams
Images licensed under Creative Commons by-nc-sa

Posted on: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by: in category: Collaborative filming, Films and Projects, Further reading