All Hail VirtualDub

Generally, our production pipeline involves editing all the footage down in Premiere to the final cut and then, depending on length and complexity, on-lining the project or project sections in After Effects for all color correcting, stabilizing, deinterlacing, frame rate adjustments, or whatever else is required. This the best way to maintain video quality, since you go straight from the source files to the corrected final in one shot, without multiple generations of adjustments and transcoded video files.

However, sometimes there isn’t time for all that, and sometimes video needs to be converted or processed prior to the editing phase (also, with a good codec, transcoding once or twice isn’t too bad). After Effects is great for this too, obviously, since it’s easy to set up batches of files with preset effects, but sometimes this is overkill, and that’s where VirtualDub comes in.

VirtualDub is a free video utility developed by Lee Avery. It’s not an editor per se, but it can append multiple video files or trim portions out of them. Its main strengths are capturing, processing, and compressing digital video. It can do anything from stripping or adding audio streams to AVI files without recompressing them, or heavy-duty image remastering using third party filters.

Because VirtualDub was originally built to capture and remaster television programming, most of the filters are for removing things like VHS color banding, ghosting from broadcast interference, and network logos, but there are also plenty of great film-related tools for de-flickering, de-jittering, and de-graining damaged telecine transfers. And that’s not all; since VirtualDub is a completely open source project, plenty of developers are contributing new tools all the time.

There are softeners, sharpeners, deblockers, super-resolution resizers, pan-and-scan filters, various color correction tools (limited by the fact that they can’t be animated, but still handy), deinterlacers, subsampling interpolators, vignetting fixers, etc. Perhaps the most powerful is Gunnar Thalin’s Deshaker, which is one of the best video stabilizers I’ve ever used, and merits a blog post all of its own.

So, for our latest project, which didn’t really require a serious on-lining process, we used Virtualdub to process our video before editing. All of our B camera footage (shot with the HV20) was deinterlaced, then denoised, then stabilized, and then had the audio tracks removed in a single generation, resulting in footage that was a much closer match to our A camera (the XL H1).

Once you set up a filter chain in Virtualdub, it’s very easy to apply all those changes to an entire directory of files at a time. More complicated, multi-pass settings may require other tools for the really easy batch processing of clips, but it is still be faster than After Effects for automated processing.

Filmmakers shouldn’t let VirtualDub’s humble origins dissuade them for making it a majpr part of their production pipeline. Whether it will be used for simple codec conversions or cleaning stock footage or reconfiguring entire libraries of video, it has some of the most powerful filters available, the fastest batch interface, and the lowest system requirements of just about any processing tool, and it’s free.