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Unlocking iMovie '09 & '11

Book for Sale

Well, now that Amazon has iMovie 08 & iDVD: The Missing Manualin stock, I am letting the cat out of the bag. It comes in the form of a story.

Two months ago David Pogue unleashed his initial review of iMovie '08 on his blog. As I noted in this post, he wasn't happy. Trying to be a responsible netizen, I sent him a link to my blog. Knowing that the guy receives a googolplex of emails every day, I assumed that my email had the same likelihood of contacting alien life as actually being read by said Pogue.

I was joyfully mistaken. David Pogue not only replied, but graciously invited me to take part in the writing of his new book on iMovie. He was wonderful to work with and taking part in the book was a lot of fun.

Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. This blog was never really intended to be a primer for iMovie, but more to sort of fill in the blanks. David's book takes you from zero to sixty in seconds flat and is written in the same approachable, humorous style that makes him so successful. Having read it all myself, I think that everyone can get something useful from it. There's a convenient link on the right-hand column of the blog, or you can just click on this link:

iMovie 08 & iDVD: The Missing Manual

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love the keyboard shortcuts in iMovie '08. Michael Avory sent me this tip on using Shift and the arrow keys to mark start and end points of a clip while you are editing. I love the trick because if I am being slow and methodical about selecting a particular range of footage, I don't have to keep holding my mouse button down as I drag. It also works great because it means you can select footage during playback, no dragging required.

Anyway, take a moment to try out Michael's great tip:

Here is a tip for setting IN/OUT points that might interest you:

Make sure clip is not selected (no yellow frame). Play/drag to IN-
point (pause), hit shift + left arrow (IN is marked) Play/drag to OUT-
point (pause), shift + left arrow and the clip is selected from IN to
OUT. To select a portion of clip up to a specific point: play/drag to
point, hit shift+left arrow, place cursor at start of clip, shift +
left arrow and the clip is selected up to your first chosen point.
These are very useful for editing clips to the beat of a music track

Perhaps this post is long overdue. In reality, you can find a lot of this information elsewhere in this blog, but I think that having it all contained in one, easy-to-link post will help smooth the transition for those taking their first dive into iMovie '08.

So here it is. If you used iMovie HD, here are the things you should know about iMovie '08 before you get started.

1. Don't expect iMovie '08 to behave like previous versions of iMovie.

This is the most important thing I will say to you. It bears repeating:

Don't expect iMovie '08 to behave like previous versions of iMovie.

If you switched from Windows to the Mac (or from OS 9 to OS X, for that matter) you had to relearn a few things. Trying to get the OS X to act like Windows only resulted in frustration. Buttons were in different places. Functions did different things. The same concept applies here. iMovie '08 may share a name with iMovie HD, but they are two completely different pieces of software. Use iMovie '08 the way it was meant to be used.

If you were a heavy iMovie HD user, the editing process may confuse you at first. For example, you won't be able to use a traditional timeline view. Be patient. You will learn it quickly and probably, as in my case, learn to love it.

Relevant posts from this blog:
How to customize your interface
How to use the advanced editing tools

2. iMovie '08 uses nondestructive reference editing.
What in the world does that mean? Well, in old versions of iMovie, if you trimmed a clip, the actual video file in the Finder was trimmed. Once you were beyond the limited power of the Undo command, these changes were irreversible. If you regretted an edit, you'd have to reimport video from your camera, assuming you still had it.

iMovie '08 doesn't work this way. A movie project in this version acts something like a big list of instructions. All the source video is stored safely in your Event library and iMovie '08 just makes a list of what pieces should appear where. It doesn't actually move or edit your source footage. (iMovie will edit or move your source footage if you are rejecting it for deletion or reorganizing your events.) Everything you see when you preview a project is just a representation of "the list" that iMovie is creating and showing you on the fly. As far as I can tell, this is one of the reasons older Macs don't run iMovie '08, because creating a preview on the fly is demanding on the computer.

The benefits of this ability:
* Your source footage is always safe and sound.
* Using footage in two different projects does not require two space-hogging copies of the same clips.
* iMovie doesn't render anything during the edit process. Transitions, titles, and color effects are instantaneously available.

Some warnings:
* Don't mess around with Event footage in the Finder, unless you know what you are doing. If you delete event footage, all projects using that footage will be broken.
* You don't save projects. This means that if you want different versions of an individual project, you need to make copies of the project in the Project list.

Relevant posts from this blog:
How to change the date DV event footage
How to delete a clip
How to save your movie project

3. iMovie '08 is missing some features found in iMovie HD, but not all the features others have said are missing.
Missing features are the biggest complaint that most people have about iMovie '08. Unfortunately, many people (myself included) had a knee-jerk reaction to iMovie and made some unfounded accusations. In fact, you might see some people refer to this version of iMovie as "iMovie Lite". (An ironic name considering some of the incredibly advanced stuff that iMovie '08 does that no previous version of iMovie can do.) I'd like to dispel some misconceptions before you start using iMovie '08.

Here is a list of key missing features.

* Video effects (including fast/slow/reverse) other than color adjustments
* Audio effects
* Themes
* Export to camera
* Chapter creation for iDVD
* "Rubber band" audio editing
* Some styles for transitions and titles

Here is a list of features still in iMovie.

* Frame-precise editing
* Precise audio level editing and fading
* Multiple audio tracks
* Extracting audio from a clip
* Adding black space to a project
* Sending movies to iDVD, iTunes, iWeb, or GarageBand
* Capturing a still image from a video clip
* Selecting multiple clips

Of course, there is an impressive list of things you can do in iMovie '08 that you cannot do in iMovie HD, but people inclined to complain don't spend a lot of time on these. Here are some of the really nice things you can do in iMovie '08.

* Crop or rotate video clips
* Footage organization tools, like favorites and keywords
* More than two audio tracks
* Advanced, flexible typography in titles
* Using images with transparency
* Adaptable editing interface
* Full screen scrubbing

Relevant posts from this blog:
Missing in Action: Export to Camera
How to add black space
How to add chapter markers
How to send movies to the Media Browser
How to fade audio within a clip
How to extract audio from a clip
How to make a clip black and white
How to capture a still image from a clip
Reader Tip: Create Video Masks
Quick Tip: Moving, lenghtening, and spanning titles
Quick Tip: Full Screen Scrubbing

3a. You can edit audio with basically the same precision, it's just done differently.
The very common complaint leveled against iMovie '08 is that you can't edit audio as well. This isn't a fair accusation. The rubber-band tool is gone, but you can still have audio dip at just the right point to just the right level. Just a few observations about this:

First, you can't edit audio within a clip, which means audio changes always apply to an entire clip. But, you can easily split clips. This is important to getting particular parts to dip or swell in the right places. Splitting clips doesn't effect the end product.

Secondly, as of the 7.1 update, you can get audio to fade in and out with custom settings you determine. This means a fade can last half a second or up to two seconds.

Just remember that, in general, editing audio revolves around the video clips. You don't need to dip an audio track itself, instead you just tell the video clip to dip all the other audio around it.

Relevant posts from this blog
How to fade audio within a clip

4. Keyboard shortcuts in iMovie '08 are awesome.
iMovie is still crazy-easy to use with just your mouse, but if you want more power you can get it. In fact, be prepared to enter an editing world where you feel like one of those pros who has a keyboard with different colored keys just for video editing. The keyboard shortcuts in iMovie are multitudinous.

More importantly, Apple recognized that you don't need the normal keys on your keyboard for actual typing. This means a lot of the keyboard shortcuts don't require the annoyance of modifier keys, like Shift or Option. (There are still plenty of those kind of keyboard shortcuts, but mostly because Apple is getting full use out of the keyboard.)

Why use keyboard shortcuts? They are fast and pretty easy to learn. You will feel like a pro when you edit, and you won't have to spend a lot of time learning before you start using the keyboard like crazy.

To view a list of keyboard shortcuts, go to the iMovie Help menu, open the help application, and search for "Keyboard Shortcuts."

Relevant posts from this blog:
Quick Tip: Play Around
Quick Tip: Cut or Add Frames with a Keystroke

5. Thumbnails can take a long time to make, so plan ahead
When you first add some footage to iMovie and discover that it may take a long, long time to make thumbnails for your footage, you might wonder if you did something wrong. You didn't. Thumbnails are just an integral part to the skimming ability of iMovie. If you don't have the time to create thumbnails for a whole set of footage, do what you can to import just the video clips you will need for your project.

Relevant posts from this blog:
How to Recreate Bad Thumbnails

6. iMovie '08 is still a work in progress.
If you decide to use iMovie '08, consider yourself an early adopter. And what that means, Early Adopter, is that you might encounter bugs or other problems. These are a tradeoff to all of the rather amazing features iMovie '08 provides to you.

It feels to me something like using OS 10.0. When OS X came out, I insisted on using it because it was the future. With each new version, I saw the different bugs melt away into what is now the best operating system ever made.

As an early adopter, you will also have a chance to contribute to the future versions of iMovie. Apple reads all of the feedback people submit through the established channels. If you submit thoughtful, insightful feedback, don't be surprised if Apple makes an improvement as a result.

Relevant posts from this blog:
Feed on Back

The right expecations
I hope these comments are useful. Having the right expectations from the start really does make a huge difference in the way you will use iMovie '08.

Sometimes iMovie '08 chokes on a bit of footage and, as a result, coughs up some bad thumbnails as a result. The iMovie interface doesn't provide an easy way to recreate these, so we have to delete the old thumbnail files to induce iMovie to make new ones. (iMovie automatically knows if thumbnail files for a clip are missing, and will create the missing ones every time it launches.)

This all means we have to go folder diving in the Finder to fix the problem. There are two potential locations for bad thumbnails.

Normal iMovie Events
In iMovie, right-click (or hold the Control key and click) on the bad thumbnail clip in the Event browser.

Select "Reveal in Finder" and it will take you to the folder containing all of that event's footage, as well as a folder called "iMovie Thumbnails." Go into the thumbnails folder.

Once you are there, you can move any of these Quicktime files to the trash, and iMovie will just recreate them. Be sure that you are deleting clips in the "iMovie Thumbnails" folder. If you delete clips from the event folder itself, you will lose your original footage. To be sure you have deleted the right stuff, just move the thumbnail files to a different location. iMovie will still make new files, and you can delete the files you moved after the new ones have been created.

Relaunching iMovie will cause it to create new thumbnails.

iPhoto Videos
iMovie conveniently looks into your iPhoto library and includes video clips from iPhoto in your Event Library. This is great if you want to include any footage you caught with your digital still camera. If iMovie created some bad thumbnails for clips in iPhoto, we have to take a different approach.

In the Finder, go to your Pictures folder in your home folder. Right-click on your iPhoto library and select "Show Package Contents." A new window opens with all of the stuff found in your iPhoto library.

Open the folder called "Data" then open the folder for the year the video clips were taken. Next open the folder for the date the video clips were taken.

In this folder you will find a Quicktime movie and a JPEG file for each video clip associated with this date. Move to the trash just the Quicktime movies for each clip that had bad thumbnails. (Don't delete the JPEG file, or iPhoto will have trouble displaying the video clip in its own window.) Relaunch iMovie and it should recreate the thumbnails.

Just a few other things. If you need access to the original files in the iPhoto library, they are stored using the same folder names (year and date), but inside the "Originals" folder instead of the "Data" folder. Also, you can quickly go straight to the original video clips from iMovie by right-clicking the clips and selecting "Reveal in Finder."

There are dozens of reasons you might need to view just a snippet of footage over and over. Editing to music, previewing a transition, or checking the entry of a title can all involve tweaking to get things just right. A way to quickly view just that part of your footage would be golden.

To more quickly view how you are doing, use the "Play Around" feature that is new in version 7.1. Position your playhead right over the point you want to quickly preview, then hit either the "[" key or the "]" key. The left bracket key will preview the two seconds of footage surrounding your playhead, one second before and one second after. The right bracket key will preview six seconds, three on either side.

So make a tweak, hit a bracket key, make another tweak, then hit a bracket key. This is a nice touch.

In a past post we put QuickTime to work in order to resurrect the creation of still images from video clips. It was a semi-complicated process, but a very powerful and flexible one at that. But you may not want powerful. You just want easy. Here's easy, thanks to the 7.1 update. (You did update iMovie to version 7.1, right?)

Skim your playhead to any point in a video clip that you want to capture as a still image. Right-click and choose "Add Still Frame to Project" from the menu that pops up. iMovie automatically creates a still frame and ads it to the end of your project. (If you have a one-button mouse, hold down the Control key and click to get the same menu.)

If the image was created from an Event library clip, iMovie will auto-apply the Ken Burns effect. If it was created from a clip sitting in a project, iMovie will leave the Ken Burns effect out so your image sits statically in the frame. (This is pretty intelligent behavior. If I am creating a still from a project, I probably want it to be a freeze-frame of the clip I am working on, not a "Ken Burnsed" image.)

Now here's the really handy part. If you want access to the image for other purposes, like adding to iPhoto, right-click on the image that iMovie created in your project and choose "Reveal in Finder."

There it is, sitting in a folder that is hidden inside the project package file. You'll only get JPEGs, but these should work fine for most people. If you want more options for still image exports, go read my original post on this subject.

This is a new feature in iMovie that needs its own post. If you find that you want to add just a few frames to the beginning or end of your clip, Fine Tuning makes this quite a bit easier. In the bottom corners of a clip, there is a button with a line that has two arrows on either side. You can see the buttons I am talking about in the bottom corners of this clip.

When you click on either button, an orange border wraps around that end of the clip. This border comes with a draggable handle.

Go ahead and drag the handle. As you do, you will see iMovie counting the frames that you add or remove from your movie, together with the Viewer window showing the footage you are adding. Pretty dang handy.

One other tip: if you hold down Command-Option as you mouse around in your project, you will see the Fine Tuning option pop up without the need to click the little buttons.

This is a new feature in iMovie '08, and its a gem. You can quickly cut or add frames to a clip in your project by doing the following:

1. Hover your mouse cursor over the clip you want to edit. (If you hover near the beginning of your clip, you will be cutting or adding to the beginning. If you hover near the end of your clip, you will be editing the end.)

2. Use the right or left arrow keys while holding down the Option key.

If you are adding frames, you will see it working as the clip grows beyond the yellow selection outline. If you are cutting frames, the yellow outline will still cover the entire clip.

It's back. The 7.1 update released last week has enabled selecting multiple video clips. Multiple selections aren't available for every feature, but they work for the most import ones. A selection of multiple clips will allow you to:

  • Paste adjustments
  • Drag and Drop
  • Mark favorite, rejected, and keywords
  • Drag from event browser to event list

It's great to see Apple responding to user needs.

If iMovie is a Boy Scout, QuickTime is the Swiss Army knife. Where iMovie's powers fall short, the built-in QuickTime features take up the slack. I have used it for a few different workarounds on this blog. Well, it's time to add one to the list.

The loss of most video effects in iMovie '08 is especially baffling because so many of them are built in to OS X. Core Video was supposed to be one of the coolest parts of Tiger (OS 10.4). Why not include these effects if they are already there?

Well, what iMovie ditched, QuickTime lovingly stuck in its back pocket. Here is how to use QuickTime video effects.

Because of their current location in iMovie, you cannot apply video effects as easily before. In fact, you can only apply them to a clip you are exporting as a Quicktime movie, a step usually taken at the end of an editing project. Let’s look at how QuickTime video effects work, then discuss a creative way to use filtered clips in an active project.

About QuickTime video filters
Quicktime, Apple’s video workhorse, lies at the heart of iMovie. It is generally the case that if Quicktime can do it, then iMovie can do it. For example, if Quicktime can play a particular video format, then iMovie can probably not only play it, but also edit it.

Quicktime is also capable of applying a variety of filters to video. These filters can do simple tasks like sharpen and blur, or they can do very complicated things like alpha gain. The filters most people would be interested in are:

Blur will soften your footage;
Edge detect creates outlines of the subjects in your footage;
Emboss makes your footage look like it was carved into a sheet of metal;
Sharpen crisps up blurry footage (as much as is possible anyway);
Color tint will make your footage turn black and white, sepia tone, cobalt, or like it was run through an x-ray machine;
Film noise takes modern footage and makes it look like it sat in your attic for 20 years; and
Lens flare adds a cool looking light flare that progresses across your footage.

A Disclaimer
I assume no responsibility for your movie looking amateurish and unprofessional due to a failure on your part to apply video effects judiciously. With great power comes great responsibility. Don't emboss your whole movie just because you think it looks cool. If an effect isn't helping you tell your story, do us all a favor and leave it out.

Applying a video filter
As mentioned above, these filters can only be applied when you are ready to export a project as a Quicktime movie. This means that whatever video filter you apply will be applied to your entire movie. You can also only apply a single video filter to footage, for each time you export it anyway. That said, let’s walk through the steps for doing it:

1. Export your movie as a Quicktime movie.
This is done by selecting Share-->Export using Quicktime.

2. Select “Movie to Quicktime Movie” and click the Options button.
This setting from the Export pulldown menu is the ultimate custom Quicktime setting. All the other options in that list are basically just (very) convenient shortcuts to what you can do with this setting.

3. Click the Filters button.
This is where you’ll find the video filters discussed earlier.

4. Select the video filter you want to apply, then click OK.
Each filter has its own settings. You can just accept the default settings, or you can adjust them to get the desired effect. The filters window provides a tiny preview window in the bottom right to help you see the results.

5. Adjust any other video or audio settings, then click OK.
Remember when I called the other export options convenient? I wasn’t kidding. If you find yourself lost with all the confusing options in this process, you’re not alone. There are some very advanced tools in here.

6. Select the name and save location for your movie, and click Save.
iMovie will go through the process of exporting your movie, including the video filter you applied. After it has finished, you can find your filtered movie in the place you told iMovie to save it.

Using Video Filters in an Active Project
What if you want to apply one of these filters to a single clip within a movie? You can’t do that by exporting the movie itself, because iMovie will apply the filter to all of your movie’s footage. The trick is to create a separate project containing just the clip you want to filter. Export this project using the steps listed above. Add the exported footage back into iMovie using the Import Movies option from the File menu. Once you’ve added the filtered footage into your Event library, just add it to the project that needed the filtered footage.

Note: When you are exporting clips to bring back into your project, you should probably export them in the format of your original footage. This can be tricky if you are unsure of what format to use, especially because this export method will overwhelm you with options. If you aren’t sure what format to use, find the original footage in your iMovie Events folder and open the footage in QuickTime player by double-clicking on the footage file. Press Command-I or select Show Movie Inspector from the Window menu. The window that pops up will tell you the video format you should use when you export the footage from iMovie.

There's a reason carpenters don't rely on Swiss Army knives.
If you find yourself underwhelmed by what you've just learned how to do, you aren't alone. The problem with Swiss Army knives, after all, is that they just barely get the job done, even when they have the right tool built in. QuickTime is great and all, but hopefully iMovie relearns some old (and new) tricks when it comes to video effects.