Apple's iMovie 4 includes dozens of visual effects,scene transitions, and title formats. Used tastefully and sparingly, these extras add finesse to a movie and lend a professional touch. But some projects require something a little more creative than what iMovie's built-in tools can provide.
That's where iMovie plug-ins come in. Whether you want your footage to throb to the beat of your soundtrack or glow with psychedelic colors, these add-on packages let you work with your footage in ways that are otherwise impossible.
All iMovie plug-ins appear directly within iMovie's Effects, Transitions, or Titles pane, so you'll never have to open up a second application to use them. In fact, using a plug-in is, in most cases, as easy as using one of iMovie's built-in effects.
Bundles of Joy
If you're looking for a quick way to expand and diversify iMovie's bag of tricks, look no farther than the Slick family of plug-ins, from GeeThree. While most plug-in packages focus on one theme or task -- such as adding color-correction tools or motion effects -- each volume of Slick Transitions & Effects is packed with a versatile assortment of top-notch plug-ins.
To get the most bang for your buck, try Slick Transitions & Effects Volume 5 (; www.geethree.com). It includes more than 100 effects, transitions, and titles, for $50 -- that's roughly 50 cents per plug-in.
The package excels at providing high-octane alternatives to iMovie's relatively pedestrian transitions. For example, Flash Dissolve brightens the outgoing clip until it's completely washed out, and then burns the incoming clip into the white frame. And Volume 5 includes several classic transitions missing from iMovie's repertoire, including a Wipe transition -- in which a vertical or horizontal line sweeps across the screen, replacing one clip with another.
Volume 5 also includes a series of audio effects that make a video clip bulge or change brightness in rhythm with a soundtrack -- perfect for garage-band (and GarageBand) music videos. You can even use a Film Ratings effect to make your own movie-preview ratings titles.
Of course, if you're just looking to add a specific effect or transition to iMovie, you can probably find a less-expensive alternative to Volume 5. But if you're looking for a well-rounded set of plug-ins that you can apply to a variety of moviemaking endeavors, Volume 5 is hard to beat.
You don't get the same abundance with GeeThree's $70 Slick Transitions & Effects Volume 6 (), but this collection of seven effects plug-ins lets you tackle some ambitious iMovie tasks. The Color Correction effect, for example, lets you adjust color balance and brightness with far more control than iMovie's Adjust Colors effect allows. It provides useful controls for adjusting shadows, midtones, and highlights, as well as black points and white points. There's even a Broadcast Safe option -- when activated, it ensures that colors will be within an acceptable range for television. On the downside, there's no way to easily apply the same color-correction settings to multiple clips.
You can use Volume 6's Film Reel effect to add a single scrolling strip of images or movie clips to your video frame, or use Video Wall to divide the entire frame into a grid of as many as 64 boxes -- each filled with a separate movie or photo. If you're creating a training video, you may also appreciate the Overlay effects, which let you create on-screen boxes and highlights.
Because the effects in Volume 6 provide more settings than would fit within iMovie's standard Effects pane, each effect includes a Configure button that provides access to the additional controls. This can be a cumbersome way to work. If you frequently use these types of effects, you may be ready to graduate to Final Cut Express, which makes creating and previewing effects much faster.
Plug-ins à la Carte
If you don't need the variety offered by GeeThree's Slick series, and if you prefer to spend less money, several companies sell smaller plug-in collections that may better fit your budget.
Transition Plug-ins If you're looking for a useful but economical transition collection, consider the $22 4in1 Transitions, from BKMS Software Development (; www.bkms.com). The star of 4in1 Transitions is a classic, well-executed wipe transition -- a common request among iMovie users. When you're after something a bit more exciting, try the Melt Through transitions, in which one scene appears to melt into the next. There's also a Pixilate transition, which simulates the look of static by having the scene fade or dissolve in a shower of pixels. (You can also purchase these plug-ins individually for $8.)
Title Plug-ins Although iMovie 4 packs a fairly impressive set of titling tools, there's always more room for text toys. Stupendous Software's $25 Big and Bold collection (; www.stupendous-software .com) offers a series of 40 sophisticated title styles -- most of which would be difficult to produce in Final Cut Pro, never mind iMovie. For example, Banner Ghost centers your title text on screen while a large but faint version of the same text glides across the screen. With Gather, multiple instances of the text converge from all sides to meet in the center. The results are gorgeous. Another useful addition is the Ticker effect, which lets you create your own CNN-style crawling text along the bottom of the screen.
Effects Plug-ins If you're working with badly exposed footage or just want to create some cool effects, Stupendous Software's $25 Levels & Balances () may be the answer. This plug-in collection offers 29 effects that bring Photoshop-like color and level controls to iMovie. The Adjust Levels effect lets you adjust a clip's black points, white points, or gamma (brightness) settings to help you salvage under- or overexposed footage, as well as add contrast and visual punch. If you shot your footage with the incorrect white-balance setting -- which can add an ugly yellowish tint to indoor scenes -- you can use one of three White Balance effects to adjust the color balance. There are also several effects that will let you single out and tweak only certain colors -- to turn a yellow rose red, for example.
I found the effects in Levels & Balances easier to use than the Color Correction effect in Slick Volume 6. You don't have to burrow into a separate dialog box to adjust settings, and each effect superimposes a histogram (a bar graph depicting the distribution of tonal values in a clip) over the image preview. On the down side, Levels & Balances doesn't provide a broadcast-safe option, so you'll need to be careful not to adjust a clip to the point where its colors won't display properly on a TV.
If you're not looking for color correction so much as color distortion, check out the very groovy Rainbow plug-in, from Mouken LC (; $8; www .mouken.com). Rainbow performs only one trick -- but it's an interesting one. It creates beautiful, high-contrast effects that resemble the results of the darkroom technique known as solarization. Used to the extreme, this can make your footage look like a bad psychedelic video. Still, Rainbow may be just what you need for your next dream sequence or music video.
Pump Up the Volume
If you're disappointed by the tinny or muffled quality of your iTunes playback, Octiv has a solution that might just reignite your musical passions. Volume Logic is a $20 iTunes plug-in (; www.octiv.com) that digitally remasters your music as it's playing, to dramatically improve sound quality and to even out the volume between songs. Based on the same audio-processing technique used by FM radio stations to add punch to their signals, Volume Logic includes a set of volume, bass, and treble knobs that adjust themselves thousands of times per second to balance and clarify tones (shown here). The plug-in offers 18 presets, each geared toward a specific music genre, as well as other controls to boost bass and adjust the amount of processing that Volume Logic performs.
The results are amazing. With Volume Logic turned on, a cheap set of computer speakers sounds better, and a good set of speakers sounds superb. Volume Logic not only excels at enhancing dance, electronic, and R&B tracks, but also adds sparkle and punch to subtler genres, such as jazz and classical. I wish only that Volume Logic's talents extended beyond iTunes playback: it has no effect on tracks that you burn to a CD or copy to an iPod. You can download a 14-day trial version to hear the difference for yourself.