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Generating Text Captions for Shotcut

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Making the video editing workload much lighter

Shotcut is a Free (GPLv3) cross-platform video editor. I’ve been using it a couple of times lately to put some simple clips together (like sorting the Take 2 copyright claim GTA Online video).

I figured I’d use it to take a clip of my friends and I getting schooled by someone with a bomb lance in Hunt: Showdown.

Actually, my first thought was to write a script to put a clip together using MELT — based on JSON, of course — but on reflection for these I wanted something a bit more refined.

So, enter Shotcut. One of the things I was keen to include were text-based captions. I’ve been including these in gifs (example) for a while now, and I think they work really well for video. They can be informative, and sometimes funny!

Text in Shotcut is doable natively via filters: text, HTML etc. But this felt awkward to me- I’d rather have something directly visible in the timeline which is easy to manipulate; and to add filters to itself if it comes to it.

So I decided… to write a script to generate images with these captions, based on — yup! — JSON. I quickly thew together a JSON file for the dialogue in clip I wanted to caption:

{ captions: [                                                                                                       
        [ 0, close by here],                                                                                        
        [ 0, other side of this wall],                                                                                      [ 1, yep yep yep],                                                                                          
        [ 2, That was a Sparks! :o],                                                                                
        [ 0, ohhhh fudge],                                                                                          
        [ 0, I die to this],                                                                                        
        [ 0, GADDAMMITTT],                                                                                          
        [1, what was that?],                                                                                        
        [0, bomblance :(],                                                                                          
        [1, where?],                                                                                                
        [2, he's with me],                                                                                                  [2, :(],                                                                                                    
        [0, you've got one bullet left],                                                                            
        [0, maybe on top if he's got a bomblance?],                                                                 
        [1, good idea],                                                                                             
        [0, is that not him at the gate?],                                                                          
        [1, dunno where he is],                                                                                             [2, he's on our bodies],                                                                                    
        [1, I know...],                                                                                             
        [1, WHAT?! *panicflee*],                                                                                    
        [1, this is a bit difficult],                                                                               
        [1, fuq! :(],                                                                                               
        [1, I should have run again],                                                                               
        [1, oh well],                                                                                               
        [0, "gg wp Flakel, you beat us o7"]                                                                         

Simple! The numbers refer to speakers; 0 is the first, 1 = 2nd, 2 = 3rd. I didn’t actually need to zero-index speakers, and in fact I can use text strings to denote who is speaking, but writing numbers is quicker if there’s twenty-five captions to do.

The script, which I will throw up on GitHub, goes through this and generates the caption for each item in the list. It has assigned colours for each ‘speaker’.

Due to familiarity, I was going to use imagemagick. But I originally used Pillow as I wanted to [re]gain a bit of familiarity with that. Once I had [re]acquainted myself with the few bits I needed it was relatively straightforward to generate a cropped image with the text appropriately sized, coloured and stroked; but I found myself wanting a full 1920×1080 frame as this made the Shotcut workflow much quicker since there was no need to set position if the image was the same size as the source video.

So I changed Pillow/PIL out for imagemagick and subprocess and redid the whole thing in a few minutes. The imagemagick version is significantly slower, but not so slow as to be intolerable even when wanting to tweak a couple of the captions.

I’m quite happy with how it turned out:

The ‘automatic’ text sizing could use a little tweak!

Lessons learned:

  • using something you’re familiar with is often easier than learning something new
  • PIL is faster than imagemagick for generating simple text on a transparent background
  • bomb lancers can be pretty deadly

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