Exploring iMovie's editing options

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In the past two lessons, I showed you how to piece together a basic iMovie project as well as how to create an iMovie trailer. Helpful as those lessons were, much of iMovie 10’s editing power is hidden. Now it’s time to unearth those features. We’ll start with making more-exacting edits.

The clip trimmer

As you’ve learned, within the timeline you can drag the bottom corners of a clip’s edge to shorten or lengthen the clip (assuming, in the latter case, that you’re not already working with the entire original clip). This is a perfectly reasonable way to trim clips, but in a way you’re working in the dark: You can’t see what precedes or follows the edges of the clip. This is where the clip trimmer comes in.

Double-click the clip, and the clip trimmer opens above the timeline. The portion of the clip that’s currently active is bright and shiny. Any material that occurs before or after the active clip bears a gray sheen. To move either the beginning or ending edit point, click and drag the white line that denotes the clip’s edge. Drag the line toward the center of the clip, and the clip shortens. Drag it away from the center, and the clip lengthens. In the viewer pane above, you’ll see the beginning of the active portion of the clip.


Adjust the beginning and end of a clip with the clip trimmer.

You can also adjust the clip’s beginning and end points by clicking somewhere other than on those lines and drag the clip to the left or right. When you do this, you’re choosing a different chunk of the clip—asking it to begin and end three seconds earlier, for example. Its length doesn’t change.

The precision editor

While the clip trimmer deals with the beginning and end of a clip you place in the timeline, the precision editor is for acting on the point where two clips meet. With it you can choose to move a transition, make a transition longer or shorter, choose a new edit point, or extend an audio track.

In a timeline that holds two or more clips, double-click the edge of one of the clips to open the precision editor. You’ll know that you’re in the precision editor when you see gray dots with black centers sitting above the beginning and end of the timeline’s clips.

Click one of these dots, and the clips move. The clip before the dot moves above the later clips and shows in its entirety—the active part of the clip is bright, and the inactive portion is dull. Drag the dot to change where one clip moves to the other. For example, drag the dot to the left, and the second clip will play earlier and be longer (and the first clip will be shorter). Drag the dot to the right, and you extend the first clip and shorten the second.

You can independently shorten or lengthen a clip’s audio track. Before you can do that, you must reveal your clips’ waveforms if they’re not currently showing. Click the Adjust Thumbnail Appearance icon (the one that looks like a film frame) in the top-right corner of the timeline, and enable the Show Waveforms option.

In the blue audio track that appears below the video thumbnail, click the line that denotes the end of the active portion of the clip, and drag. If you drag it to the right—beyond the bounds of the active portion of the video clip—the audio will continue playing into the next clip. You’d do this for a cutaway shot in which a soundtrack or narration continues to play but you’re showing another piece of video or a still.

Finally, you can change the length of a transition. If you’ve added a transition between clips, and you invoke the precision editor, you’ll see a gray bubble with dots on either end and arrows inside. This represents the length of the transition. To extend the transition, just drag one of the dots away from the center. As you do, you’ll see a time readout that indicates how long the transition now is. Drag a dot toward the center, and it gets shorter. You can also move the transition earlier or later by clicking in the middle of the bubble and dragging it to the left or right.

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Adjusting the length of a transition with the precision editor.

Making adjustments

The past couple of iMovie versions offered windows and tabs for mucking about with color, cropping, audio, and effects. With iMovie 10, Apple has gathered together those features and placed them in a single Adjust toolbar, which you access by clicking the Adjust button at the top of the iMovie window. Here’s what it contains.

Color balance: The color balance control lets you easily change the tone of your clip, via Auto, Match Color, White Balance, and Skin Tone Balance options. The Auto option prompts iMovie to analyze the current frame and change the color cast of the clip based on its calculations of what looks best.

With Match Color, the viewer presents a split view—one portion displays the current frame, and the other shows a frame with a look that you’d like to mimic in the current frame. For example, if you’ve shot footage on two different days under somewhat different conditions, and you’d like the clips to look similar, you’d match one clip to the other. You’d navigate to the second frame by skimming over a clip and clicking your ideal frame.

The White Balance option lets you automatically choose a white balance based on a neutral color—white or gray, for example—in the frame. When you choose this option, the eyedropper tool appears. Click a neutral color within the frame to change the balance.

The Skin Tone Balance option works similarly. Click the eyedropper on the skin of someone in the frame; the color shifts to balance against that tone.

Color correction: You adjust color correction through the use of three sliders. The first is for tweaking brightness and contrast. It holds five controls, which are, from left to right, Adjust Shadows, Adjust Contrast, Adjust Brightness, a second instance of Adjust Contrast, and Adjust Highlights. The presentation of these tools isn’t entirely intuitive, but if you’ve used the Adjust pane within iPhoto, you’ll catch on pretty quickly.


The color-correction tools are similar to iPhoto's Adjust tools.

The second and third sliders are more straightforward. One is for adjusting the clip’s saturation, and the other is for changing the clip’s color temperature, with colder colors on the left and warmer tones on the right.

Crop: Just as you could with older versions of iMovie, in this version of the program you can adjust a clip’s cropping and rotation. And the tool works just the way it always has.

For cropping you have three styles—Fit, Crop, and Ken Burns. To force the clip to appear in its original aspect ratio, choose Fit. If the original clip or still image doesn’t fit the frame exactly—it shows black bars on the sides, for example—it won’t fill the frame. If you choose Crop instead, you can resize the clip to fit in the frame. You could, for example, crop to remove someone on the left side of the frame. When you do so, everything else in the frame will increase in size to make up for the crop.

“Ken Burns” is the name for iMovie’s pan-and-scan effect in which the “camera” moves across the frame and zooms in or out. It’s named in honor of the documentary director who used this technique extensively to give motion to still images taken during the Civil War and in the early days of jazz and baseball.

To use the effect you first adjust the solid rectangle marked Start. This rectangle determines what the frame looks like when the clip begins. Then you click the dotted rectangle marked End, and size it to encompass the area that you want to fill the frame at the end of the clip. To impose the effect, click the checkmark icon to the right. When you play the clip, it will begin at the Start point and then, over time, move to the size of the End frame.

It’s important to note that the Ken Burns effect works across an entire clip. You can’t impose it on just a portion of a clip. If you’d like to do that, select the clip in the timeline, Control- or right-click it, and choose Split Clip at the point where you want Ken to finish his business. Now you can apply the effect to just that portion of your movie.

To the right of the crop style buttons are two rotate buttons for turning the frame 90 degrees counterclockwise and clockwise, respectively.

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