Home-Movie Magic

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Next to yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater, there's no better way to clear a room than to get out the home movies. It isn't that friends and family aren't interested in seeing little Mary battle gravity on her first bicycle?it's that the presentation often leaves something to be desired. Most home videos are seemingly endless series of unrelated scenes, their length made all the more painful by jerky camera movement and unintelligible sound. They're moving pictures, but they aren't movies . A movie tells a story, and any form of storytelling can benefit from planning and editing. Fortunately for home-movie audiences everywhere, today's desktop moviemaking tools can help. Apple's $1,299 iMac DV (the DV stands for "digital video") or $1,499 iMac DV Special Edition (800/795-1000, http://www.apple.com ), combined with the iMovie software that comes with them, can make a terrific home-movie studio. You can bring video into the iMac DV; then you can use iMovie to remove the boring parts and add sound and special effects. When you're finished, you can export the final product to videotape, publish it on the Web, or e-mail it to others.

iMovie makes moviemaking easy, but it still has complexities and limitations that may frustrate even seasoned Spielbergs. Here's a look at the production process, along with some tips for working faster and getting around the application's limitations. For tips on planning your movie, see the sidebar "Planning Makes Perfect".

The first step in creating your home-movie blockbuster is getting that footage of Mary's first bike ride off your camcorder and into your iMac DV.

Use a Compatible DV Camcorder

Unlike other home-movie tools, iMovie is designed exclusively for use with camcorders that use MiniDV tapes and have a fast, FireWire interface. If you don't have a DV camcorder with FireWire, see the sidebar "Moviemaking for All USB Macs". For a comparative review of digital camcorders, see the accompanying feature, " Camcorder Casting Call."

Connect your iMac DV and your DV camcorder with a FireWire cable, and you can bring video into your Mac (and send it back to tape) with remarkable ease. The iMovie software controls your camcorder?rewinding, pausing, playing, and recording?in much the same way that professional video-editing software controls high-end video decks. This kind of device control eliminates groping for your camcorder's play, rewind, and other tape-control buttons as you work, and it enables you to record your completed efforts to tape with the click of a mouse.

Note that iMovie's device-control delights work only if you have one of the DV camcorders that iMovie supports (see a current list at http://www.apple.com/imovie/gear/ ). If your DV camera isn't on Apple's list, you may have problems capturing or exporting video?for example, when you try to export video, your camcorder may not actually go into record mode. Camcorders from JVC are especially prone to problems, due to JVC's implementation of the FireWire interface. The aforementioned Web page contains tips on dealing with problematic camcorders, but the bottom line is that you'll save yourself some aggravation by beginning with a compatible camcorder.

Start Your Epic

Once the camcorder is connected, starting a new project in iMovie couldn't be easier. Just choose New Project from the File menu, give your movie a name, and click on Create. Behind the scenes, iMovie creates a folder with the name of your movie. Once you've made edits and added elements, this folder will contain a document icon that represents your project's edits and a Media folder that holds your project's video clips, sounds, titles, and other elements.

Separate Scenes

When you import?or capture ?video, iMovie places a representative icon on a "shelf." From there you can add the clip to your project. You could capture an entire 60-minute DV cassette as a single clip (if you had enough free disk space?more about this in a moment), or you could import only specific scenes. But locating such scenes would be tedious. You'd wear out your tendons hunting through an hour of birthday-party footage for the magic moment when your dog discovered the birthday cake.

A better technique is to use iMovie's scene-detection feature, which causes iMovie to begin a new clip each time it detects a scene break. (Your camcorder generates a scene break automatically each time you press its record button.) To turn on scene detection, choose Preferences from the Edit menu, click on the Import tab, and then check the box labeled Automatically Start New Clip At Scene Break.

Belly Up to the Spacebar

You can also start and stop clip capture by pressing the spacebar as a videotape plays back. This is a handy way to grab portions of scenes: click on iMovie's Play button to play the tape, and when you see something you want to capture, hit the spacebar to grab it.

Build a Bigger Shelf

Despite its name, the iMovie shelf is not one long area, but a grid of thumbnail images. It holds a finite number of clips; the specific number depends on, of all things, the iMac DV's screen resolution. The shelf can hold only 9 clips at the iMac DV's default 800-by-600-pixel resolution. To expand its capacity to 12 clips, use the Control Strip or the Monitors control panel to boost the screen resolution to 1,024 by 726. Whatever you do, don't change the resolution to 640 by 480?doing so causes iMovie to quit. Regardless of the screen resolution, the movie's final dimensions remain the standard 720 by 480 pixels.

Disk Space?the Diminishing Frontier

Beware: Each minute of digital video inhales about 210MB of disk space, so unless you really have hard-disk space to spare, don't capture anything that you know won't make it into your final project.

A real movie uses more than just moving pictures to tell its story?music, sound effects, and still images help to set a mood and enhance the presentation. And hey, some spice can be fun. Why not have "Born to Be Wild" playing as Mary wobbles successfully down the sidewalk on her two-wheeler?

iMovie can also import other types of content: audio files saved in the standard AIFF format, music tracks from audio CDs, and still images saved in any of several popular formats. You can even coerce iMovie into importing existing QuickTime movies that you've created in other programs or downloaded from the Internet. Read on to learn how.

Use CDs for Soundtracks?Legally

iMovie's ability to record music tracks from audio CDs makes it easy to add music soundtracks to your production. But remember that you can't sell or commercially release movies containing copyrighted tunes. For commercial projects, invest in a buyout music library. Akin to royalty-free stock photography, buyout libraries are offered by companies such as Award Winning Music ( http://www.royaltyfreemusic.com ) and many others. (Do a Web search on buyout music to see what's available.)

Import Photos and Make Slide Shows

You can import still images into a project and combine them into a video slide show, or you can sprinkle them throughout your movie. Still images are often a big part of documentary filmmaking?think of Ken Burns's epics on the Civil War and on baseball, and then consider how you might apply stills to your efforts. Making a video of your grandmother's 90th birthday party? Scan some vintage photos of her and start your movie with them. Have a bunch of great digital images of your vacation? Assemble them and end your vacation movie with a montage.

iMovie lacks image-tweaking features, so if you want to crop, rotate, or otherwise tweak images, do so using an image-editing program, such as Adobe Photoshop or PhotoDeluxe (800/833-6687, http://www.adobe.com ), and then import the edited images. iMovie can import all common image formats.

iMovie displays still images for a default time of 10 seconds. To make your slide show or montage's pacing more interesting, vary the duration of still images. To change the amount of time an image appears on the screen, select the image and then type a duration value in the time area of the Clip Viewer. After you've imported images, add transitions between them (cross-dissolves work well).

Import QuickTime Movies

Your kid dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween?so why not include a snippet of the Star Wars trailer in your Halloween video? (Just don't try to sell the resulting movie.) Alas, iMovie can't import QuickTime movies that you've captured using analog gear, downloaded from the Web, or copied from a CD-ROM. But if you have Apple's $29 QuickTime Pro ( http://www.apple.com/quicktime/upgrade/ ), there is a workaround. Open the movie with QuickTime Player, select the Export command, and choose the Movie To DV Stream option from the Export pop-up menu. Next, locate your project's Media folder and save the file there. Now start iMovie and open your project. iMovie will report that your project contains one or more "stray files" and will put them on the shelf; now they're ready to be added to your movie.

Note that each minute of an exported DV stream will gobble the same 210MB of disk space as freshly captured digital video. Compressed QuickTime movies balloon to gargantuan sizes when saved as DV streams.

Import Analog Video

iMovie is great for all the footage you shoot with your new DV camcorder, but what about the years of memories you've collected with your trusty VHS camcorder? iMovie's DV-centric nature works against you if you'd like to capture or edit analog footage.

Apple suggests buying an analog-to-DV converter?specifically, Sony's $499 DVMC-DA1 (800/222-7669, http://www.sony.com ). This converter transfers analog footage directly to your iMac. But why spend a third of what the iMac DV costs? Simply dub your analog cassettes to your DV camcorder by connecting the analog VCR's outputs to the DV camcorder's inputs with standard video patch cords. (You can get a dubbing kit, catalog number 15-1103, from Radio Shack for $6.99.) Once you've made the connections, press your DV camcorder's record button and your VCR's play button. When you've finished, use iMovie to capture the DV dub.

Once you've brought the raw material into iMovie, you're ready to assemble your masterpiece. How? Simply drag clips from the shelf into the Clip Viewer, whose timeline-like display enables you to sequence clips, add transitions, and more.

Name Your Clips

iMovie automatically names captured clips, but names like Clip 01 and Clip 02 aren't exactly descriptive. You can rename clips simply by clicking on their names. Give them descriptive titles, such as Bird Close-up or Forestwide Shot , to help you identify them.

Trim the Fat

Chances are, each of the clips you capture has extraneous junk at its beginning and ending?some jerk momentarily blocking your view of the recital stage?or maybe just a few seconds of uninteresting footage. By removing?or cropping, in iMovie terms?this excess, you'll make a better movie (and reclaim gobs of disk space as a bonus). To crop a clip in iMovie, you position crop markers to indicate the material you want to keep.

Empty the Trash

When you crop a clip, iMovie puts its discarded portion in the Trash?not the same Trash the Finder provides for discarding unwanted icons, but a separate, iMovie-specific Trash. You can reclaim disk space by emptying iMovie's Trash as you work (choose Empty Trash from the File menu). But if you've done a lot of cropping, emptying the Trash can take a few minutes, so wait until you're ready to take a break.

Play Only One Thing

Remember that you can choose to play just one item?a clip, a title, a transition, or a music soundtrack?by selecting that item in the Clip Viewer and then clicking on the Play button or hitting the spacebar. This can be a handy way to check out a title or transition you've just added. To play an entire project, deselect everything (press command-D or click in a blank area of the Clip Viewer) and then click on Play.

Move Clips Faster

If you need to move a clip a significant distance?say, from the end of a project to the beginning?you can drag it and let the clip window scroll automatically. But there's a faster way. Drag the clip from the Clip Viewer into any empty box on the shelf. Scroll through the Clip Viewer to the new destination, and then drag the clip from the shelf back into the viewer.

Text titles and visual transitions can add a professional touch to your project. Titles can help set the stage by describing a place or a scene, and of course, they give credit where credit is due. And visual transitions, when used sparingly, can be pleasant alternatives to jarring cuts.

Transitions can even help tell a story. For example, a cross-dissolve?one clip fading out while another fades in?can imply the passage of time. (Imagine slowly dissolving from a nighttime campfire scene to a campsite scene shot the following morning.) Similarly, iMovie's Push Right transition, where one clip pushes another out of the frame, is a visual way of saying "meanwhile . . ."?imagine using this transition between a scene of an expectant mother in the delivery room and a shot of her husband pacing in the waiting room, chain-smoking nervously. (OK, so this is an old-fashioned maternity movie.)

Titling Tips

To superimpose title text over a specific clip, select the clip before opening the Titles palette. Be sure to choose a text color that adequately contrasts with the clip's contents. If your movie will be viewed on an analog television, you'll get the best results with chunky fonts that remain legible despite the TV's limited resolution. For example, Arial Black works better than Times, which has ornamental serifs that can break up when viewed on a TV set. (For more information on creating titles, see the sidebar "Roll Credits".)

Inserting a Clip between a Transition

You've added a Push Right transition to that maternity movie, but then you decide you want to insert a new clip?a shot of the doctor striding down the hospital hallway. If you drag the new clip to the Clip Viewer, you'll notice that iMovie doesn't open a space in which to drop it. That's because inserting a clip between two clips connected by a transition is a two-step process. First, delete the transition by clicking on it and then pressing the delete key. Now you can insert the new clip.

Updating Titles and Transitions

Change your mind about using a particular font, title, or transition style? To change a title or transition, first click on it in the Clip Viewer. Make the changes, and then click on the Update button in the Titles or Transitions palette in the Effects palette.

Some Background on Rendering

When you create a title or transition, iMovie must create its video frames. This rendering process takes time and memory; you'll notice that iMovie slows down when it's taking place. Avoid adding multiple transitions or titles in rapid-fire succession?this not only slows iMovie to a crawl but also might cause an error message saying there isn't enough memory to add anything until rendering is complete. To gauge how long the wait will be, look at the window that contains the transitions or titles you've added: a little red progress bar shows how far along rendering is.

Improving on a Good Thing

The cross-dissolve is one of the most often used transitions, perfect for creating a graceful segue between scenes and for implying the passage of time. Alas, iMovie 1.0's cross-dissolve transition adds an undesirable slow-motion effect to clips. Apple fixed this in iMovie 1.0.1, a free update (available at http://www.apple.com/imovie/ ).

While you're downloading the iMovie 1.0.1 updater, also grab the iMovie Plug-in Pack?it adds six title styles and eight transition effects. Just remember to use these spices judiciously.

iMovie's audio features are weak. You can't, for example, replace one clip's audio track with another's. This is a common technique in cutaways ?imagine seeing Barbara Walters nod knowingly while you're hearing Fabio describe what kind of tree he'd like to be. Despite this and other limitations, there are still a few sound tricks you can perform.

Adding Music

If you have a scene with less-than-gripping audio?the unintelligible din of a party, for example?consider adding a music soundtrack. In iMovie's Audio Viewer, lower the scene's audio levels until they're quieter than the music but still audible. If the clip's audio is genuinely horrific?nothing but outdoor wind noise, for example?mute it entirely.

Sound and Transitions

You have lowered a clip's volume or checked its Fade In box. Then you add a transition before the clip. When you play the movie, the transition contains a brief blast of the clip's audio at full volume?not good. The solution: Select the transition and then turn its volume down partway or all the way.

Working Around Volume Limitations

A common video-production technique is varying a clip's volume levels to fit around a music soundtrack or other audio. Aside from fading in and out, iMovie doesn't let you vary a clip's sound level. But there's a workaround?split the clip at the point where you want to change its level (choose Split Clip At Playhead from the Edit menu). You now have two clips with levels you can adjust independently.

Expanding Your Soundscape

Apple has posted a page of free sound effects and music clips?animal noises, crowd sounds, wind and weather, and much more ( http://www.apple.com/imovie/freestuff/ ). You can also add any AIFF sound file to iMovie's Sounds palette: just stash the file in the Sound Effects folder, which is tucked inside the iMovie folder's Resources folder.

You've finished your epic?now what? You decide. With iMovie's Export Movie command, you can record it to videotape and show it to local friends and family, or save it as a QuickTime movie and post it on your Web site for all the world to see.

End with Black

When exporting to videotape, iMovie lets you add a few seconds of black before the movie begins. Unfortunately, it doesn't let you add black after the movie. When your movie ends, you're jarred back to the camcorder's blue background. To add some black, use an image-editing program to create an all-black PICT file whose dimensions are 720 by 480 pixels?these are the dimensions of a DV movie frame. (You can also download an all-black file from Apple's free-stuff page, mentioned previously.) Then import this image into your project and drag it to very end of the timeline.

Export to QuickTime

iMovie provides several presets for exporting a project as a QuickTime movie, each aimed at common tasks, such as sending the file via e-mail or posting it to a Web site. You can also specify your own settings by choosing Expert from the Export Movie dialog box's Format pop-up menu. For example, if you're going to post your movie on the Web and want to make for a faster download, you might opt for a mono soundtrack instead of a stereo one. (Less sound means a smaller file size.) Or you might prefer to use the Cinepak video-compression scheme for broader compatibility?iMovie's default scheme, Sorenson Video, isn't supported by older versions of QuickTime. (To learn more about the art of video compression, visit Terran Interactive's Codec Central site, at http://www.codeccentral.com.)

The DV format and FireWire interface have transformed video production, dramatically lowering the price and hardware requirements for creating professional-quality video?thus making it easier for the rest of us to tap our creative juices, preserve our family memories, promote our businesses and organizations, or just play Hollywood. By building FireWire into the iMac DV family and creating iMovie, Apple has made digital-video editing more accessible than ever. (And the company has again inspired Microsoft to Think Similar: last December, Microsoft announced that it would begin shipping a DV-editing program called Windows Movie Maker in a future Windows release.)

If you want to explore more sophisticated moviemaking applications, see the online sidebar, "Beyond iMovie".

Of course, great gear doesn't guarantee great movies. That requires practicing the same cinematic storytelling techniques that go back to the days of flammable film. Learn those basics, and you'll go from making moving pictures to making movies.


April 2000 page: 74

iMovie is all about simplicity, not power. Several third-party video-editing packages provide more transitions, expandable libraries of special effects, and better control over audio tracks--not to mention features that streamline the production of large projects. All of the following packages work on Macs with built-in FireWire connectors. In fact, some of them work better on a G3 or G4--at this writing, iMac DV compatibility is a mixed bag.

The best-known is the $579 Adobe Premiere (800/833-6687, http://www.adobe.com ). The most current version, Premiere 5.1c, is compatible with the iMac DV, although its FireWire driver is a beta release, and its camcorder compatibility is spotty--Sony camcorders are currently the best supported.

Apple's own $999 Final Cut Pro (800/795-1000, www.apple.com/finalcutpro) is a video powerhouse that provides not only advanced capture and editing, but also slick animation features (see Reviews , August 1999). Recently released, version 1.2 is compatible with the iMac DV. Final Cut Pro also supports a broader range of DV camcorders than does iMovie.

One of the best values for owners of FireWire-equipped Macs promises to be Digital Origin's (800/572-3487, http://www.digitalorigin.com ) $149 EditDV Unplugged. This scaled-down version of Digital Origin's $599 EditDV combines professional-quality effects and editing features with an approachable interface. EditDV Unplugged also supports more DV camcorders than either iMovie or Final Cut Pro. At this writing, the company hasn't yet delivered an iMac DV-compatible. A free 30-day-trial version is available at Digital Origin's Web site.

Making great movies takes more than great software, of course. First you need the right raw material. Some advance planning will help ensure that you have the money shots. And following some basic videography techniques will make for more-professional results.

Planning means "developing an outline"?in Hollywood parlance, a storyboard ?that lists the shots you'll need in order to tell your tale. Professional moviemakers storyboard every scene and camera angle. You don't have to go that far, but you will tell a better story if you plan some shots.

Consider starting with an establishing shot that clues viewers in on where your story takes place: for example, a shot of the swimming pool. To show the big picture, zoom out to your camcorder's wide-angle setting.

From there, you might cut to a medium shot that introduces your movie's subject: little Bobby preparing to belly flop off the diving board. Next, you might cut away to Mary tossing the ball. Cut back to Bobby, and then finish with a long shot of the entire scene.

And remember, you don't have to shoot every scene in chronological order?sequencing your shots is what iMovie is for. For example, shoot Mary's throw any time you like and edit it into the proper sequence using iMovie.

It's worth mentioning, by the way, that Avid Technology's (800/949-2843, http://www.avidcinema.com ) Avid Cinema program provides a superb built-in storyboarding feature that helps you plan your scenes. The Avid Cinema manual also contains terrific tutorials on moviemaking. Apple should consider adding goodies like these to future iMovie revisions; while iMovie is a terrific tool, it doesn't help teach technique.

Also keep in mind that your subjects should move, not your camera. Nausea-inducing camera work is a common flaw of amateur videos. Too many people mistake a video camera for a fire hose: they sweep across a scene, panning left and right and back again. Or they ceaselessly zoom in and zoom out, making viewers wonder whether they're coming or going.

A better practice is to stop recording, move to a different location or change your zoom setting, and then resume. Varied camera angles and zoom settings makes for a more interesting video. If you must pan?perhaps to capture a dramatic vista?do it slowly and steadily.

And vary shot lengths. Your movie will be more engaging visually if you do. Use longer shots for complex scenes, such as a wide shot of a city street, and shorter shots for close-ups or reaction shots.

You don't have an iMac DV or a DV camcorder? You can still be a part of the moviemaking trend. Several companies also offer video-capture systems that work with other iMac models?and indeed, with any USB Mac. These products are designed for use with analog video gear, such as VHS or Hi8 camcorders.

Avid Cinema for Macintosh with USB

This $299 hardware-and-software bundle from Avid Technology (800/949-2843, http://www.avidcinema.com ) is the best non-DV editing system available for USB Macs. The Avid Cinema software is more powerful than iMovie and just as easy to learn (see Reviews , August 1999). The accompanying USB capture hardware enables you to capture full-motion video, but you can't transfer your final product to videotape: you must view it on the Mac's screen or transfer it to an old AV Mac that has video-output features. You can, however, export to a wider array of video formats than iMovie supports, including RealNetworks' RealVideo G2, the most popular format for streaming Web video.


Costing just $99, XLR8's (888/957-8867, http://www.xlr8.com ) the InterView combines USB analog capture hardware with Strata's powerful, often complex VideoShop editing software. VideoShop is far more capable than either iMovie or the Avid Cinema software, but the InterView's lack of printed documentation makes it difficult to learn.


This $200 translucent blue box from Eskape Labs (925/249-6500, http://www.eskapelabs.com ) gives your USB Mac a cable-ready TV tuner and FM stereo tuner?and can capture video. The included EskapeTV software lacks editing features, but if you use QuickTime Pro to export video as DV streams, you can use iMovie for editing and exporting.

You can use any TrueType or PostScript font on your system and a variety of styles to create titles. The following walks you through iMovie's Titles palette.

(A) This is a small preview of the title. To update it, click on the current title style. To view a large preview in the Monitor window, click on the Preview button. To add the title to your project, drag the small preview to the Clip Viewer's timeline.

(B) When changing an existing title, apply your changes by clicking on the Update button.

(C) Use this slider to adjust the title's duration. For some styles, this slider adjusts scrolling speed.

(D) Normally, iMovie superimposes the title text over the currently selected clip. To create a simple black background instead, select the Over Black option.

(E) With some title styles, you can click on these tiny arrows to specify text alignment and scrolling direction.

(F) Type or paste the title's text here. In title styles that provide multiple text boxes, you can jump from one box to the next by pressing the tab key.

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