Generating a Movie in Python Without Saving Frames to Disk

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: In data visualization and animation, one might need to create a video directly from a Python script without the overhead of saving each frame as an image file. This requirement arises in environments with limited disk space or for applications necessitating real-time video processing. Ideally, one can generate animations or simulations that are directly compiled into a video format as an output (e.g., MP4, AVI) from an array of frames created in Python.

Method 1: Using OpenCV with an in-memory buffer

OpenCV is a comprehensive library for computer vision tasks and it includes functionalities to create videos. In this method, the user generates each frame and writes it to a video writer object while keeping all operations in memory. The video writer encodes frames on-the-fly and produces a video without persisting frames to the filesystem.

Here’s an example:

import cv2
import numpy as np

# Define the codec and create VideoWriter object
fourcc = cv2.VideoWriter_fourcc(*'MP4V')
out = cv2.VideoWriter('output.mp4', fourcc, 20.0, (640, 480))

# Generate frames and write to video
for i in range(100):
    frame = np.random.randint(0, 255, (480, 640, 3), dtype=np.uint8)

# Release everything when job is done

The output is a video file named output.mp4 with 100 frames of random noise.

This snippet shows how to generate random frames as an example using NumPy and writes directly to an MP4 file using OpenCV’s VideoWriter. This process bypasses the filesystem for the frames and directly encodes them into the video stream.

Method 2: Using matplotlib animation and FFMPEG

Matplotlib, a popular plotting library, has an animation module that integrates with FFMPEG, a powerful multimedia framework. By using the Animation object from Matplotlib and FFMPEG as the writer, we can produce videos straight from Python plots without saving individual frames as files.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import matplotlib.animation as animation
import numpy as np

fig, ax = plt.subplots()

x = np.linspace(0, 2 * np.pi, 100)
line, = ax.plot(x, np.sin(x))

def update_line(num, line):
    line.set_ydata(np.sin(x + num / 10.0))
    return line,

ani = animation.FuncAnimation(fig, update_line, fargs=(line,), frames=100, blit=True)'sine_wave_animation.mp4', writer='ffmpeg')

The output is a video file named sine_wave_animation.mp4 showcasing a dynamic sine wave.

The code above generates an animated sine wave using Matplotlib’s FuncAnimation feature. The animation is saved directly to MP4 format using FFMPEG, negating the need to save individual frames.

Method 3: PIL/Pillow and numpy with imageio

Combining PIL (or its fork Pillow) for image processing with numpy arrays and the imageio library, a Python developer can create a video stream. Imageio provides a straightforward API for writing sequences of images directly to a movie file.

Here’s an example:

from PIL import Image
import numpy as np
import imageio

writer = imageio.get_writer('wave.mp4', fps=20)

for i in range(100):
    img = Image.fromarray(np.random.randint(0, 255, (100, 100, 3), dtype=np.uint8))


The output is a video file named wave.mp4 consisting of 100 frames of random pixels.

This snippet demonstrates how to create a video through consecutive image frames generated with Pillow, converted to numpy arrays, and then appended into a movie using the imageio writer.

Method 4: Creating a video with Pygame and moviepy

Pygame, a set of Python modules for writing video games, can be used alongside moviepy, a video editing library, to create and save video content. By drawing frames in Pygame and capturing them with moviepy, developers can forego saving frames and directly compile them into a video.

Here’s an example:

import pygame
from moviepy.editor import VideoClip
from import pygame_display

screen = pygame.display.set_mode((640, 480))
clock = pygame.time.Clock()

def make_frame(t):
    screen.fill((255, 255, 255)), (0, 255, 0), (320, 240), int(220 + 20 * np.sin(t * 2 * np.pi)), 0)
    return pygame.surfarray.array3d(screen)

animation = VideoClip(make_frame, duration=5)
animation.write_videofile('pygame_video.mp4', fps=20)

The output is a video file named pygame_video.mp4 showing a pulsating green circle for 5 seconds.

This example uses Pygame to draw a pulsating circle with animation controlled by the make_frame function. The frame is converted to an array and passed to moviepy to create a video clip, which is then saved to a file.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Quick and easy video with moviepy

For a truly minimalist approach, leveraging moviepy alone can provide a simple one-liner to generate a video from Python. This method is quick and suitable for small-scale tasks but lacks the customization of other methods.

Here’s an example:

from moviepy.editor import VideoClip
VideoClip(lambda t: np.ones((480, 640, 3)) * (t * 255 / 2), duration=2).write_videofile('one_liner.mp4', fps=24)

The output is a video file named one_liner.mp4 that gradually transitions from black to white over 2 seconds.

This code uses an anonymous function that produces a frame based on the time t, which is scaled to create a transition effect. The frame is directly written into an MP4 file using moviepy’s write_videofile method.


  • Method 1: OpenCV with in-memory buffer. This method leverages the power of OpenCV for frame generation and video encoding. It is well-suited for applications requiring real-time video processing but may have a steeper learning curve for those unfamiliar with OpenCV.
  • Method 2: Matplotlib animation with FFMPEG. This method is perfect for those comfortable with data visualization tools and provides a high-quality output. However, it can be slower than other methods due to its backend process.
  • Method 3: PIL/Pillow and numpy with imageio. This approach is quite flexible and allows for easy manipulation of frames before video encoding. While simple to implement, it does depend on multiple libraries that need to be installed.
  • Method 4: Pygame with moviepy. Combining these tools is great for creating game-like animations, providing a rich drawing interface. However, the method can be more complex than necessary for simple video tasks.
  • Bonus Method 5: Moviepy one-liner. This is the fastest method to quickly generate a small video clip. Its simplicity is its strength; however, it’s not suitable for more complex video generation tasks.