Using Shaders as Video Filters with Shadertoy and FFmpeg

Published: 24 Apr 2022

License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In this workshop, participants will learn how to use the open-source multimedia processing software FFmpeg to enhance videos with unique filters using the GLSL shader repository Shadertoy.

FFmpeg is a powerful multimedia processing tool that can convert a video to any format. It can crop, scale, and apply filters, and it can do it really fast. It is free, open-source, and used by many commercial and free software products. It is a core part of the famous video player VLC, and YouTube, among many others, is using it to process videos.

Shadertoy is a community-driven shader playground that one can use to learn the GLSL shading language and share the source code. Shaders are used mainly in 3D graphics production (games, virtual, and web experiences); however, they can add value to video production.

We will cover setting up an enhanced version of FFmpeg during the workshop and use shaders from Shadertoy as filters to render enhanced video clips. At the end of the workshop, we will gather the best examples and use them to set up a show.


Participants are expected to bring their own laptop and should be able to install new software on their systems (administrator privilege). Please free up some disk space for the workshop. 50 GB is a good start.

Linux (Ubuntu or Debian) operating system is required for this workshop. Dual-boot might work, but virtual machines are not going to work this time. Old laptops are cheap these days and Linux works well on them. Good brands are Lenovo, Dell and HP. In case you have no clue where to find them, check the list below.

Follow the Install Ubuntu Desktop guide to prepare your old new computer for the workshop.

Participants are expected to have basic understanding of producing their own video files. Videos made with a phone are fine, the same goes for 3D renders and generated videos. If you are new to Linux, try Kdenlive for video editing and Blender for creating 3D graphics.

Basic knowledge of shell scripting is recommended as we will mostly explore ways of manipulating videos using the commandline.


It is a 3 day workshop. There is a clear goal for every day of it.

Day 1

We are going to set up our Linux systems with a custom version of FFmpeg that accepts Shadertoy GLSL code input. Go to the ffmpeg_shadertoy_filter GitLab repository and follow the instructions.

Day 2

Fins all the good shaders you can on Shadertoy. Apply them to short video clips of yours using your custom-compiled version of FFmpeg. If you do not have or want to have your own videos, you can download a pack of videos from here. You can use the FFmpeg H.264 encoding guide to gain better understanding how H.264 video encoding works and how to use it for your benefit. You can see how to use ffmpeg to cut short clips from a longer video in this SuperUser post.

You can use this example to cut a short clip out of your longer video. Here the -ss defines the start of cut and -to defines the end. You can also use -t to specify how long the cut should be. The HH:MM:SS format needs to be used for time values.

./ffmpeg -i INPUT.MP4 -ss 00:00:15 -to 00:00:25 -c:v copy -c:a aac OUTPUT.MP4

To reduce the size of the video you can encode using the example below. The -crf value is the key here - the higher the number the less the quality and file size.

./ffmpeg -i INPUT.MP4 -c:v libx264 -crf 30 -preset slow -c:a copy -f mp4 OUTPUT.MP4

You may also want to reduce audio sampling rate and bit-rate, but that does not affect the file size as much as the -crf value of the H.264 encoder. -c:a, -a:r and -b:a parameters are the key here.

./ffmpeg -i INPUT.MP4 -c:v libx264 -crf 30 -preset slow -c:a aac -ar 44100 -b:a 128k -f mp4 OUTPUT.MP4

Day 3

Setting up the show. We will make several video loops, media players and projectors. Batch scripts and other workshop related material can be found in the workshop repository.