The New And Improved iMovie 08 (Software Update 7.1).

imovie_08_7-1.jpg

Apple released a slew of updates for the iLife apps yesterday. While iDVD, iPhoto, and GarageBand got mostly bug fixes and maybe new themes, iMovie got substantial and welcome improvements.

For the first taste of what’s changed, see the picture at the top of this article for three new features:

  • The Event library (lower-left) can be viewed by months within years.
  • In the top middle pane the current clip (with the red playhead) is showing its length in standard minutes:seconds:frames format (in this case 2 minutes, 44 seconds, 13 frames).
  • The playhead displays its absolute location within the movie (in this case 2 minutes, 34 seconds, 19 frames).

The first item is in the View menu. The second and third are controlled via Preferences. For those wishing iMovie used standard time codes and displayed absolute location, your wish has been granted.

Another addition has been in audio control. This is where iMovie may be weakest, and while it’s still weak Apple took a couple steps forward with this update. It now allows manual control over ducking volume, as well as fade-in and -out:

audio_controls.jpg

The release adds the ability to select multiple clips at once. This is great for applying keywords or pasting copied Color or Crop settings to multiple clips. Below is a picture of three clips selected for keyword application:

multi_clip_select.jpg

Another new feature is that you can create still frames by right-clicking and selecting “Add Still Frame to Project”. Once added you can control the duration, Ken Burns effect, etc. just like any other photo.

A transition’s duration is now editable even when the transition was added automatically. This is great, though an auto-added transition still cannot be deleted, or replaced with another. I don’t know why iMovie doesn’t provide full control over an auto-transition, but this is a start.

Apples says there are performance improvements in this release. IMovie flies on my new iMac so I can’t speak to this, but I do know that after the update the first time you launch the application it “optimizes” your events.

There are three presets for Viewer size in the Windows menu (with keyboard shortcuts). The three presets, combined with the ability to hide library panes and swap the Events and Projects panes, gives a lot of control over the look and size of your work area. As just one example, here’s a shot with both Library panes closed, Event and Project panes swapped (i.e., source on top, movie on bottom), and the Viewer set to Large:

large_viewer.jpg

Finally, we get to my favorite new feature. Those of you who read my iMovie 08 review know that I select my clips “roughly” in the Event pane, and fine tune them in the Project pane. I do this with the “extend buttons” set to half-second increments. This worked pretty well for me, but I bemoaned the lack of frame-by-frame editing. Well, not any more.

The Extend buttons are gone. In their place (assuming you turn it on in Preferences) are “Fine Tuning Buttons”. These are double-headed arrows at each end of the clip. Click one and you get an orange selection guide at that end of the clip:

trim_by_frame.jpg

The orange guide drags by frame. As you drag it will show +1, +2, etc. (or -1, -2) for the number of frames. You don’t have to drag, just hit Opt-Right or Left arrow to move forward/backward instead. You don’t need the orange guides to use the keyboard. Hitting option-arrow in the Project pane will go forward/backward from the start or end — depending on playhead location — of the current clip. So you can drag it out or use the keyboard, whichever you prefer. The previous method of trimming a clip was downright primitive compared to this!

All in all these are very nice improvements to iMovie in an update that came out with a bunch of maintenance releases. That makes it that much more of a surprise. Will this silence iMovie 08’s critics? Doubtful, and I do not claim that it should. But it’s no secret I like the new iMovie, and this update clearly shows Apple is listening and improving the product. I like what I’m seeing.

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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?

Weaknesses:

  • 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.

Strengths:

  • 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.

Conclusion:

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.

A Detailed iMovie 08 Review, Part I: Timeline? We don’t need no steenkin’ timeline!


This review is lengthy, so I’m publishing it in two parts. In this first installment I’ll go through the initial description, video import, selection and trimming of the clips for a movie, then review the work so far. In the last installment I’ll polish the work with transitions, titles, sound effects, photos, and other tools, then provide my conclusions.

I initially intended to review iMovie by comparing it to the PC tool I used (Adobe Premiere Elements), similar to how I reviewed iPhoto 08. However, when comparing the two photo products, one of them hadn’t so radically altered the editing paradigm as to make the comparison too distracting.

That’s not the case with iMovie and Premiere Elements (or any movie editor). Sure, iMovie can be compared to any movie editor, but the comparison requires so much time on the paradigm changes it gets in the way of explaining how iMovie can be used to actually, you know, make a movie. Suffice it to say that iMovie is different (I believe in a good way) and I’m just going to review it on its own terms. Bottom line is that Premiere Elements is a fine product, is iMovie 08?

Importing Video.

The first thing to do is import video. This is one area where there is no paradigm shift. Hook up a camera and the import box comes up automatically. There’s an automatic/manual switch you can use to either grab everything on the camera’s current media, or move to the beginning of what you want and import from there (stopping it when you have what you want). I have a DV camera and a full hour of footage on tape to import, so I just plugged it in, left the switch at automatic, and hit Import. It rewound the tape and brought it all in. This is done in real-time, so it took an hour to import the video in the background while I was performing other tasks.

I have a DV camera, so I can’t comment on iMovie’s HD capability. When I imported the hour of video, iMovie grouped it into three “events” by date (similar to how iPhoto 08 groups photos into events). I considered two of the events the same, so I just drug one into the other and then named the two remaining events.

The iMovie browser shows the contents of the events(s) you’ve selected. Just drag over them to “skim” the movies. You think this is like scrubbing? Not at all. All your video is right there and you can view it literally as fast as you can move the mouse, I don’t have to open it into a viewer first. This really has to be experienced in person to be appreciated, but it’s sweet! After I played with the sheer coolness of skimming, it was time to make a movie.

Selecting Clips.

As mentioned before, you don’t load a clip into a viewer and work on it there. Rather, you select the portion of the clip you want in the browser with your mouse. Apple says it’s as easy as selecting text, and depending on the granularity in the browser there’s some truth to that. I set my browser to display a frame every five seconds of video (slider box at bottom right), so a one minute clip displays as a dozen frames. This helps you select the start/end points since you can get close without even skimming. You can make the granularity even finer, but at some point the size of the browser becomes an issue. Five seconds worked well for me. So you skim to where you want the clip to start and click the mouse, then drag to the point where you want it to end, all the time the video plays in the clip as well as the viewer window. Once you let go of the mouse you have a selection.

You can do a few things with a selected clip. Normally you’d drag it into the project window, which is a storyboard approximation of a timeline. However, you can also flag a selection as a Favorite (a green line appears above it), or Reject it (a red line appears above it), or assign a Keyword. These options are in the middle of the toolbar, just click one after selecting a clip. Favorites can be viewed separately (like looking at rated photos), rejected clips can be trashed to save disk space, and keywords are used to search and catalog clips. This brings the kind of organization to movie applications that photo apps have had for years.

Most of the time you’ll move your selection to the project area to build your movie. You can just drag it up to the project window. The clip in the browser now has an orange line beneath it, which indicates this footage is in the project. Nice. Now you continue to skim and select additional clips for the project.

In the first picture above you can see the clips in the project window (top middle). In the browser window underneath (bottom right) you see all video in the currently selected project. Orange lines underneath clips here denote that they’re part of the project.

In addition to the clips, the project window also displays transitions between clips, titles (blue), a sound effect (green), and some small icons on the clips themselves, all of which I’ll discuss in part two of this review.

A couple of points on selecting clips:

  • By default, clicking a clip in the browser automatically selects four seconds starting at the point of the click. This nearly drove me mad! Not only do I want more than four seconds most of the time, but an errant click would select something new, which was frustrating. You can change this default behavior however. The second picture above shows the preferences dialog, where you set the action for a click. Notice I changed mine to just deselect all. I would actually prefer to set a click to do nothing, but deselecting was the least disrupting choice available.
  • To select the “in” and “out” points of a clip, I use a fine granularity of the browser in combination with skimming and the viewer. However, while I try to be accurate, I do not concern myself with being exact at this time. The reason for this is that you can trim a clip more precisely when it’s in a project. Once I have a clip selected in the browser I move it into the project, then click anywhere in the browser to deselect it and then select another clip, continuing until I have all my clips in the project.

Editing (Trimming) Clips.

Once a clip is in a project, you can trim it in a manner easier and more precise than in the browser. In order to do this, however, you need another trip to the preferences dialog. Refer again to the picture of preferences, there’s an item at the bottom (“Show advanced tools”) you should turn on. The advanced tools allow you to use the keywords mentioned earlier, and also put Extend buttons at the ends of each clip in a project. Clicking an Extend button moves the start point earlier (or the end point later) by the amount of time set in the “Extend buttons add” section of preferences. By default the extend buttons add 1 second, but I prefer even finer control so I set mine to a half-second.

When you mouse over a clip in a project, you’ll see the clip’s length, Extend buttons, and a clock icon (used to edit the entire clip).

Since I get my clips close to the right size before sending them to a project, I usually only need a short amount of correction, so using the Extend buttons is quick and convenient. It’s easier than trying to drag the clip for a half-second length, which is your other option. Clicking the clock icon opens the entire clip in the project without the distraction of other clips. The selected portion is in yellow, and you can drag the ends where you want to modify the selection. Once you have a new selection, select “Trim to selection” from the Edit menu and then click Done. The clock icon is great when you want to heavily modify a clip because it saves you the trouble of having to delete it from the project, re-select new start/end points in the browser, and then add it back to the project.

I found that by selecting clips somewhat “roughly” (though still being close) in the browser, and fine-tuning them in the project, where I can use the extend buttons or clock, I was able to work quickly. My speed had increased a lot by the end of the project.

If you decide you don’t like the order of the clips in a project, simply select and drag them to new locations.

Reviewing Your Work.

You can skim though a project to see your work, or just double-click anywhere on a clip to start playing in real-time from that point. You can also select a clip and double-click the yellow bar at the beginning to play just that clip. Or you can click the Play buttons to play from the beginning of the project (the play button on a dark background plays full screen, the other plays in the viewer). All of these actions work in the browser as well.

Now that all your clips are selected, in a project, trimmed to the desired length, and in the correct order, it’s time to add polish to your movie.

In the final installment I’ll cover the items you’ll use to polish your movie. As a hint, most of them are at the far right of the toolbar.