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An Introduction to iMovie
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Effects and Transitions, Briefly

iMovie offers a number of basic effects and transitions, but be warned: they take a while to render, can increase the size of your final movie, and some are, frankly, a little cheesy. I've yet to find a reason to use water ripple, for example.

On the other hand, some of the transitions add a little grace to your movie, and titles are a handy way to stamp time and place. Occasionally, I overexpose shots with my JVC camera, so I find the Brightness and Contrast effects can come in handy, too.

Screen shot.
Figure 9. The Effects Panel. Careful: Here's where you risk creating the video equivalent of a five-font church newsletter.

A lengthy exploration of effects and transitions is beyond the scope of this introductory article. But a few caveats should help you get started.

Transitions are simple to understand and easy to apply. Click Transitions in the row of buttons that runs along the bottom of the Clips pane (top right). iMovie offers six basic transitions; I like cross-dissolve when I want a gradual melding of one image to the next. To apply it, simply drag the Transition's icon to the space between the two clips where you want the transition to occur.

Screen shot.
Figure 10. Transitions Among Clips. Drag a Fade-In, Crossover, or Fade-Out to the place you want it. After rendering for a few seconds, it stays to remind you it's there.

Because transitions and effects can take a long time to render, whenever you can, you should apply them after editing, when your movies are as short as they're going to be.

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It's also easier to apply them one clip at a time, since the degree of effect may vary from shot to shot, and because iMovie will try to apply the effects to all clips simultaneously, chewing up your CPUs for quite a while. You can watch the (painstakingly slow) progress of the effects rendering in the View (Eye) pane.

Saving and Exporting

Once your clips are ordered and edited and any transitions or effects are applied, there are two things you need to get out of here: Save the Project and Export the Movie.

Saving the Project saves your raw digital video files and preserves the iMovie workspace on this project. Clips stay where you left them, so you can pick up the project next time. This is especially handy if you decide you want to make a completely separate movie (perhaps shorter, maybe with a different focus) from the same batch of raw files.

Exporting the movie saves the product of your labor, in a variety of ways.

Screen shot.
Figure 11. Canned QuickTime options. iMovie has set up a few basics, but for better quality you'll want to visit the Experts realm.

  • By default, iMovie asks if you want to save the edited movie back to DV tape in the camcorder. This may be a handy option if you're using tape as the archive medium for long movies. But personally, after all this editing work, I'm more interested in:

  • Exporting to QuickTime. This is the big payoff, where iMovie lets you save your movie in a format fit for the Web. The QuickTime format works beautifully here, as it can be posted to your site via a hyperlink; anyone who downloads can view the movie in their browser, or in a separate QuickTime player if they prefer.

    It's easy to choose the size of movie you want, based on iMovie's hints about how it will be used, or you can delve into the Expert settings to get even better video quality. In particular, you should choose the Sorenson video codec in the Expert settings if you have the bandwidth or disk space for it. This codec delivers sharper video images, but at a cost: the file sizes can increase three to four times.

    The range of iMovie's canned settings is staggering: a five-minute movie can scrunch down as little as 10MB in email format, where the same movie takes more than 700MB in a larger format. The settings include:

    • Email movie, small, which generates a 160-by-120 video that runs at 10 frames per second (Hollywood movies run at 30 fps, but most viewers can't notice a difference until it gets below 15 fps). It looks a little jerky, but the file size is pretty small, less than 1MB for a minute. Even so, you'd better keep it really short if you plan to email it to anyone who doesn't live on Broadband Lane).
    • Web movie, small. This makes a 240-by-180 QuickTime, running at 12 fps. It's easier to watch than the email movie, better still if you change the video codec to Sorenson.
    • Streaming Web movie, small. Same size and frame speed as the other Web movie, but set up to stream as it's being played over the Net. Probably better to stick with the original settings here, to keep the file small.
    • CD-ROM movie, medium. This delivers a 320-by-240 movie at 15 frames per second, and iMovie recommends it for movies you plan to burn to CD to save or distribute to friends. For my money, however, since CD blanks cost less than $1, I'd rather upgrade to the Sorenson codec in the Expert settings. I can fit fewer movies onto one CD, but I'd rather do that and have the superior video quality.
    • Full Quality, Large. This setting at 720-by-480 and nearly 30 frames per second, is intended for saving your video footage, rather than distributing it online. It saves digital video in almost the same quality as its raw format, at a fraction of the file size. Still, the files are pretty big, and you can only squeeze a few minutes onto a CD.
  • Export to DVD format using iDVD. This is really only an option for folks with DVD burners in general, and most likely, the SuperDrive in particular. It's a way to create DVDs that play beautifully in DVD players. Since I don't have the SuperDrive, I haven't tried it out. So I'm going to skip this part and leave it up to any readers who have to tell us about it in the Talkback below.

Whichever format you choose, your reward is a compact, tightened bit of video that tells your story in a format brief enough to hold the attention of your audience. Maybe David Pogue summed it up best in the introduction to iMovie 2: The Missing Manual, when he wrote, "Oh, sure, the baby with the overturned spaghetti bowl is cute--but for 45 seconds, not 45 minutes."

Like any good, modern parent, I'm just trying to find that 45 seconds. iMovie goes a long way towards making it a painless process.

N.D. Woods shoots long videos of his kids and writes about technology from his home in Sonoma County, California.

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