A Detailed iMovie 08 Review, Part II: Wax on, wax off, or how to polish your movie.

In the first installment of this review I imported video and discussed skimming, selecting clips, trimming clips to the desired length, and changing their order. I then reviewed my work. Now it’s time to polish the movie. The following four items are the most common elements used to polish a movie. They’re available at the far right of the toolbar. The leftmost image in the top picture above shows this section with the audio button (Music and Sound Effects) selected.

Transitions (rightmost button).

If you have a project set to “Add transitions automatically”, you’ll already see them between clips in the project. This is not a global preference, but rather set within the project (see the second picture above for the project’s properties). If you don’t use the preference (I didn’t), you click the Transition button and drag them between clips. Hovering the mouse over a transition samples it. If you want to change a transition in the project just drag a new one over it.

The default transition length is also set in the project’s properties dialog. It’s a half-second by default, but I prefer longer so I set mine to 1s. I can click a transition in the project window and chose Set Duration from the Edit menu to provide a different value.

A note on transitions:

  • The ability to add transitions automatically is a nice feature, but if you use it you’re stuck with whatever transition and time you’ve chosen in the project’s properties. You can’t replace a transition with another (or even delete it), nor can you select it to enter a different duration. In fact, you can’t even select an auto-inserted transition!
  • If you do not use auto-insert, but select the Duration option “Applies to all transitions”, then you can replace a transition with another by dragging a new one onto it (or delete it), but you still can’t change its length (the Set Duration command is not available).
  • Finally, you can do what my screen shot shows. I do not add them automatically, and I do not set the duration as applying to all transitions. In this manner I can can swap any transition with another one, delete them, and change their durations as desired. I prefer this ultimate flexibility.

You can review your work at any time, as described in part 1. What I like is skimming v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y past a transition to see exactly how the old clip fades out and the new one comes in.

Titles (‘T’ button).

Since my movie is highlights of five different dances at a recital, I wanted a title at the beginning of the movie, and also the beginning of each unique dance. I also wanted credits at the end. To place a title, click the Title button and drag one onto a clip. You can drag between clips (displays on a black background) like my movie title and credits, or on a clip (displays over the clip as it plays). As you drag a title near the front of a clip, the first third highlights, towards the middle the whole clip highlights, and towards the end the last third. This is iMovie’s way of indicating it will display the title at the start (and then fade), display all the way through, or display near the end. For the dances I chose the first third. This meant that each title was displayed at different lengths, and usually longer than I wanted, but no biggie. Once a title is in place, drag the end to change the duration. You can see my movie title is three seconds, and all titles for the dances were dragged to five seconds.

Once a title is in place, click it and type in your text. Click the Fonts button to select fonts, styles, sizes, colors, justification, and other text items.

As with everything else, you can review your changes. And in case you haven’t noticed, iMovie does not have to render anything. You can review your work and changes immediately.

Music And Sound Effects (Note button).

From here you drag a song into the project background to set it as a soundtrack for the entire movie. Or drag it on a clip to set it for that clip only. Once dragged onto a clip, you adjust its length in the same way described for titles (just click and drag). You can also move the clip as a whole in case you want it to start a bit earlier or later than where you originally dragged it.

Since my movie is a dance recital with music, I did not want a soundtrack. However, I did want a sound effect. Apple supplies iMovie and iLife sound effects to browse through (leftmost image in the first picture). I found what I wanted and dragged it to the clip in question. I then dragged out its time and position. Only thing left to do was set its level (the default level wasn’t loud enough). I selected the clip and clicked the Adjust Audio tool (middle of the toolbar), then bumped the volume up all the way. Perfect!

Photos (Camera button).

Click the camera button and all iPhoto files are available. I picked three that set the stage for the rehearsal, and put them between the title and the first clip. By default they display for four seconds and use the Ken Burns effect. These defaults are in the project’s properties dialog (second picture above). The Ken Burns effect can be adjusted with the Crop tool on the toolbar. Select the photo and then select the Crop tool. It opens in the viewer and provides options for both photos and video. For photos, click Ken Burns and you see a green and red box denoting the start and end points of the effect (see the middle image of the first above picture). Simply resize and drag the boxes to change the effect. You click the Play symbol to preview your changes. When you’ve got the effect you want click Done. Slick!

As with Transitions, select a project photo and use the Set Duration command on the Edit menu to override the default for how long they display. (Note: this assumes the project’s properties are like my screen shot, with photo Durations not set to “Applies to all photos”.) I then put a transition between each photo and, Voila!, a movie!

Advanced Polishing (Crop and Color Adjustment).

I used the Adjust Video control on the toolbar to modify the color on the footage. My DV camera is eight years old and doesn’t quite get white balance and exposure like it used to. Quick adjustments on each clip helped quite a bit.

Select the clip and click the Adjust Video tool. This brings up an Adjust panel similar to iPhoto’s Adjust panel (see the rightmost image of the above picture). It doesn’t provide everything iPhoto’s does, but it includes a gain for the three color channels which iPhoto does not. When initially opened, pass the mouse over the viewer and it changes to an eyedropper. Place it over a white area (or neutral gray) and click to have your white balance set. I found it did a reasonable job on this, the difference was subtle but an improvement.

Once white balance was set, I turned my attention to colors. There is an Auto button for this, but I thought it over-corrected my clips. Instead, I used the Exposure and Brightness sliders to make up for an image to dark, and then adjusted the red slider to correct those shots that were slanted too far in that color’s direction (separate sliders for red, green, and blue is something I wish iPhoto had).

I was pleased with the degree of improvement I was able to attain with the Video Adjust tool. You don’t want to do anything dramatic here (unless you’re creating your own special effect), but the changes were a nice improvement on the original, and easily performed. This is a VERY powerful for “consumer” software! For that matter, so is the Crop tool I described in photos above.

It’s Done!

Look at the third picture above for a full view of the completed movie (project). In the clips, the “brightness” symbol denotes items that have been modified via Adjust Video. The “crop” symbol denotes items that have been modified via Crop. Further, the specific clip under the mouse (the one with the vertical red playback line) shows the editing items discussed in part 1 of this review (clip length, extend buttons, and clock icon).

The completed movie is 7m 14s long, and was culled from 60 minutes of footage. This was footage I did not shoot, and had not seen before. The movie has 19 individually selected and adjusted clips, a sound effect, eight titles, 23 transitions, three photos with Ken Burns effect, and all clips color adjusted. In addition, most items’ settings were edited by me. In fact, I struggled initially with iMovie’s defaults, and changed some as indicated. Further, I had never used iMovie, nor read any manual. I did watch the skimming and editing video tutorials on Apple’s web site (they’re very short and I recommend them).

And yet for all this it took about three hours to create this movie. For a first movie in this software, with no knowledge or familiarity of the footage upon which it’s based, and having to experiment via trial and error to find the best way to work for me, I’d say this is excellent. (In case you’re wondering, this review is taking a lot longer!) There’s no way I could have done this as fast in Premiere Elements, or anywhere else. The act of previewing footage I knew nothing about alone would prevent that. Creating my next movie should take maybe an hour, even less if I only want a five-minute movie.

Cleaning Up.

I had 60 minutes of footage, and needed only a little more than seven minutes of it. How do I get rid of the rest to save hard drive space? Easy. Select the event and move it to the trash. A dialog will pop up warning you that some footage is used in projects, do you want to just delete the unused footage? Click “Unused”, and when it’s done your hard drive has only the footage you need!

So What Do I Think About iMovie ’08?


  • Only 12 titles and transitions. I suspect it made sense to concentrate on the engine, I think we’ll see more later.
  • No effects. As with titles and transitions, I see these as something added pretty easily later.
  • Audio adjustment is weak. You can duck and control volume but that’s about it. For all the great ease in placing multiple audio items, and the good control over where it starts and ends, you’d think there’d be a bit more control over its properties.


  • Organizes video as easily as iPhoto does photos. By setting favorites and keywords, you can reject the rest so all your footage is not on your hard drive. I have already begun importing tapes from years ago and creating more highlight movies because it’s so easy to do. The prospect of this in another editor made me never even consider it.
  • Skimming rocks. Period. This is not some sort of gimmick, it’s the real deal. I can’t imagine this not being useful sometimes even in a professional editor.
  • Crop tool is great for photos and HD footage where you want to concentrate on a portion of the clip. A very advanced tool for consumer software.
  • Adjust Video tool is especially appealing to me because my old DV camera in this particular venue needed help. I set white balance, and in some cases adjusted exposure and saturation. Color correction in a consumer video app? Wow!
  • Non-destructive editing. Make all the changes you want. Go back, change your mind. Whatever you want to do. iMovie never modifies the original clip.
  • No rendering. Add titles, change text, play as much as you need. No need to render so the results are immediately available for review.
  • Easy voice-over capabilities with automatic ducking.
  • Easily shares video to YouTube, .Mac Gallery, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, or a web page.
  • Can create a movie faster than any other tool will allow. I know, for me at least, more movies will be created than I ever would have done with anything else.


I can understand those that complain about the new iMovie, but I think they miss the point. My only suggestion to them would be to download iMovie 06, and then consider what they’re going to do next. Apple isn’t making 06 available because they think they made a mistake with 08. I think it’s a bow to the owners of G4 Macs, and also buys time for current users to either learn the new product or move on. I wouldn’t expect iMovie 06 to be carried by Apple past the next iteration of iMovie 08.

It should be obvious I’m impressed with iMovie. In putting together the highlight reel, I made lots of edits, cuts, transitions, etc. and got the hang of it very quickly. I had to find my own method, and change iMovie’s preferences accordingly, and you may need to as well, but once you find what works for you you’ll see it’s very fast and easy. Reviewing an hour of footage with which I wasn’t familiar has sold me on the skimming concept.

For a 1.0 paradigm-shifting application, I found iMovie worked not only as advertised, but even better. I’m excited about getting my old DV tapes imported and putting other movies together. Performance is great on my new iMac.

I have no idea if skimming will make it to other movie editors, but it ought to. Further, if I ever upgraded to, say, Final Cut Express, and by that time FCE didn’t allow skimming, I’d still use iMovie for many kinds of projects.

Instead of continuing on the path of making iMovie a “Final Cut Express Elements Lite”, Apple switched gears and came up with something that will be a lot more accessible to a lot more people. At the same time they offered powerful cropping and color correcting tools. In short, they’re trying to do for video what iPhoto (and others) did for photos. Given what I’ve seen in this first release, they’re well on their way.

10 thoughts on “A Detailed iMovie 08 Review, Part II: Wax on, wax off, or how to polish your movie.

  1. I don’t find the iMovie “Video Adjust” to be of any use for my too dark movie. If I brighten it, I lose all the color. Meanwhile if I go in quick time player and make simple adjustments of Brightness and Contrast the result is great. So if iMovie is doing something “fancy” but can’t achieve basic results that quicktime player can achieve, that’s not a good sign. In my case it makes the movie unpublishable, unless I tell people to download it and tell them how to set Brightness and Contrast in quicktime player–not really a practical alternative.

  2. Pingback: imove 08 duration

  3. Jeff,

    I have 2GB and you’ll be fine. I do have a fast Mac, however, having just purchased one of the new iMacs. The thing flies on my machine.

    I think the new iMovie is great. There is a learning curve, but it’s comparatively short, especially for video editing. I was amazed at how quickly I created that first movie.

  4. Thanks so much for these posts. I’m getting a new iMac in a few weeks and have 8 hours of footage of my 8 month old baby to edit and get on to dvd. The thought of learning Final Cut or even iMovie 06 makes me shudder; your description of doing this consumer level editing in 08 without reading the documentation is VERY encouraging, and you’ve made my mind up for me to ignore the naysayers and give this version a shot. Thanks again. Ooh – one question to anyone out there – will 2gb of RAM be good for this application, working with several hours of video? Advice appreciated!

  5. Michael,

    Excellent point about GarageBand for the soundtrack! If you think about it, this makes iMovie more like its big brothers Final Cut Express and Pro, who also farm out the heavy soundtrack editing to another application.

    Regarding your tip, I actually tried that last night, but it wasn’t clear to me it was extracting any sound (I received no indication of such).

  6. Adam,

    The learning curve is the hardest part with any software. From that perspective iMovie’s is relatively small. I am by no means an expert movie maker, but I am certainly familiar enough with it that I was able to get to the editing/polishing tools pretty quickly.

    Honestly, if the iMovie defaults were not setup more for novices, it would have saved me some frustration early on. Once I got the defaults set the way I wanted, I found my rhythm. I’ve gone through another 2.5 hours of footage in less time than the initial hour I went though for the review.

  7. Fixyourthinking,

    I really like iMovie 08. Yesterday I “discovered” a 10 second clip of my daughter that I love. I would almost certainly NEVER have found that clip without a product like the new iMovie making it so easy (in fact, encouraging you) to go back and look at old movies.

    Like most people (I suppose), I shoot a tape, load it up, make an initial movie of the primary subject manner, then store the tape and never get back to it. It’s too much work.

    IMovie 08 changes all that. Since finishing the review on Saturday I’ve already gone though 2.5 more hours of footage from 2001 and have precious moments that I may never had had.

  8. For fine tuning the audio, you can always import the finished movie into GarageBand and tweak the audio levels of the movie’s soundtrack to your heart’s content.

    Also, here’s a tip (it’s in iMovie’s help, but not easy to find): you can extract the audio from any clip by simply selecting the clip and then holding down command+shift as you drag the clip into the project–only the sound is brought in.

  9. Love your review. There’s been so much griping about iMovie ’08 — mostly by people who took one look at it and decided it was too different from their expectations, and they simply lost interest.

    I did what you did: I gave it a try. I took the random clips that iMovie discovered on my hard drive (mostly from my still camera in Movie mode) and made a little 2-minute video, just as an exercise. The results are here:


    The project only took a couple of hours, including learning curve, and I was able to cut to the music, add relatively precise effects… I even sneaked in a virtually invisible music edit.

    So count me among those intrigued and happy with iMovie ’08 and its potential going forward. Bring on ’09!


  10. Thanks Tom … I’ve pointed several of my customers to your blog for this review. Many of them are frustrated … one asked me to buy it back from them because they hated the new iMovie.

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