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Unlocking iMovie '09 & '11

Somewhere out there, with the release of iMovie '08, an aspiring, 11 year-old, film noir director was thwarted from his true calling. With the untimely demise of video effects in iMovie '08, the classy and timeless "Black & White" effect found its early grave. Do not give up, young John Houston! You can find your voice by cranking up iMovie '08 and doing the following:

Reports of Black and White's death have been highly exaggerated
It isn't completely accurate when people complain that iMovie '08 ditched all video effects. Although the breadth of video effects tools in the new iMovie is slim, the depth of what exists is pretty impressive. All '08 video effects boil down to the color effects iMovie has to offer. The color correction tools are really nice, better than before.

If you select a clip in your project, you can make color changes by hitting the letter "V" on your keyboard or by clicking the "Adjust Video" button.

This will bring up the "Video Adjustments" window, which really is just about correcting the color in your video clips. (It really doesn't let you adjust anything else.)

Rather than give a full rundown of the new color correction tools, I am just going to talk about the saturation and contrast tools. (Be sure to come back for a look at the excellent white balance tool.) Before I do, I just want to point out the histogram at the top of the "Video Adjustments" window. This shows you how many pixels of Red, Green, or Blue you will find in a given level of brightness. (Forget what you learned in Kindergarten about mixing colors. When it comes to actual light and not paint, Red, Green, and Blue mixed together will make White! In a histogram, as colors show up in the same amounts at a given brightness level, you will get more blacks, grays, or whites.) While you play with the different color correction tools, the changes in the histogram will give you a sense of what is going on.

Color is overrated
To make a clip look Black & White, we need to first make changes to the saturation settings for the clip. Saturation is just a measure of how vibrant the colors are. Oversaturated colors make a clip look almost fluorescent. Undersaturated colors look....yes, Black and White! Drag the saturation slider all the way to the left and watch all the color wash out. In the histogram, all of the colors will merge together such that for any level of brightness you are getting all colors equally (i.e. black and white). Although your histogram will look different, your "Video Adjustments" window should look like this:

Now for some emotion
You might think we are done, but we are not. Most of you wanting a Black and White effect are looking for something with a more meaningful look to it. At this point, the black and white clip you have probably looks too modern or smooth. You don't want black and white, you want Black and White.

Enter the contrast slider. Contrast is a measure of the difference between the lights and darks in your image. Old films used to have higher contrast levels, primarily because the film used was less capable of capturing fine differences of light. You can replicate that by shifting the contrast slider to the right. This makes darks darker and brights brighter, giving your clip a more classic Black and White look. For most videos, I like increasing the contrast by about 50%. If you do the same, your "Video Adjustments" window should now look like this:

Copy and Paste, Now in Color!
Of course, if you want to change the color in multiple clips, rather than adjusting the sliders in every case, you can simply select the Black and White clip, and hit Command-C or select "Copy" from the Edit menu. Now select the each of the other clips needing the same touch and for each one press Option-Command-I, or select "Video" inside the "Paste Adjustments" option in the Edit menu. (This is where I again shake my fist violently toward Cupertino because you can't select multiple clips at once. Please shake your fist with me.) Of course, you can always apply the effect to your source video in the Event Browser first. Now all the footage you drag from it into your project will already have the color effect applied to it.

Ultimate Undo
Before parting, I just want to point out the "Revert to Original" button. If you take a look at the clip in your project, there will be a tiny icon looking like a sun.

This icon represents the fact that color corrections have been applied to the clip. Because iMovie '08 applies color effects dynamically, the original video is still intact. If you click the "Revert to Original" button in the "Video Adjustments" window, you will get your original footage back, unspoiled. In fact, you can make a color change, quit iMovie '08, and still get your clip back when you launch iMovie later. Pretty handy feature.

Oscar speeches are too long, unless it's you they are thanking
Now you have a film worthy of the Maltese Falcon! I hope when our little aspiring director is accepting his Oscar, he remembers my little blog for setting him aright. He'll have time to mention me, won't he?

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