How to layer/remix videos with free command line tools

This tutorial assumes you know a little bit about script files. All files have some editing that is required before executing and knowing a little bit about a couple parameters really expands what you can do with them. That said, it’s really not too hard and we’re happy to answer basic questions.

Video Overview: (which you can definitely skip)

FFmpeg (OS X howto), video utility, format conversions, etc.
Imagemagick:all kinds of image processing goodness. Like a command line version of GIMP or photoshop.
Sox: Audio processing.

We’ve used all of these programs on both Linux and Mac. Linux installs are pretty easy with package managers (apt-get, yum, etc). Mac is little more work for ffmpeg and imagemagick but not too tough.

[Optional] VideoDownloadHelper: Firefox plugin that allows you to download easily from lots of video sharing sites in mp4 and flv format at a variety of resolutions. There are Linux command line downloaders as well but we haven’t tried that yet…

GET SOME MOVIES Maybe you take them with your own camera, maybe you download from online. You’ve probably got a bunch floating around your hard drive already. Start with short ones. Feel free to grab some from, or any other broadcaster, all are public domain.

mkdir frames
ffmpeg -i yourvideoA.avi frames/A%4d.jpg
ffmpeg -i yourvideoB.avi frames/B%4d.jpg

This will export individual frames of the video to A0001.jpg, A0002.jpg, etc
For longer videos you might need to use A%5d.jpg or A%6d.jpg but start with small videos first.

This is where ImageMagick comes in handy. ImageMagick can do all kinds of image manipulations. We will give you a few examples.

Blending two movies on top of one another. Copy the following code into a file called and make it executable[type chmod 755 at the command line].

# boranj!
counter=10000 # initialize counter
for f in A*.jpg; do # step through frames
let "counter+=1" # increment counter
# apply some Imagemagick effects to the 2 images and write a new image
composite -blend 50 A${counter:1}.jpg B${counter:1}.jpg -matte ./mixedFrame${counter:1}.jpg
#Use FFMPEG to make frames into a movie again
ffmpeg -r 30 -sameq -i mixedFrame%4d.jpg ../outputmovie$DATETIME.mp4

Now you will have a movie with no sound that will look something like this:

After using the above script file, you will have a movie with no sound. You can add the soundtrack of your choice, or add the mixed audio from the original movies.
To extract audio from the original movies and sum it back together:

ffmpeg -i movA.mp4 movAsound.wav
ffmpeg -i movB.mp4 movBsound.wav
sox -m movAsound.wav movBsound.wav mixed.mp3

Add audio back to your movie:
ffmpeg -i movNoSound.mp4 -sameq -i mixed.mp3 -ab 192k movSound.mp4


Wavy overlay: Script file.

and similar example with more slices.
For this example, you need to create a mix image first. That is done with this line.
convert -size 640x480 gradient: -evaluate sin 20 wave_gradient.png

Place it in an appropriate location and make sure it’s correctly reference in your script file.
This type of combination has all kinds of options. You can take this a lot of other places if you wish to dig deeper. See this forum post and this usage examples page.

Four movie grid montage: Script File.

Six panel version of same effect.

Lots of other possibilities if you poke around Fred’s Imagemagick scripts as well.

Let us know what you come up with.


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12 Responses to “How to layer/remix videos with free command line tools”

  1. Command line video processing using FOSS - Hack a Day Says:

    […] Paluska] is getting away from the point-and-click by editing videos from the command line. Using the free open source software packages FFmpeg, Imagemagick, and Sox he produces new clips […]

  2. brice Says:

    I recently offered the same solution on It turns out that you could probably do it easier with Xuggler( a FOSS java library to do those kind of manipulation. It might be easier than having to do everything separately.

  3. t0ny Says:

    Neat idea. I got a few ideas what I would want to do with it!

    I have not tested it but I think you don’t need to reecode the video when you add the audio back in. You should try this.
    ffmpeg -i movNoSound.mp4 -vcodec copy -i mixed.mp3 -ab 192k movSound.mp4

  4. links for 2010-05-20 Says:

    […] How to layer/remix videos with free command line tools « The Broadcaster Project These are some cool manipulations. I still have all these Japan videos, maybe they could become something interesting. (tags: video commandline linux osx processing ffmpeg imagemagick sox opensource) This entry was posted in Links. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « links for 2010-05-18 […]

  5. holyduck Says:

    protip: -sameq does not do what you might think it does
    -sameq = same quantizer = only really applicable when encoding to and from mpeg related formats.
    and even then, it generally doesnt do what you want it to do.

    using it to dump images doesnt do anything useful

    also, ffmpeg should be able to dump .png images and read them
    seeing as .png is lossless and jpg isnt, you should probably be using png for maximum image quality

    The best way to do open source commandline video editing is actually to install avisynth in wine and do commands like
    mkfifo temp.y4m
    wine avs2yuv avisynthscript.avs temp.y4m & x264 –crf 22 temp.y4m -o fullfile.mp4

    avisynth is open source, a lot more flexible and faster than the imagemagick option.
    quite a lot of avisynth plugins are open source, and since avisynth allows both non linear and linear script based editing. its 100% commandline, and 100% open source, while being both faster and higher quality than the method you outline

    • danielpaluska Says:

      cool. thanks. i will check out avisynth.

      in regards to -sameq you are talking about the export to frames line, right?
      so just do this: ffmpeg -i yourmovie.avi frames%04d.png

      but in terms of converting frames back into a movie, i have found that -sameq definitely helps.
      ffmpeg -i frames$04d.jpg -sameq movieout.mp4
      looks noticeably better than
      ffmpeg -i frames$04d.jpg movieout.mp4

  6. snips and layers « Paluska Says:

    […] installs:… Leave a Comment Leave a Comment so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. […]

  7. yellow Says:


    Two more reasons why anyone reading this post should use AVISynth and not FFMPEG to do your YCbCr to RGB conversion.

    1. FFMPEG does a contrast expansion, stretching your video levels out from 16 – 235 to 0 – 255 RGB making your movie frames more contrasty than they were recorded on your camera. To prevent this use ConvertToRGB with a PC.601 or 709 colour matrix. Not Rec. As you are going back to video levels at the end of the process.

    2. AVISynth will give you about 50% more unique colours per frame compared to FFmpegs’s YCcCr to RGB conversion. You’re reducing the quality of your movie by doing the conversion in the first place and then doing it badly.

  8. t he ans weri saque stion? Says:

    someone recently asked me for a little more detail on blur machine…

    blur machine takes 2 sets of images A0001.jpg … A1435.jpg (or whatever) and B0001.jpg … B1435.jpg and blends them together into C0001.jpg … C1435.jpg.
    where A, B and C can be whatever names you want.
    the syntax that looks like {counter:1} is a way to take a number like “10021” and make it into “0021”. this keeps the filenames correctly numbered.

    # apply some Imagemagick effects to the 2 images and write a new image
    composite -blend 50 A${counter:1}.jpg B${counter:1}.jpg -matte ./mixedFrame${counter:1}.jpg

    in this line, we must be in the directory that contains the A and B images. “./” means the same directory we are currently in, so mixedframe0001.jpg will also be written to the same directory.

  9. Public Media Systems Workshop, Tuesdays 7-9pm in November, Cambrij « The Broadcaster Project Says:

    […] you can learn to make if you want: A videobooth, a public timelapse server, command line video remixing, computer timelapse self surveillance, youtube upload scripts, a public text box, and lots of good […]

  10. Arachnosoft - Maxime Abbey Says:

    Thanks for this great, detailed tutorial.

    I released several YouTube videos featuring video game MIDI files played through a SoundFont synthesizer using my own Arachno SoundFont bank (

    Two years ago, your tutorial came in handy when I recorded this one, covering music from Lemmings:

    I wanted to record the MIDI graphical output on Synthesia (a “music playing game” similar to Guitar Hero) while layering the output with some varying background screenshots from the game itself (Synthesia only allows you to put a fixed picture in background for the whole video).

    So, I first recorded the Synthesia output, with blank (black) background, then recorded a separate video with screenshots from the games, with animations and transitions, and blended the two thanks to your guidelines.

    It worked perfectly, although I spent several days to get used to the whole process 😉

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