iMac 1Ghz G4, 1GB memory, 80 GB hard disk, 1440 x 900 display
Turn 3 DV tapes and 100+ digital images of an annual open-air musical event into
iMovie is the modern "killer app" for the Mac versus Windows. Amazingly,
what we take for granted on Macs - that we can capture video, edit it and turn it
into finished video or DVD - is still hard going for PC users.
Even on Macs though, it's hasn't always been easy. Video capture is very demanding
of processor speed, memory, disk space and disk transfer speeds. An older machine
may cease to work for video when a new version of the operating system makes increased
This was the position I was left in when I discovered that the video I had captured
from the 2002 event would no longer play glitch-free on our 500MHz iBook.
Around the time of the 2003 event I got a new iMac, equipped with a DVD burner and
pre-loaded with the iLife suite.
Upgrading to iMovie 3
With iMovie 3 on my new machine I was able to capture the DV from the 2003 event
without issue and edit the movies pretty quickly. Having done that, I then connected
up the firewire disk containing the nearly finished project of the 2002 event and
finished that too. After all the DVDs were burned, labeled and distributed, my review
copy of "iMovie 3 and iDVD the Missing Manual" arrived. Here I discovered
that it's actually not a good idea to work on an iMovie 2 project in iMovie 3 - you
are recommended to finish it in iMovie 2. Seems I got lucky.
Improvements over previous versions
For me the worst feature of the previous iMovie was the infamous ghostly triangles.
Given that the program was designed to edit video, you'd think the controls for selecting
points to cut, copy and paste would have been visible and easy to manipulate. Incredibly,
in the previous iMovie neither was true. Working on my own, I never discovered how
to use the ghostly triangles that occasionally flitted around the scrubber bar but
disappeared when I tried to grab them with the mouse. I did discover you could split
the clip at the playhead, move the playhead, split again and then throw away the
unwanted part inside or outside the cuts. "iMovie 2 the Missing Manual"
explained precisely how to conquer the ghostly triangles, and iMovie 3 makes them
visible and easy to use. For better or worse though, I like to use my split clip
at playhead method, since I like to focus on defining one cut point at a time.
New in iMovie 3, the Ken Burns effect allows you to add motion to stills that you
incorporate into your video. You can define a start point and zoom level and an end
point and zoom level, and iMovie then constructs a clip from the photo. This is a
lifesaver for people who like to park their camcorder on a tripod and video themselves
playing with their band - the static view from the tripod gets old when nobody is
zooming in on solos. If you have photos from the event, you can cut to closeups moving
and crossfading through each other while the sound is still running, and end up with
more interesting video. Another application is to create movies from stills only.
So how do you find the right still photos to incorporate? The iLife link to iPhoto
vastly improves workflow even if you know which of the stills in your iPhoto library
you want. I found myself working with both iMovie and iPhoto simultaneously. In iPhoto,
I was examining the stills in detail, choosing the ones with the best facial expressions.
The thumbnails that iMovie shows you are too small for this. Still in iPhoto, I would
also define specific albums for the movie and put the selected photos into them.
This made it far easier to locate the chosen photos from within iMovie. Thankfully,
iMovie and iPhoto display the albums in the same order.
The iLife link to iTunes was not necessary for my project. It looks like it would
work nearly as well as the iPhoto link, with the exception that the playlist selector
in iMovie madly shows the iTunes playlists in a random order - neither the alphabetical
order of iTunes nor chronological.
I noticed there were some very interesting new sound effects including the self-explanatory
"suspense" and "foreboding". The wagon crash sound I use for
ski mishaps was unfortunately gone, though no doubt it's still on one of our machines
somewhere. Also worth mentioning is the improved sound editing capability in iMovie
3, where you can change the volume in a clip by dragging points on a volume curve
up and down.
Similarly there are some interesting new visual effects. While I don't normally indulge
in these, I did make an exception and use the lightning effect to draw attention
to a great guitar solo from one of my band members!
Due to lack of a DVD burner on my previous machine, I can't say how much of an improvement
to workflow is made by the iLife link to iDVD. Suffice to say that defining chapter
numbers and hitting the iDVD button are about all you have to do to get started with
the DVD phase of your project. Just make sure you've finished your iMovie activities
Another unexpected bonus was a new export option to export the sound of the whole
video as an AIFF file. From there I could import it into Sound Studio (bundled with
my iMac), cut it up into tracks, import the AIFF tracks into iTunes, burn them to
CD and even rip my own CD to get mp3s. Making the CD of the movie was a breeze, especially
with the 16x CD burner.
The preference for "New projects are :" PAL or NTSC is helpful for those
of us who regularly deal with both formats. As iMovie can't reliably tell what type
of analog camera is connected via the Dazzle bridge, I would often experience the
situation where previous versions of iMovie refused to allow me to continue work
with the camera and an existing project.
Don't try this at home!
If you have an iSight camera plugged into one of your firewire ports and a camcorder
plugged into the other, don't be surprised if you can't capture any video. How does
iMovie know which of those cameras it's supposed to be working with ? Before I realized
this, I captured some video that had alternate sound and silence - a couple of seconds
Expect the worst if you choose the "New projects are NTSC" preference and
then connect a PAL analog camcorder via your Dazzle bridge or similar. I did this
purely as an experiment and was pleasantly surprised to get video that looked normal.
Then I discovered that either sound was missing or sound from one clip was associated
with a different clip. I was trying to see if iMovie would detect the situation and
refuse to capture - maybe it would if the offending camcorder was digital.
iMovie allows you to make beautiful end credits just like those you see in a
real movie; your friends and family will love to see their own names rolling up the
screen. In some types of titles, the right hand edge of the text is slightly misaligned.
Nobody who saw the movies seemed to notice, but I'd still prefer this not to happen.
Another thing I noticed about making titles was that there was some sort of usability
flaw that left me always getting the text of the previous title in the one I was
currently trying to do. I always managed to fix this by retyping and re-rendering
the offending titles.
Many of my finished projects involve music, either because they are live music events
or because I set them to music. In either case, it's a serious limitation not to
be able to see the sound waveform. I find myself memorizing frame numbers, playing,
rewinding and playing again to evaluate where cuts should be to line up with music,
when this would be plainly visible in the waveform. iMovie would be better if it
did this, but then again it's free and Apple makes Final Cut Express and Final Cut
Pro for people who want to take their video making to the next level.
I found that converting NTSC to PAL using iMovie and Quicktime was of limited value.
A little girl running happily through the frame in NTSC turned into a cloud of shredded
bits running through the frame in PAL. I discovered that all but one of the DVD players
I tried in the US and UK could play both PAL and NTSC DVDs made from iMovie. This
is a separate issue from region coding, but it's worth noting that iMovie's output
is not region coded.
Unlike iTunes and iPhoto, Apple doesn't (as far as I know) have any way of making
money from your home movie collection. Instead iMovie seems to be provided for free
as an incentive to choose Mac rather than Windows. For me it's simply one of the
compelling factors in being a Mac owner. The latest version is stable, reliable and
easy to use. The new iLife links improve workflow and help creativity. Your finished
products will wow your friends, especially those who try to emulate you using their
- Easiest program to
- Ken Burns effect
- No more ghostly triangles
- Links to other iLife
- Sound waveform not
- iTunes playlists
in random order
- Titles usability
and occasional slight misalignment
out of 5 Mice