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Making Movies with the Apple iSight
Pages: 1, 2

Audio is a little less complicated, and certainly easier on the processor. I prefer to use an external mic whenever possible. So I plug the Griffin iMic into a USB port, then a microphone into it. I then double-check my Sound preference panel to make sure that Input is set for the iMic (at the highest input value possible), then go to Broadcaster and choose the iMic for my audio source.

This set up enables me to position the microphone separately from the iSight camera, resulting in cleaner dialog. Generally speaking, 22.050 kHz at 16 bits will suffice as shown in Figure 5.

Screen shot.
Figure 5. The audio settings for QuickTime Broadcaster.

Now all you have to do is position the camera, set up the lights, and you're ready to roll. Once everything is ready, hit the "Broadcast" button and wait a few seconds for the application to get going, then you'll see the "Broadcasting" label across the preview screen. You can monitor your CPU load in the data readout below. Hit the stop button to end the scene, then go to your Movies folder to retrieve and view the file. You've now captured your first scene with iSight!

Screen shot.
Figure 6. Once you hit the Stop button, Broadcaster will save your scene to hard disc. It places it in your Movies folder by default, but you can change the directory in the preferences settings.

Editing Your Movie in QuickTime Pro

Once you have your raw clip, or collection of clips, you should tidy things up in QuickTime Pro before presenting to your public. Much has been written about the things you can do in Apple's versatile digital media tool set. But today I'm going to focus on three important editing functions that you'll need for this project.

Trim -- Enables you to choose a section of video to save, and everything else is trimmed away. To use this function, move the triangles on the bottom of the scrubber bar to both ends of the content you want to save, then select Edit -> Trim. After trimming use Save As (self-contained movie) to give the clip a new name and to preserve your original file.

Screen shot.
Figure 7. Move bottom triangles to both ends of the content you want to save, then select Trim.

Copy and Add -- Allows you to select content from one clip and add it to another. Use the bottom triangles to select the content you want to copy, then go to the movie you want to add the clip to, move the top triangle to where you want to insert the clip, then go to Edit -> Add. Don't use paste or you'll replace the content instead of adding to it. For example, in Figure 7 the new content will be added to the beginning of the Water file because that's where the top pointer is located.

Get Movie Properties -- You can choose a track from the left-side drop down menu (such as sound) and a property for that track (such as volume) from the right-side drop down, then make property adjustments to that track. In Figure 8, I'm adjusting the volume of the sound track. This control is located under Movie -> Get Movie Properties.

Screen shot.
Figure 8. You can adjust various properties of both audio and video tracks in the Get Movie Properties panel.

After you've trimmed your clips and are ready to assemble them, I recommend you open a New Player in QuickTime (File -> New Player), then add your clips from start to finish. For best results, make sure all of the clips are the same dimensions and frame rate. You can check these parameters in Get Movie Properties.

Use AppleScript to Add Titles

You can create opening and closing titles for your movies many ways, but the method I'm going to share today uses an AppleScript to convert your QuickTime annotations to rolling credits.

Click to view Quick Time movie.
Figure 9. AppleScript makes easy titles. This iSight movie has opening and closing titles along with two audio tracks. It was exported using Sorenson 3 video and MPEG-4 audio codecs (click image to view movie).

First you enter an annotation such as "Full Name" using the Get Movie Property command I mentioned a bit earlier. In the left-side drop down menu choose "Movie," and in the right-side drop down menu select "Annotations." Now click the "Add" button and select "Full Name" from the list. Enter the title of your movie in the Data field and hit the "Add" button. The text you entered now appears in the top title bar of the QuickTime player. Cool!

But it gets better. Download this Annotations to Rolling Credits AppleScript that's included in the QuickTime collection. Make sure your movie with the Full Name annotation is open, then double-click the script to launch the Script Editor. Click the Run button, and AppleScript will create a temporary file that's a rolling credit for your movie.

Next, the trick is to select all the content from your existing movie (using the "Select All" command), copy it, then "Add" it to the end of the rolling credit. Don't do it the other way around and try to add the credit to the movie, even though that seems more logical. Once you've added the movie to the end of the credit, select "Save As" and be sure to click the "Make movie self-contained" button.

You can create ending credits the same way. Then just "Add" them to the end of your movie. Remember, if the credits seem too long, you can trim them before adding them to your movie. The more data you enter in annotations, the longer the credits roll. I suggest sticking with just one title at the beginning, and another for the end.

iMovie Makes a Great Soundtrack Editor

A nice finishing touch once you have your basic movie together is to add a soft musical soundtrack for a little background ambiance. I like to use iMovie 3 to prepare these tracks, then export them to QuickTime and add them to my existing movie.

Click to view movie.
Figure 10. The music track sounds great, but the dialogue has some artifacts. This is caused by the original audio being recorded at too low of a volume, then having to be "bumped up" in postproduction. The audio codec makes matters even worse. Be sure to record your dialogue at a decent volume. This clip was exported using the older Sorenson codec for video with Q-Design for audio (click image to view movie).

The main reason I like to use iMovie for the music track is because I can read my iTunes library directly in iMovie, select the song I want to use, trim it so it is the same length as my QuickTime movie, then add a nice fade at the end of the track for that professional touch.

Then all I have to do is use the Export command, select to QuickTime, use the Expert Settings, and choose the same audio codec that you used for your existing movie.

iMovie will generate a QuickTime file that is the specified length and has a nice fade at the end. I then "Select All," copy, and add to my existing movie. Remember, wherever the top pointer is on the scrubber bar, that's where the soundtrack will be inserted. Usually it's best to add it to the beginning of the movie.

Note -- The guitar music on those sample movies was provided by a friend of a friend named Ward Ashman. His self-produced CD is called Soul Tribes.

What If I Want to do All My Work in iMovie?

Generally speaking, if you want to work in iMovie, you should shoot your footage with a DV camcorder. It's easier to capture and upload vast amounts of footage at full frame size with the camcorder and iMovie working as a team.

You can, however, export your previously recorded iSight movies as "DV Streams" then place them in the Media folder in your iMovie project directory. iMovie will then let you add them to your shelf and incorporate them into the project just like regular clips from your DV cam. The catch is that iMovie likes 720 x 480 pixel frame dimensions, and chances are your existing iSight movies are a smaller size.

There's also some quality loss when you convert from QuickTime movie files to DV streams, then export back to QuickTime movies. But if you discover you need the function of iMovie, the slight quality loss might be worth the tradeoff of having all of iMovie's slick tools at your fingertips, as long as your frame dimensions are big enough.

You can also choose to record directly to DV using the iSight by selecting one of the DV codecs in the Compressor setting. Then, as mentioned before, drop those files in the Media folder in iMovie. But you should to record at 720 x 480, which might not be feasible with your computer.

Downsides to Using iSight as a Video Cam

You can do a lot of recording with the iSight, but it does have its limitations. For one thing, it doesn't have a zoom lens, so you have to physically move the camera closer or farther from the subject to get the proper composition.

Speaking of the three-element iSight lens, it has a 54.3° viewing angle, which is a little wider than a 50mm lens in 35mm film photography. This means you can position the lens fairly close to the subject without too much distortion. But it's still not as flattering as using a "longer" lens, such as an 85mm lens (in 35mm photography) with a more narrow 28° viewing angle that's a little better for tight portraits.

Also, you can eat up hard disc space pretty fast if you get carried away with your movie making. A separate FireWire drive is nice to have so you can offload you files once you've captured them.

Related Reading

Here are some additional resources to help you with your iSight movie making:

Top Ten Digital Video Tricks -- Great hints for capturing beautiful video with DV camcorders and the iSight.

Sound is Half the Picture -- Want to learn more about recording sound on your Mac OS X computer? This article give you lots of great tips.

Digital Still Cameras for QuickTime Movies -- Here's a helpful tutorial that will expand your QuickTime Pro editing skills.

The Digital Video Pocket Guide is the perfect companion for making movies with your new iSight webcam. Lots of video making tips and tricks.

You can adjust exposure and color balance in QuickTime Broadcaster by clicking on the "Options" button for video source, but these controls aren't as convenient to use as those found on most camcorders and digital cameras.

If you only have one FireWire Port on your Mac, then iSight occupies it, so you cannot plug in an additional FireWire drive without using some sort of adapter.

Final Thoughts

So the iSight may not be the perfect movie-making tool, but it certainly is a fun one. I really like playing with this stylish camera and have made some good flicks with it.

There's so much more you can do with these QuickTime-based tools, but what I've outlined today should keep you busy for awhile. I recommend that you start with simple movies that only run a few minutes long. As you get comfortable with your tools, you can push the boundaries a bit.

But the bottom line is that you can use the iSight for so much more than chatting. It's quite a decent video camera that you can press into service for fun or business. And in the next installment, I'll show you how to use your iSight to make animation flicks using iStopMotion.

Until then, have lots of fun and make some good stuff.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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