Generating Video Thumbnail Storyboards

Album Cover: Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace

"Time will turn us into statues, eventually."
Foo Fighters / Statues

Posted on June 01, 2008 1:56 AM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

Let's say you've got a video clip (or set of video clips) that you'd like to turn into a series of thumbnails, or what I call a "storyboard," to give you a quick overview of what the video contains from point to point along a specific time interval. With very long video clips, it can often be an n time operation to observe what happens in the clip, meaning that if the duration of the clip is n, it's going to take you around n to figure out what's going on in the clip. A quick way to avoid this is to generate a storyboard of thumbnails from the clip that show both what is happening in the clip at specific intervals and some representation of the interval itself.

To accomplish this for myself, I made use of two tools: FFmpeg and ImageMagick. Both tools are cross-platform, as far as I can tell, but since I knew I'd be writing a Perl script to enclose the usage of the tools and potentially using a Bash script to run the former script against a series of video clips, I decided to use Ubuntu to generate my storyboards.

Installing FFmpeg was as simple as running the following from the command line:

sudo apt-get install ffmpeg

Installing ImageMagick was equally as simple:

sudo apt-get install imagemagick

Once I had those tools installed, I was ready to begin utilizing FFmpeg to convert a specific point in a video file to a thumbnail image. Using Making thumbnails for movies with ffmpeg and the FFmpeg documentation as resources, I eventually arrived at the following command (which should all be on one line) for generating a thumbnail:

ffmpeg -y -i /path/to/my.avi -f mjpeg -ss 30 -vframes 1 -s 120x90 -an /path/to/my.jpg

The key components of that command are -f mjpeg, which specifies that I want to output a JPG image; -ss 30, which specifies that I want to generate the thumbnail from the point 30 seconds from the beginning of the video clip; and -s 120x90, which specifies the dimensions of the thumbnail I want to generate.

Once the thumbnail has been generated, it still doesn't contain any information about from where in the video clip it was captured. In order to include this information in the thumbnail, I decided to make use of the montage tool that comes with ImageMagick. Annotating Images contains a lot of useful information for utilizing montage, and it rather quickly led me to the following command:

montage -geometry +0+0 -background black -fill white -label "00:00:30" /path/to/my.jpg /path/to/my.jpg

The important pieces of that particular command are -label "00:00:30", which adds the text in quotes to the bottom of the thumbnail, and the two file paths at the end of the command which point to the input file and output file, respectively. Since I just wanted to modify the original thumbnail from FFmpeg with the timestamp label, I used the same file path for both in my command.

To extend what I was capable of accomplishing using the aforementioned commands, I added them to a Perl script and added in some logic to figure out the duration of a video clip so I could calculate how many times I would need to increment a given interval (e.g. 30 seconds in my case) for a specific video file to ensure I generated a thumbnail for all available intervals in the video. That was a little trickier, but essentially amounted to capturing the output from the following command to a variable and then using a regular expression to extract the duration information returned:

ffmpeg -i /path/to/my.avi 2>&1

Once I had access to the video's duration, I could then iterate on a specific time interval from the beginning of the video to the end, generating thumbnails along every point. I saved all of the thumbnails in a single directory so I could then look at the thumbnails in that directory to get a quick overview of what happens in the clip without having to watch it in its entirety.

Given what I've shared in this post, you should be able to generate video thumbnail storyboards, too. If there are any requests to see my Perl script, I can make that available as well (it might give me an excuse to play around with Google's free Subversion repository), but I think this post stands on its own without it.

Comments

Spartakus on August 01, 2008 at 5:14 AM:

I want to grab 30 frames for a movie. I've got the length, fps and calculated the interval in seconds beforehand.

How can I manipulate the -r switch to achieve this task.

Running ffmpeg once per screenshot is really cpu exhaustive, so I would like to do all in one run.

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Loubard on September 19, 2008 at 9:54 PM:

Great article!

How could one assemble all these storyboard images into a single larger image, which each frame side by side in a comic-book like configuration.

Thanks!

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Bernie Zimmermann on February 06, 2009 at 11:14 AM:

Months later, I've figured out a way to do this more efficiently, which comes in handy when you're generating a whole slew of thumbnails for a single video. With the command line parameters I provided in my original post, the thumbnail creation takes longer and longer the further you get into the video.

Today, I went into the #ffmpeg channel on Freenode and a kind user named "colde" suggested that I move the -ss parameter before the -i parameter. Doing so made the slowdown I was seeing previously go away. So the beginning of the call should look like this instead:

ffmpeg -y -ss 30 -i /path/to/my.avi ...

Hope that helps someone else out there!

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Jeroen on June 15, 2010 at 7:48 PM:

Did you look at ffmpegthumbnailer
which is a c prog, using ffmpeg to create thumbnails, it is very very fast.

Thanks for your post, the montage part was cool

(was looking for a way to put an overlay text on a video)

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