Frame differencing with FFmpeg

I often want to create motion videos, that is, videos that only show what changed between frames. Such videos are nice to look at, and so-called “frame differencing” is also the start point for many computer vision algorithms.

We have made several tools for creating motion videos (and more) at the University of Oslo: the standalone VideoAnalysis app (Win/Mac) and the different versions of the Musical Gestures Toolbox. These are all great tools, but sometimes it would be nice also to create motion videos in the terminal using FFmpeg.

I have previously written about the tblend function in FFMPEG, which I thought would be a good starting point. However, it turned out to be slightly more challenging to do than I had expected. Hence, this blog post is to help others looking to do the same.

Here is the source video I used for testing:

Source video of dance improvisation.

First, I tried with this oneliner:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -filter_complex "tblend=all_mode=difference" output.mp4

It does the frame differencing, but I end up with a green image:

The result of the tblend filter.

I spent quite some time looking for a solution. Several people report a similar problem, but there are few answers. Finally, I found this explanation suggesting that the source video is in YUV while the filter expects RGB. To get the correct result, we need to add a format=gbrp to the filter chain:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -filter_complex "format=gbrp,tblend=all_mode=difference" output.mp4
The final motion video after RGB conversion.

I have now also added this to the function mgmotion in the Musical Gestures Toolbox for Terminal.

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.