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An Introduction to iMovie

by N.D. Woods

OK, maybe it's not movies of your kids, that thing you deeply, desperately want to turn into little QuickTime movies and post on your Web site or pass around on CDs. Maybe it's river rafting, or a groovy hippie wedding, or even those scenes from a bachelor party that warrant very limited distribution. There's probably something you want to capture and pass around in neat, two- to five-minute video packages. For me, it's the kids, and for the amateur moviemaker, there's no better application than iMovie on Mac OS X.

iMovie comes standard on OS X machines. It's one of the perks that makes the Mac a bargain compared to Windows machines. It's even more powerful on a Mac with a SuperDrive, which lets you burn these movies onto DVDs that can pop into a set-top player. But even on machines that only burn CDs, you'll find you can create dozens of small, short (mercifully, short!) QuickTime movies that friends and family can play on their home machines, whether they run a Mac, Windows, or Linux.

Even so, it's probably the least used of the iApps (along with iTunes, iPhoto and iChat) because it requires a pricey peripheral: a digital video camera, which these days starts in the $700 range and goes up from there. But if you're lucky enough to have scored a DV camcorder, or if you're considering investing in one, here's a gentle introduction to the simplest and most portable video-editing environment yet to come along.

The Lay of the Land

When you click on the iMovie icon, located by default in OS X's tool bar, you'll see there are three areas of the iMovie environment on screen.

Screen shot.
Figure 1. iMovie's Development Environment. Welcome to your new palette.

Clips, whether newly imported from a camera or pulled up from an existing project, are stored as tiles in the upper right section of the desktop. A large editing window, with some commands for forward and reverse, occupies most of the left side of the screen. Along the bottom runs a pane with two panels. The one with the icon of an eye on its tab is where you drag the tiles that represent clips, and place them in the order you want them in your movie. Each of these clip tiles takes up the same amount of space, whether that clip is a few seconds or a minute long.

The other panel, with an icon of a clock on its tab, gives you a more proportional view of the movie and the clip length. This Timeline has two rails for adding sound tracks. (We won't delve into adding sound tracks in this article.)

Screen shot.
Figure 2. The Timeline offers a visual grasp of clip positions, lengths, and alignment with audio tracks.

When you first open iMovie, the environment's there, but you have nothing to work with, of course. You need to import video from a source, in most cases, a DV camcorder.

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