Free Videodistorting Programs

You don’t need expensive editing equipment to distort video.

“Video distortion” encompasses everything from using pixelation to censor obscene content or conceal an interview subject’s identity, to the digital artifacts inadvertently added to a video during over-compression. Abstract animators and video artists like Nam June Paik pioneered the use of video distortion as a form of creative expression in and of itself. You can experiment with video distortion yourself by using a variety of free software programs.


VirtualDub is a free video capture and processing program for Windows, which filters and distorts video using built-in and third-party plugins. VirtualDub can sharpen, blur, emboss, smooth, deinterlace and adjust video levels, brightness and contrast. The VirtualDub Filters Index lists many freely downloadable plugins (see Resources).


Wax is a freeware video-processing tool for Windows that provides an unlimited number of video tracks. It has many compositing capabilities — including rendering traveling mattes to cover up trademarked logos or blur out faces — and comes with hundreds of effect presets, including rotoscope, morph, shatter and blur. Wax will accept plugins written for other programs like Freeframe, Windows Movie Maker and VirtualDub, as well as freeware plugins designed by its user community. With graphics acceleration enabled, Wax processes these effects in real time. Wax works as a stand-alone application, or as a plugin within the nonlinear editor of your choice. It accepts AVI video files and many common still-image formats, and outputs to AVI or Flash video (FLV) format.

Sqirlz Morph

Sqirlz Morph is a freeware program for Windows that allows you to morph between images in imported AVI video files. You can save the resulting morph animations as AVI video files, Macromedia Flash files, or JPEGs.

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ZS4 Video Editor

ZS4 Video Editor is a freeware video effects and compositing tool for Windows. The number of audio, video and picture tracks it allows is limited only by your system’s memory. ZS4 can process an unlimited number of audio and video effects per track, including blurs, edge detection, crops, opacity adjustments, wipes, image distortions, rotations, chroma keys and shape keys.


ImageMagick is a free command-line tool for Linux. It can perform batch operations on image sequences derived from video files, and then encode them to video. You can use a free nonlinear editor for Linux — like OpenShot, Kdenlive or Cinelerra — to convert your source video to an image sequence before using ImageMagick to apply distortions and effects.

Max/MSP Jitter

Cycling ’74’s Max/MSP Jitter is a commercial program for Mac. It offers a fully functional demo version that works for thirty days. A Jitter plugin called Manipulator allows for a variety of distortion effects (see Resources).

VideoLan Client

VideoLan Client (VLC) is a cross-platform video player-converter containing an output module that plays back any video file in ASCII video format. This format is inspired by typewriter art, and displays images using only letters, numbers and punctuation. However, VLC cannot convert a video file to ASCII video; the feature only works for real-time playback.