Apple iMovie

For years digital film editing was the exclusive domain of high end film studios and professionals with hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipments and years of experience. Luckily, those days are over. Whilst one can still pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for software to do professional level editing on a computer, these applications are generally overkill for the average hobbyist or person who simply needs to quickly edit a short home-movie to add titles and perhaps some background music or a voice-over. Enter Apple's iMovie. This very easy to use movie editing application is included free on every Mac computer. Mac computers are available in the Prep Center lab in Williams and MMETS for working with iMovie.

Potential Uses

  • Use to capture and digitize video from another source such as VHS video, DVD or camcorder.
  • Use to create short montages of clips from many films for use in class
  • Use to create slide shows of images and record voice-over narration for them

The user interface

You can open iMovie on most macs by clicking its icon picture of icon in the dock (the strip of applications at the bottom of the screen) If it is not there it can be found in the Applications folder, accessible through the Finder (like MS Windows' "Windows Explorer" application.)

When first opening the application, depending on the version running, it may ask you if you would like to work on an existing project or create a new one. For your purposes you will probably be creating a new one, so click this option and then, when prompted, give it a name and select the folder in which to save it.

Once this housekeeping is complete you will be greeted with a screen something like the one below.

picture of screen layout

    (numbers below refer to the numbers in the above picture)



  1. This is the main preview area of the window. This is where you will view the video clips and your entire movie whilst you are editing. Also, when you are in "import mode" as this picture shows, you will be able to see the video on the video camera that you have connected. Here you can see that a camera is connected due to the message in the preview window.
  2. When you have a camera connected you can import the video off of it by clicking the "import" button once. You will be able to see, in real time, the video being copied from the camera to your computer in the preview window (1). When you have imported all of the video that you want, click the import button again to stop importing. Note, this button may seem a little unresponsive and take a few seconds to work. This is because it is having to wait for your camera itself to comply, so be careful not to click it twice.
  3. These are the camera controls. You can control the playback of the camera directly through iMovie. This is very useful when you first want to get to a certain point on the tape before you start importing video. To do so, you could press the play button to see where in the tape you are. You could then fast-forward or rewind to the exact place in the tape that you want and then click the "import button."
  4. This is the timeline. This is the area where you will order your clips into the order that you would like for your movie. It gives you a visual representation of your movie's layout. Here we can see all of the clips from my movie in the timeline in the order that I want..When a clip is in the timeline you can drag it around in front of and behind other clips to re-order them.
    picture of timeline
  5. This is the clip library. When you have imported clips, they will be stored here until you use them in your movie by clicking and dragging them down to the timeline. Below is how this would look with clips in it:
    picture of clip library
  6. Here you can select the different functions in iMovie. For example, to add a title you would click on the title tab, and to add a transition, you would click the trans tab. Click on each link below to get an overview of that function:
    1. Clips
    2. Photos
    3. Audio
    4. Titles
    5. Transitions
    6. Effects
    7. iDVD
      picture of tabs

    picture of timeline toggle
  7. This is to toggle the timeline view between clips and time. With the left one selected (clips) you will see a layout of all of the clips in the order that they are in, as shown in 4. above. However, in this view each clip is the same size irrespective of length, useful for shuffling them around, but not so useful if you are trying to add a song of a certain length in the background. Clicking on the right tab (time) will change the view so that each of the clips is represented according to its length. This will also allow you to edit the two extra audio tracks that your film can have. These extra audio tracks can be used to hold a voice-over or background music.

    picture of import edit toggle
  8. This little switch allows you to switch between importing (left) and editing (right.) the picture above shows iMovie in importing mode, this is when you are getting the video off of the camera. Editing mode is where you will spend most of your time though, this is the mode that allows you to do all of the things such as shuffle around clips, add titles and generally edit the video that you previously imported.

    picture of trash
  9. There are two very important icons here. the first has a trash can on it. Whenever you delete some video in iMovie it first goes to the trash just in case you want to undelete it later (like the Windows recycle bin) but this can fill very fast. It tells you next to the trash can how big the trash is. If it is getting very large and you know you won't be needing your deleted video anymore, you can click this icon to empty the trash. The green slider to the right of that is an indicator of how much disk space you have free. Digital video from a video camera is completely uncompressed. Hence, it eats up disk space at a rate of about 1GB for every 5 or so minutes. This slider tells you how much disk space you still have free. It is generally recommended that you do video editing on a very large drive, preferably separate from your boot drive, to prevent crashing your computer by over-filling the disk.


Importing Video

From an existing file

There are two ways that you can get video into iMovie. Generally you will be using it to take clips out of other movies for classes. In this case the process is very simple, select File:Import (this option is only available when you are in editing mode) and then select the file that you want to import. iMovie is very temperamental about the types of files that it can import, but a general rule of thumb is that if Quick Time can open it, so can iMovie, seeing as they are built on the same foundation. When you have opened the file iMovie, will probably need to decompress it from the compressed file format you have it in (.avi or .mpg perhaps) to uncompressed Digital Video (DV.) This can take a while depending on the speed of the computer and the size of the clip. Once it has finished decompressing them it will load the clips into the clip library for you.

From a Video Camera

If you are working with original content that you have created, then chances are it is on a video camera. In order to get the video off it directly into iMovie you will need to make sure that the camera is a digital camcorder and uses the DV standard. If your camera takes Mini DV cassettes such as the one below, then it should be compatible.

picture of video edit tape height=

Secondly, you need to make sure that the camera had a Fire Wire connection on it, otherwise known as an iLink or IEEE 1394 connection. These are found on most modern cameras and look something like the one below. Most modern cameras also include a USB port for offloading photos. Do not get the two confused, Fire wire has a single dimple in the top (as seen here) or bottom if it is upside down whereas USB has two dimples, one in each of the top or each of the bottom corners.

picture of video edit firewire

You will now need to connect the camera to the computer. You will need a "4 pin to 6 pin fire wire cable" which will either have come with your camera or will be available for a nominal cost at most computing stores. Connect the small connector end into your camera and the large connector into the fire wire connector on the Mac which should look something like this:

picture of firewire

Switch iMovie to "import" view and after a few seconds you should get the message "camera Connected" on the screen. If this is not the case try restarting iMovie. If you are still having problems, then your camera may not be compatible with iMovie. A list of compatible cameras is available here. Note that many cameras that are not on this list still work with iMovie, these are just the ones that are guaranteed to work. Also, iMovie doesn't support extended play recorded video in some of the older versions. For some reason a camera that is set to extended play recording will not be recognized by iMovie, so, sometimes simply setting your camera to regular recording speed as opposed to extended play can solve the problem. For further trouble shooting, please consult Apple's iMovie Support Page

Once the camera is connected you can use the camera controls in the iMovie window to fast forward or reverse the tape to the correct position. You can then get a preview by clicking the "play" button. When you have the tape in the right place, click "import." iMovie will automatically start your camera playing and record the video to the computer. Depending on the make of camera, iMovie may be able to automatically sense whenever you clicked the "pause" or "stop" button when you originally recorded your movie with the camera. If it can, it will automatically break up the movie into clips and place each separate clip in the clip library. When you have imported all of the video, click the "import" button again to stop.

Editing Individual Clips

The first thing that you probably want to do before you even start laying out your movie in the timeline is edit each clip to get rid of any parts or "bloopers" that you don't want. Click on a clip in the clip library and view it by clicking the large "play" button. You can then perform the following edits:

Split clip at play head

Sometimes iMovie may not have sensed that you created another clip on your video camera and may not have split a clip for you. Or, perhaps you just want to split a clip. Play the clip to the point where you want to split it and then click pause. If you didn't get the exact place you can fine tune where you are in the movie by using the left and right arrow keys to skip one frame forward and back at a time. You can also drag the play head itself to get to the place you want:

picture of play head

When you have the play head at the exact place that you want click "Edit:Split Video at Play head" You can also use the key command "command - T" (on a Mac, the command button is the one with the little apple on it.) The clip will be split and the other section of it will become a new clip in the clip library.

Select video

In order to do anything to just a small part of a clip such as cut it, crop it or copy it, you will first need to select that part of the video. However, if you just try to click and drag the play head you will simply move through your video. There is a solution. When your mouse is over the play head and the blue line that it runs along, you will see two triangles side by side appear just below the beginning of the blue line.
picture of triangles
You can think of these two triangles as book ends. The left one denotes where your selection starts and the right one denotes where your selection ends. Everything between them will turn yellow and is what you have selected to edit.

To start, drag the right triangle to where you want your selection to end. Then drag the left triangle to where you want it to start. Congratulations, you have now selected some of your video.

picture of selected

Copy Video

This is useful if you want to repeat part of the video elsewhere whilst still leaving it in the original clip, such as if you want a few seconds of your video from later on, in the opening credits. First select the video that you would like to copy (see above.) Then copy it by clicking Edit:Copy. Next Click Edit:Paste to paste what you copied as a new clip in the clip library. You are then free to use this clip where-ever you would use any other clip in the timeline.

Hint: Unfortunately you can't paste the copied video directly into another clip where the play head is. In order to achieve the exact same affect, split the first clip where you want to splice in the copied video using the above "split at play head command and then drag the copied clip in between the two halves of the split clip in the timeline.

Cut Video

If you want to cut a part of one clip out and create a clip out of it to place anywhere in the timeline, then select the desired video as above, then click Edit:Cut. This will remove the selected video from the current clip. To create the new clip from what you just cut in the clip library, click Edit:Paste.

Clear Video

This is especially useful if you want to get rid of part of a clip and have no desire to use it anywhere else such as with a blooper. Select the video you want to get rid of and click Edit:Clear, or the "Delete" button on the keyboard. This will delete the video and place it in the trash.

Ordering the clips

Now that you have edited each of the clips to your satisfaction it is time to place them in the timeline in the order in which you want them to appear in the movie. One at a time click and drag each clip from the clip library down into the timeline. If you have perhaps made a mistake and gotten the clips in the wrong order then don't worry, you can click and drag clips around within the timeline to adjust their order. You can also drag clips back from the timeline to the clip library if you aren't ready to use them yet or don't want them to appear in your final film.

Adding Transitions

Now that you have all of the clips for your film in the timeline you will notice that if you play the entire movie through, the transitions between the clips are very harsh. Luckily iMovie allows you to add very professional looking transitions between clips with the same drag and drop ease that you added the clips to the timeline. Click on the "transitions" tab below the clips library. The clips library will now be replaced by the transitions library.


picture of transitions

    (numbers below refer to the numbers in the left picture)

  1. This is the list of all of the available transitions. You can select any transition you want simply by clicking on its title.
  2. When you click on the name of a transition or change any of its properties you will get a quick preview of how this transition will look in this window. Note: A lot of the time this preview simply makes a preview using the first two clips in your movie, or between a plain black screen and your first clip, this is because it doesn't yet know where you are going to put the clip and so can't make an accurate preview yet. This window is just to give you an idea of what that type of transition looks like
  3. You can adjust the speed of your transition with this slider. Transitions can take anywhere from a few fractions of a second to a few seconds. After you adjust this you will get a quick preview of the new speed in the preview window (2.)
  4. Some transitions are directional in nature such as the push (which has the new clip push the old clip out of the screen in the direction you choose) Use these four direction buttons to choose the direction.
  5. The preview button will render a full size preview and show it in the main viewing window. This can take a few seconds on an older computer so be patient, but it does give you a better feel for what the finished product will look like.
  6. Once a transition is in the timeline you may want to change some of its properties such as the speed or even the type of transition that it is. In order to do this select the actual transition IN THE TIMELINE, adjust the properties that you want to change and then click update. This saves you having to delete the transition and add a whole new one if all you want to do is a minor adjustment.
  7. Does the same as 6. but for new new transitions. It applies the changes you have made to the transition.

So now you have created the ultimate transition, how do you add it to your movie? In the typical Apple fashion you do it simply with drag and drop. Click and drag the name of the transition that you want from the list of transitions (1.) down to the timeline and drop it between the two clips you want the transition to work between. At this point iMovie will have to render the transition (calculate what it will look like and create the actual video clip for it.) rendering is indicated by a small red progress bar that progresses along the bottom of the transition's icon in the timeline. If you try to play through the transition whilst it is still rendering you may get a message stating that it is still being rendered. The rendering process can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the length of the transition and the speed of the computer. When the Progress bar disappears it has completed rendering.

Working with Photos

A lot of the time it can be useful to add a photo to a video clip or even a few photos to a video in order to make a slide show. the power of this will be unleashed further in the section on Audio where we will see how to record a background voice-over to narrate a slide show. Enter the photo section by clicking on the Photos Tab. The Photo library will appear:


    (numbers below refer to the numbers in the right picture)

  1. The photo library displays all of the photos in your iPhoto library. If you aren't using iPhoto to store your photos I will cover importing photos at the end of the section
  2. This allows you to select which iPhoto album from your library you are viewing
  3. Here you can adjust the amount of time that the photo is displayed for. Currently it is set to 5 seconds.
  4. The "Ken Burns Effect" is a special effect that can be applied to photos to make them not seem so static in a slide show. Using it makes the video start at one part of the photo and at one zoom level and then finish at another part of the photo and zoom level with the camera panning across the photo in between. Click here (File Currently Not Available) for an example of Ken Burns Effect and here (File Currently Not Available) for an example without the effect.
  5. When using the Ken Burns Effect select this to set the starting position of your photo. With it selected you can click and drag the photo around in the preview box (11.) to set the position of the starting point. you can also adjust the amount that you are zoomed in at the starting position using the zoom slider (10.)
  6. You will also have to set the finishing position and zoom level for the photo when using the Ken Burns Effect.
  7. Reverse simply makes the clip run in reverse so that the start position is the end position and vice versa.
  8. Generates a full size preview of the video clip.
  9. Applies the current settings to the clip.
picture of photos

As mentioned above this is specifically designed to work with the iPhoto photo Library (Apple's programs are generally tightly integrated to make your life easier) but what if this is not your computer and hence the photo that you want is not in the iPhoto library but rather elsewhere on the disk? Then the process requires one more step: Click File:Import... This will give you a dialog that lets you select the exact file that you want to use. Using this select the photo you want. Then click OK. iMovie will then create a video clip out of your photo using the setting that are CURRENTLY SET in the photos section. generally one forgets to set these settings before one imports the photo, so don't worry if they were wrong. In order to change the settings on the clip you just created click the clip once in the clip library to select it. Next, click the Photos tab to open the photo section. Now, using 3 - 6 above adjust the settings for the clip (note: you should see your photo in the preview box, if you don't then you didn't select it properly and you should go back and select it again in the clip library.) When you are happy with the settings click the Update button (9 - it changes from apply to update when you are working on a pre-existing clip.)



Every great movie needs a title, and for that matter, everyone wants to be mentioned in the credits. iMovie makes it easy to add both Titles, and credits to a film as well as many other items of text such as sub-titles. Click on the Titles tab to open the titles library:


picture of titles

    (numbers below refer to the numbers in the left picture)

  1. This is the list of all of the different types of titles that are available. If one has a little gray triangle next to it then it means that there are different variations of it, click the triangle to show or hide them.
  2. Here you can adjust most of the general text attributes of your titles such as font, size and color.
  3. This defines if the title is shown with black in the background (selected) or if it will appear over your movie clip playing in the background (unselected.)
  4. Enter the actual text for your title here.
  5. Adjust the speed of your title here. Anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds.
  6. Click here to get a preview of your title.
  7. Click here to update the settings of a title if you are currently working on a title that you have selected in the timeline.
  8. Some titles are governed by direction, such as the direction that the words fly in for example, you can adjust that direction here using the four direction buttons.
  9. Small previews of your titles will be visible here.
  10. Some titles have pauses in them, for example, if the text moves to the center of the screen, pauses and then leaves the screen, you would adjust the length of the pause using this slider.

In the great tradition of all of the other tools we've used thus far, once you are happy with your settings and want to add the title to your movie simply click and drag the name of your title from the list of titles to the timeline and drop it at the place you want it to appear.

If you want to change the settings of a title once it is in the timeline, select it's clip by clicking on it once, adjust its settings in the Titles tab (you can even adjust the type of title that it is) and then click update.

The computer will also have to render titles and once again this is indicated by the red progress bar at the bottom of their icon in the timeline.


Adding Effects

You can apply many different effects to your clips in iMovie. They can add artistic flair or ambience to a clip. You can do such things as make it black and white, adjust the color balance, add rain to the scene or make it look as if it was taken from aged film. Open the Effects library by clicking on the effects tab. the key with effects is that an effect is not an "object" in itself like a title or a transition is an "object" (it could be imagined as a tangible thing.) Effects are things that are APPLIED to an object (a clip in the timeline or clip library) so, in order to use the effects you are going to first have to select the clip you want to apply it to by clicking on its icon once.

    (numbers below refer to the numbers in the right picture)

  1. This is the list of the available effects. Click on the title of any to select it. Many computers may have different effects available because you can download new ones off the internet. A great place to find new ones (free and for low price) is
  2. This adjusts how far into the clip you want the effect to start.
  3. This is how far into the clip you want it to stop. This is a little counterintuitive because the slider is backwards - if it is all the way on the left the effect will continue to the end of the clip, if it is at the right it will stop at the beginning of the clip.
  4. Individual effects may have specific settings that you can set using sliders here at the bottom. For example, here we can see the specific settings for the "lens flare" effect. It is out of the scope of this article to discuss all individual controls for each effect, but most are rather self-explanatory and you can always see the effects of your changes immediately in the preview window (7.)
  5. Creates a full size preview of the current effect on the clip.
  6. Applies the current effect to the currently selected clip. To remove an effect from a clip you will have to go Edit:Undo.
picture of effects

Adding Audio

You can add audio to a movie in the form of a recorded voice over, music in the background, or even from a library of sound-effects such as wind and rain. When working with audio it is usually easiest to change the timeline view to Time as opposed to clips. This will let you line up sounds exactly with actions on screen as well as give you access to the two extra audio tracks and the individual track volume adjustment settings. Click on the Audio tab to open the audio library:

    (numbers below refer to the numbers in the right picture)

  1. This is the library of sound effects that comes with iMovie. If you don't see this, then use 2. to select "iMovie Sound Effects"
  2. This allows you to select playlists in your iTunes library or the effects library.
  3. When you have a sound effect or song selected, click this button to place it into your movie exactly where your play head is. Don't worry if this is not exactly the right place because you can drag it around manually in the timeline.
  4. When you have a sound effect or song selected you can click the play button to preview it.
  5. If you have a microphone attached to the computer then you will see the level of the audio it "hears" here.
  6. When you want to record a voiceover click the record button. Your film will start playing and you will be able to record your voiceover as you watch the movie. To stop recording click the record button again.
picture of audio

What if the file you want to use is not in the iTunes music library? Then place the file on the desktop. Once it is there you can simply drag the file from the desktop into the timeline of iMovie. It will be added into one of the audio tracks of your movie. iMovie can accept the following audio file formats: MP3, AAC, AIF, WAV, MOV. A good rule of thumb is that if quick time can open it, iMovie can. Note:iMovie will not accept Windows Media files (WMA.)

Once your audio is in the timeline you can drag it around forward and backward in time just like you can with the video clips.


Note: this is only possible on Macs equipped with a "Superdrive" DVD burner. The Macs in the Prep lab in Williams have superdrives.

When you are finished with your movie you may want to create a DVD of it that can play on most DVD players. In order to do this, click on the iDVD tab. Here you will be presented with a list where you can add chapters to your movie, just like the chapters on a commercial DVD. Place the play head at the point that you want to be the beginning of the chapter then click the "Add Chapter" to add it. You can give each chapter a specific name by editing their names in the list. When you have created all your chapters click the "Create iDVD project" button. This will open iDVD and create a new project with your video in it. On a slower computer this can take quite a while. In iDVD you will be able to adjust the theme of the DVD as well as many other settings. For tutorials on iDVD please see Apple's iDVD support page:


Sharing the finished files

When you are done with your file and have saved the final version of the project for later editing, you will want to have a version of the movie that is a complete movie on its own so that you can perhaps email it, place it on a CD or place on a web site. In order to do this click File:Export, or File:Share depending on your version of iMovie. This will bring up the following wizard:

picture of share

Along the top are your options for the different ways you can export the file. If you want to email it directly, select Email. If you have a .Mac homepage, select HomePage to place it on your .Mac homepage. To send the full, uncompressed movie back to your video camera so that you can save it onto a cassette select the Video Camera option. To send it to iDVD to make a DVD select iDVD. To make a quick time file useful for emailing, adding to a web site. or burning to CD select Quick time To sent the file to a Bluetooth device such as your cell phone, select Bluetooth (your computer needs Bluetooth to do this.)

Most commonly you will select the quick time option. This will then ask you what you want to use the quick time file for so that it can get an idea of how big to make the finished file. Your options are:

picture of options

Email will make the lowest quality file. Web will make a rather small file. Web streaming will make a file suitable for streaming over the web using a Quick time Streaming Server (Media mogul for example) CD-Rom will make a decent quality file and full DV will not compress the file at all. Each selection you make will supply a simple description in the box below this indicating the approximate file size and frame rate settings. If you are comfortable using them, choose the Expert Settings to have full control over the compression.


This is a simple overview of Apple's iMovie. For more in depth help one can consult Apple's iMovie Support Page ( For walk-through tutorials, also try Apple's iMovie Tutorials Page ( .