Sunday Mailbag

February 19th, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Regarding using DVDs or other video sources for finding reference for your caricatures: Ever since upgrading to MAC OS X Lion I’ve had a devil of a time finding a screen capture solution that allows me to grab a movie still from an iTunes movie or a DVD. I read on your blog that you recommended “CaptureIt!”,¬¨‚Ć but I downloaded and ran the trial version and it doesn’t work either. The images it captures are just the white-and-grey grid. Have you been able to find anything that actually works in Lion?

A: This question came from fellow Minnesota illustrator Cedric Hohnstadt last week and wasn’t really for the mailbag, but coincidentally a better solution for this just was released, and it seemed like it might make a good mailbag question.

Some background: Apple makes some very good hardware and software products, but sometimes their thinking drives me crazy. They have always taken a “I know better than you so it’s my way or the highway” attitude when it comes to what they allow their customers to use their products for. One such example is their bizarre obsession to prevent Mac users from being able to do a screen capture (a simple still of a paused video) from any video source on the Mac. First they prevented their built in screen cap program “Grab” from being able to do it (taking a screen capture with Grab that includes a window with video in it results in that window appearing black). Then they eliminated any workaround using Terminal. The program “CaptureIt!” mentioned above worked in versions of OSX up through Snow Leopard, but Apple was up to it’s old tricks when they released Lion, and did something to eliminate that feature in CaptureIt!. As Cedric says, screen caps from that program now just show the checkerboard. This is an extremely frustrating policy, as there are many legitimate and legal reasons one can have to take screen captures of a video, including an artist looking for references to draw a parody of that video and the people in it. In fact, it was Apple’s lame-brained policy on this that kept me from using Macs in the first place, and I have seriously considered using Boot Camp or Parallels and a copy of Windows on my Mac just so I can have the pleasure of using the MANY great Windows-based video players that have excellent screen capture features.

My response to Cedric was that I use a program called “VLC player” to play DVDs, Quicktime videos, MP3s, and other flavors and can do screenshots from that with a combination keystroke. It’s not as convenient as CaptureIt! because as there is no single frame advance using VLC, nor does it have quite as elegant and easy an interface, but it worked. The lack of single frame advance was particularly annoying, as I often use that to get a clear and focused still as opposed to a blurry shot in mid-movement.

As it happens, VLC just released an updated version that is a total reworking from the ground up. It has many new features for those who do a lot of video work, but the nice thing for me is it added that missing single-frame advance. It’s still a little clunky to take and organize screen caps, as you need to set up a directory for them and either use a three-key shortcut or click into a menu for the action, but it works well and does the job.

So, for those of you who have a fair use, legitimate reason to take screen captures of video and use a Mac, I recommend VLC Player for that purpose and, best of all, it’s free. However, if you use VLC for professional purposes as I do, I hope you will donate some dough to support its development. I just did a new donation this morning after updating to VLC 2.0, even though I had donated previously. Without support from users, developers like those who created VLC wouldn’t be around and we’d be stuck with Apple’s $#@&*^ holier-than-thou BS policies… or Windows.

Thanks to Cedric Hohnstadt for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Oh VLC player, I love thee. Great info!

    From one artist/technology lover to another, I’m really glad you blog about both subjects. This post is a great example of them going hand in hand!

  2. I have no problem taking video screenshots using MPlaerX and the system shortcut Shift+Cmd+4 then spacebar and selecting the video window. It works flawlessly. No single-frame advancement though

  3. jjackle says:

    I like VLC for playing Quicktime (and other odd formats) on my Windows 7. Otherwize I use WMP or WMC. I dind not know that it takes screen captures though. I had been using another video capture program to do that with. It’s great for finding reference images form videos. Thanks Tom!

  4. Jeff Zugale says:

    I don’t think it’s about “holier than thou,” Tom… Apple is closely allied with Disney and has a lot of deals with other film and TV studios, they probably had to promise that Apple-made stuff couldn’t grab video in order to get stuff for iTunes video and AppleTV. Sometimes you have to give a little to get access, y’know? Look at how slowly they’ve been rolling out the full functionality of AirPlay, which will (when finally all set up) allow you to play any of your media from any Apple device in your house to any other Apple device in your house. The film and TV studios (not to mention cable companies) went nuts about that last decade, it’s taken this long for Apple to handhold them out of that to where we are now.

    BTW, I deal with this by using Handbrake to rip the discs to a hard drive, then view them via Quicktime where I can freeze frame – I use two monitors so I put the video on the other one while drawing on the Cintiq side. I don’t use screen grab images, I just open the video and roll to where I want to be. VLC should allow screen grabs from the ripped videos too.

    • Tom says:

      From what I’ve read on the matter, this was one of Jobs’ hang ups. Studios are much more concerned with pirating thier video than screen caps.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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