Make iMovie ’08 work your way

When Apple introduced iMovie ’08, the program received more attention for what it was missing than for what it offered. It represented a complete rewrite of the iLife suite’s previous video-editing component, iMovie HD 6. The new version abandoned the old code, along with many features that iMovie users had grown accustomed to. Although iMovie HD 6 still works, and is available for free to people with iLife ’08 installed, jumping between the two programs is a hassle.

Despite iMovie ’08’s seemingly missing features, the program has hidden depth. It can still perform some of its predecessor’s tricks—just not in obvious ways. And a subsequent update, version 7.1, adds other enhancements. Here’s how to get the most out of the software.

Work with multiple audio tracks

One of iMovie ’08’s major departures is the lack of a timeline. In all previous versions of the software—not to mention in Final Cut Express, Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress, and nearly every other video editor out there—video tracks appear on a single horizontal timeline, with separate audio tracks below the video.

In iMovie ’08, you instead build your movie in the Project Browser that resides in the upper left corner. Video clips appear as a continuous filmstrip, running over to the next line as if the movie were a paragraph of text. At first glance, there appears to be no place to insert additional audio, such as music or sound effects, but that’s only because iMovie doesn’t display an empty place for them. (As with previous versions, the audio that accompanies the video is embedded in the video clips; iMovie hasn’t actually removed any audio.)

Somewhat confusing, though, is the distinction that iMovie makes between background music and other audio. When you drag a song from the Music And Sound Effects Browser (press Command-1 or click on the musical-note icon in the middle right to view it) to an area of the Project Browser other than the filmstrip itself, the song appears as a green box behind the video. When you play the movie, the music plays in the background, unanchored to any particular bit of the video footage (see “Background Music”). If, however, you drag an audio file and drop it onto a portion of the filmstrip, the audio appears as a green horizontal bar below the video and remains locked to that footage as you edit.

Background Music: When you drag a song file to the Project Browser but don’t drop it directly onto the filmstrip, it appears as a green box behind the entire filmstrip, serving as background music.

If you were working in iMovie HD 6, those would be the only two audio tracks you could effectively work with. In iMovie ’08, however, you can keep adding audio to the filmstrip to create as many overlapping audio tracks as you can tolerate before your ears start to ring. (iMovie HD can technically overlap audio clips, but it crams them all onto the two tracks, making them hard to manage—and you can still only work with two tracks at a time.)

Extract audio clips

It can be helpful to pull the audio out of a video clip to edit it separately, or to use it as background audio for a different video clip. Although iMovie ’08 can do these things, the process is rather unintuitive.

In the Project Browser, click and drag to select a range of frames from which you want to extract audio. Control-click (or right-click) on the selection and choose Reveal In Event Browser from the contextual menu that appears. You’ll then see those frames selected in gray in the Event Browser at the bottom of the screen. (Unlike iMovie HD, iMovie ’08 adds only a copy of the clip to the movie—the source footage remains in the Event Library.)

Hold down Command-shift and drag the selection from the Event Browser to the filmstrip in the Project Browser. Instead of inserting the selected video (which would duplicate the video already in the project), this action inserts just the audio portion of the clip as an audio track below the filmstrip. To mute the video’s embedded audio track, click on the Audio Adjustments button in the clip’s icon (it looks like a small speaker) and set the Volume slider to zero. You can then edit the video and audio independently.

Trim smarter

The signature new feature in the original iMovie HD was Direct Trimming: To edit the length of a clip, all you had to do was click on its start or end and then drag to hide or reveal the frames you wanted to edit. You no longer needed to splice and dice your clips in order to alter their length.

The initial version of iMovie ’08 abandoned Direct Trimming, offering a trio of options in its place. You could select a range of frames and trim away the excess; open the clip in a special trimmer mode; or click on a button to slice off a second of footage. Apple’s iMovie ’08 7.1 update brings a more sensible approach to trimming.

In iMovie’s preferences, you can now enable the Show Fine Tuning Buttons option; clicking on a button displays an orange border that lets you trim in one-frame increments up to one sec-ond in length.

Or you can hold down Command-option and position the cursor over the edge of the clip to display the Fine Tuning border.

A third method is to hold down the option key and position the cursor at the edge of a clip, and then press the left- or right-arrow key repeatedly to trim in one-frame increments.

Resurrect Magic iMovie

The Magic iMovie feature in iMovie HD 6 was a great way to throw together a bunch of footage that didn’t require much editing but needed a little polish, or that you wanted to use as a jumping-off point for your edits. Magic iMovie may have vanished in iMovie ’08, but most of its capabilities are still there.

After connecting a camcorder to your Mac, go to the Camera Import window (Command-I) and set the mode switch to Automatic. When you click on the Import button, iMovie rewinds the tape in your camcorder and captures all the footage; for tapeless camcorders, iMovie imports the entire contents of the camera’s memory.

If you want iMovie to apply transitions between all the clips, go to the Project Properties window (File: Project Properties or Command-J). In the Transitions section, select Add Automatically, choose a transition type from the pop-up menu, and use the Transition Duration slider to set the lengths. Click on OK.

iMovie will then ask whether you want the transitions to overlap existing visible footage (which was iMovie HD’s behavior) or to use hidden trimmed footage. When you click on OK, iMovie adds the transitions—and since iMovie ’08 doesn’t need to render them, they’re ready immediately.

Make DVD chapter markers

The most surprising omission in iMovie ’08 is that it doesn’t offer a way to set markers, which iDVD can use to create chapters within your movie. (Perhaps this omission is not so surprising, considering Apple’s current lack of interest in the DVD format).

The workaround is to take a side trip through either GarageBand (the more straightforward option) or iMovie HD 6 (which offers more control over marker placement). In iMovie ’08, edit your movie to the point where you’re ready to send it to iDVD. Then share it via the Media Browser (Share: Media Browser) at the Large size, making it available to other iLife programs.

If you want to use GarageBand, launch it and select Create A New Music Project. Go to the Movies tab in GarageBand’s Media Browser, select your iMovie project, and drag the large version to GarageBand’s main work area. Next, position the playhead at a spot where you want a chapter marker to appear, and press the P key to add a marker (or choose Edit: Add Marker). Create a marker for each remaining chapter, and then name the chapters if you want something more descriptive than Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on. When you’re done, choose Share: Send Movie To iDVD to create a new iDVD project for the movie.

If you prefer to use iMovie HD 6 to create markers, then, in iMovie ’08, choose Share: Export Movie and select the Large setting. You can import the resulting movie file into iMovie HD 6, where you can add and name iDVD chapter markers, and then send the movie to iDVD.

Apply (a few) effects

iMovie ’08 dramatically scales back the number of options available for applying titles and transitions, and completely removes the effects (as well as support for third-party plug-ins). However, a few things that iMovie HD 6 included as effects now show up as video adjustments.

Video Adjustments: Convert a video to black and white by setting the saturation to zero.

For example, although there’s no one-click option for making your video black and white, draining the color achieves the same result, and is almost as easy. Click on the Adjust Video button to bring up the floating Video Adjustments window, and select a clip to adjust. Then drag the Saturation slider left, to zero percent (see “Video Adjustments”).

In the same window, you can tweak the colors with more flexibility than the Adjust Colors effect of old allowed, even adjusting the image’s white point to compensate for color cast. (Or you can go crazy with the sliders and create your own pop art.)

Look toward the future

The dramatic changes in iMovie ’08 threw a lot of people for a loop, leading to some serious head-scratching. The program is still missing plenty of features, such as better volume control and a way to adjust a clip’s speed (it’s hard to believe a slow-motion capability didn’t make the cut). But iMovie ’08 isn’t as hobbled as it first appeared, which bodes well for future versions. And if you find its limitations too restrictive, you can use iMovie HD 6 instead—at least until it stops working, since Apple has given up on supporting it.

Apple has made iMovie HD 6 available as a free download for people who install the iLife ’08 suite.

iMovie ’08’s new tricks

iMovie ’08 has a number of new features that older versions required third-party plug-ins or workarounds to accomplish. Here are a few.

Crop and rotate clips - Have you ever inadvertently turned your camcorder sideways like a still camera to record a tall object like a building or waterfall? On video, that footage shows up at a 90-degree angle, looking as if you were knocked over when you shot it.

iMovie ’08 can put you back on your feet by rotating the footage to the proper orientation, although the process is not as simple as rotating a still-camera image. Select the clip you want to rotate, and click on the crop button that appears in the upper right corner of the clip; or click on iMovie’s Crop button on the toolbar and then select the clip. In the Viewer window, click on one of the rotate buttons to tilt the footage in 90-degree increments. Unless you want the image to appear with black bars along the sides because of the incorrect aspect ratio, click on the Crop button and specify which portion of the clip to make visible.

The Crop button also lets you zoom in on any portion of your video (for instance, to cut out distracting material at the edges). The final image quality will depend on the resolution of your video, however, and will always be somewhat worse than what you started with—so try to shoot what you’ll want in the end.

Overlay: You can import an image containing a transparent background and overlay it on existing footage—to create a speech bubble, for example.
Add a photo as an overlay or mask - When you add a still photo to a movie, it normally appears in the filmstrip mixed in with your video clips. However, you can also overlay a photo on video without slicing up the video clip to insert the photo. Here’s how.

You drag an image from the Photos Browser, but instead of dropping it between video clips in the filmstrip, you drag it directly onto a clip. The clip will turn blue and highlight the beginning, the end, or the entire clip, depending on where the cursor is. When you release the mouse button, the photo appears as a blue bar above the filmstrip (the same representation as for a title).

To try out this feature, create a picture in your favorite image editor with areas set to transparent, and save it in a format such as PNG that retains the transparency. For example, you could create a thought balloon on a transparent background (see “Overlay”). When you add the picture to your movie by dragging it onto a clip, it will retain the transparency, revealing only the thought bubble.

[Jeff Carlson is the author of iMovie ’08 and iDVD ’08 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2008) and the managing editor of TidBits.]

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