The Origin of Cinelerra

The history of Cinelerra always has to come back to Adam Williams. No matter what anyone does, it always has to come back to Adam since Cinelerra is Adam Williams.  Adam  is actually more of an artist and musician than he is an engineer which you know him for through Cinelerra.  He told me when we first started talking that he has been interested to create a audio program to essentially record and tweak his own performances on the piano as he had been inspired to be a professional concert pianist when he was younger and he worked very hard at that dream.  If you look on YOUTUBE you can find him still playing his keyboard in amazing self-recorded performances of extremely complicated classical works. So, he had his audio program and then, as he related, he saw TITANIC, and he be came interested in adding images and motion to his personal audio editor.  So, since we can track TITANIC back to 1997, we can safely assume that origins of CINELERRA, go back that far when he first created and released BROADCAST 2000 in the mid-1990's as he wrote in the official Cinelerra manual.

BROADCAST 2000 was so far ahead of its time that it is painful to remember how bewildered so many professionals were at the time. Cinelerra meant and means a lot to the media production technologies and film production industry, then and now. All of the major studios use Linux and actually have Open Source Linux projects, some of which are linked on our links page and Adam's work was before any of them. 

When we were going from studio to convention to studio all over the world, we seemed to be fighting windmills. And we went to the biggest studios and the biggest trade shows in the world and they would not fully grasp how important this was to so many people world-wide and who never see the inside of a famous studio and  who represent the vast majority of artists.  This is who CINELERRA was created for and continues to be dedicated to this day.

Having said that, I will relate my recollections of the beginning of my friendship and professional relationship with Adam and consider this to be the most accurate recollection Cinelerra.  Also, I do not ever expect that Adam would comment on this much less write it himself as he would likely consider it a waste of his time.  

Background                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The year was 1999 and I had decided to take a hiatus from working in motion picture post-production studios and studio technology companies. I was tired of the driving and the travel so I applied and got  a job working in the IT at a major hospital in Reno, Nevada. Since I was working weekends by myself I had a lot of time alone. The last few years I had been working on SGI systems software design and I was annoyed at how expensive they were yet I loved their power and how they could deliver real-time results.  But, I knew that they were out of the reach of the vast majority of media artists and the only place you would ever see them was in major studios in major cities, which was SGI's plan anyways. 

It was something my brother Kevin showed me a couple years earlier which kept coming back to me in my thoughts  as I considered the future of media production technology.  What he had demonstrated was a 486 running Linux. I had been successfully running a SGI 02 and Onyx on Irix on a  early HD graphics program. I also ran a DEC Alpha at work and loved the chip, but, it was running on Windows so it had limitations. The 486 I saw was running smooth, fast, and best of all, it could be tweaked.  I immediately looked at the 486 and said out loud, "This is the future of media production".                                                                                                                    

So, forward to the fall 1999 and I started to meet and interview hackers  from the local LUG trying to someone who could share my vision, but, no one did. It was January 2000 and I was searching on the net for Linux and Media and Editing and found an unknown program called BROADCAST 2000 on an unknown and very basic website somewhere on the Internet. I suppose it was HeroineWarrior.com, but, I am not really sure.   Anyways, I e-mailed the person whom I assumed was the author and heard nothing for weeks. I must have e-mailed more than once and then all of a sudden I got a reply. The reply was direct and to the point and it was Adam Williams replying from where he was finishing college in Tampa, Florida.  My proposal was simple and I wanted to figure out if we could get Adam out to demonstrate BROADCAST 2000 at NAB which is the National Associations of Broadcaster convention in Las Vegas every April.  We had a E-Mail dialogue and eventually, we spoke on the phone and started to figure out how this could happen. Adam suggested the name of a small Colorado company selling MJPEG video boards as a possible ally. So, I contacted Vassili Leonov from Linux Media Labs and we partnered on a trade show booth at NAB 2000.  At the same time, I decided to call my new company Linux Media Arts.  Well, I assumed the cost of getting Adam out to Las Vegas for the week and we did the fist demonstration of BROADCAST 2000, the father of CINELERRA, at NAB in April of 2000.  In reality, the first demonstration of a a free software editor on Linux would not have happened without Adam Williams as it was his software and it was his suggestion that put the business partnership together that enabled us to go to the first show.

Cinelerra

After the show, we all went back to our bases with Adam to Florida and I went back to my job. Adam continued to develop and release updates to Broadcast 2000 on his website.  My brother was now working at VA Linux, which at the time, had the largest IPO in history in December of 1999. VA Linux was hiring all sorts of Linux coding gurus with all of their money and so I asked to see if we could get Adam in front of them. So, during the late summer of 2000, I brought Adam from Florida and  back out to California. Adam was comfortable in California as he actually grew up there so he was fine with the concept of possibly moving back out west as a possibility.  Adam installed BROADCAST 2000 to a VA product development executive named Kirk Short and Larry Augustine, a VA Linux Co-Founder. Both were impressed and Adam was offered a job which he promptly accepted.  All during the time when we first met, we had numerous discussions on the best development path for the program. I had given Adam a full version of Adobe Premiere 4.0 for his analysis and consideration and we were both aware that the design of BROADCAST 2000 while very utilitarian and a very powerful program, it did not have the type of interface that AVID and Premiere editors were comfortable.   Less than a year after we first had contact over the Internet, Adam was back in the Bay Area and started work at VA Linux.  Adam had been re-located to Silicon Valley by VA Linux and was staying at a residence hotel on Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale. Not long after he had started the job, I went to meet him at his hotel and it was there that he told me that he had started a new program called CINELERRA. While working at VA Linux for the next 18 months or so, Adam diligently worked on his new program and eventually he uploaded the first version of CINELERRA in the fall of 2002.

Submitted by Michael Collins on May 22, 2014 -- The Origin of Cinelerra