Shortly after Apple's iMovie 2 debuted, over two years ago, only a couple of plug-in packages were available to extend the flexibility of the digital-video-editing program: the free iMovie 2 Plug-in Pack and the first two volumes of GeeThree's Slick Transitions and Effects (see "Mac Software Bargains," July 2002), which added even more transitions and visual effects. But suddenly, more iMovie plug-in packages have appeared, including some that patch
a couple of obvious functional holes in iMovie and add effects capabilities you'd expect in costlier professional video editors. We took a look at four iMovie plug-ins: Zoom 1.1, Pan & Scan, and 16Yen9 Converter, from Virtix; and eZeScreen 1.0.1, from eZedia.
Virtix Zoom 1.1 and Virtix Pan & Scan
iMovie leaves a lot to be desired if you want to incorporate still images into your movies.
Virtix's Zoom 1.1 and Pan & Scan packages let you express your inner Ken Burns. The Zoom effects replicate your camcorder's telephoto and wide-angle controls, letting you zoom in on or away from (or both) a specific area of an image. The Pan & Scan effects move the camera's viewpoint from one area of an image to another. Panning usually refers to moving the camera horizontally, as in panning a landscape, but using Pan & Scan, you can set any beginning and end points for a pan. These effects can also be applied to video footage, though a pan or zoom applied to a clip already in motion can make your audience queasy.
It can take some trial and error to learn how the panning controls work (and the minimal documentation isn't much help). Virtix uses iMovie's Preview pane as a proxy for the main monitor: click and drag to place a rectangle representing the pan's beginning point; then use the End X and End Y sliders below the effects list to position another rectangle representing the end point.
Pan & Scan includes Pan Gently, which adjusts the panning speed to ease into and out of the camera movement, and Pan Swish, which creates a fast pan with motion blur applied. Each variation also includes a Photo option, designed to work with still photographs. The Zoom effects ended up somewhat blurry and pixelated--not surprising, considering that you're asking iMovie to interpolate an already low-resolution image. The results were akin to using the digital zoom feature on a digital camcorder.
Virtix 16Yen9 Converter
Virtix's 16Yen9 Converter is a one-trick solution that makes up for a surprising iMovie omission. This tool lets you shoot in 16:9, import that footage into iMovie, and work with it in letterbox format. It also lets you take 4:3 footage and convert it to 16:9, with black bars on the left and right edges of the full image, or cropped to fill the entire screen. Although at $25 16Yen9 Converter is slightly more expensive than the more complex Zoom or Pan & Scan filters, it's straightforward and works extremely well.
eZedia's eZeScreen 1.0.1 lets you add blue-screen effects to your movies; shooting an object in front of a blue screen allows you to later superimpose the object over other footage (think Superman flying through the sky, or nearly every scene in the latest Star Wars installment).
The idea is to shoot an actor or object in front of a solid color--you don't have to use blue, as long as the color doesn't match any color that you want visible in the final scene--and export that footage as a QuickTime movie file. Then, in iMovie, use eZeScreen to specify the file as your screened clip. A simple eyedropper tool lets you choose which color to knock out of the scene, and two sliders, Tolerance and Smoothing, control how many shades of the color are rendered invisible. You can also resize the QuickTime clip to give your scene the right scale and proportion, so it doesn't look as if it came from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. All changes are previewed accurately as you adjust the sliders.
In our testing, animated artwork created in Adobe LiveMotion (where we could ensure that the background was a single solid color) worked much better than video footage shot against a makeshift screen (a piece of bright orange poster board). In fact, at full strength, the tolerance consistently picked up white areas, creating too much transparency. The LiveMotion animation, exported as a QuickTime movie, afforded more control.
Macworld's Buying Advice
It's inspiring to see developers add new functionality to an already solid application such as iMovie. Each of the plug-ins we looked at sells for a reasonable price and delivers effects that previously required much more expensive software packages. If you're looking to push iMovie's features to accommodate your ambition, they are all worth a look.