Create pause-zoom-pause effects in iMovie stills

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Although I typically use Final Cut Express for my video projects, I recently had a really short project to do for the family, so I thought I’d give iMovie another trial. Although I did get the project done, I found myself fighting iMovie’s interface at nearly every step (I am not a fan of the “toss all the clips in a bin and scrub as you mouseover” setup).

One thing in particular that I wanted to do was use the Ken Burns’ effect (animating still images through crop, zoom, and move actions) with a pause on the “before” and “after” images. By default, when you apply Ken Burns’ effects in iMovie, they start as soon as the still image is displayed, and then are auto-timed to end when the still image vanishes. Depending on the type of pictures you’re showing, this can be disorienting.

What I wanted to do was have the image appear fixed for a certain time period, then show the Ken Burns effect, and then hold on the final image for a bit before fading out. This is something that was relatively trivial in iMovie HD, but as I discovered, it’ss far from trivial in iMovie. (It’d be trivial if iMovie let you create a still from a Ken Burns-modified image in iMovie, but you can only create stills from movies, not other stills.)

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After fighting it for a few hours, I gave up and asked the Twitterverse for assistance. Twitter user 2mutch came through with the solution, although it was complex enough that it required an e-mail exchange—140 characters just wasn’t enough room for all the details.

If you want to get this pause-move-pause effect in iMovie, here’s how to do it—the steps may seem confusing in text, so I’ve also included a little demo movie that shows exactly what you need to do.

  1. Add the still you want to modify to your project, and set up the Ken Burns effects as you’d like them to be.
  2. Duplicate the still twice (Edit -> Copy, then Edit -> Paste twice), so you have a total of three copies of your still.
  3. In the first image in the series, which will be the “before” still, edit the Ken Burns effect so that the End effect’s size and position is identical to that of the Start effect.
  4. In the last image in the series, which will be the “after” image, click the small two-headed circular arrow to flip the Start and End effects.
  5. Set the End effect’s size and location to be equal to that of the Start effect.

After you do the above, you can also alter the duration of the before and/or after images to suit your movie’s timing needs. If the above instructions seem confusing, try watching this brief movie (click the red badged area of the movie to watch).

If iMovie would simply support the creation of a new still from a still that’s had the Ken Burns’ effect applied, this entire process could be greatly simplified—just apply Ken Burns, then use the first and last frames of the animation to create new stills. Even better would be total control over Ken Burns, allowing the user to specify the start time, duration, and end time for the effect. Who knows; maybe we’ll see this in iMovie ‘10? If you know of simpler ways to accomplish the same thing in iMovie, feel free to share in the comments.

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