By Monte FergusonLast years update to iMovie turned out to be a total rewrite of the venerable video editing
software. There were a number of folks were were up in arms over dropped features and the whole
new interface. There was enough upset that Apple kept the previous edition around as a free
download. Not exactly an auspicious relaunch.
What Apple had set out to do was to go back to the
drawing board. iMovie HD was a fine program but daunting for first time users. The new iMovie ’08
focused on getting video in and out quickly. It also made major strides in making the whole
editing process easier, and faster. It showed real potential, and looked cool. It’s main drawback
was that it felt unfinished.
A year later we have a new version of iMovie. Phil Schiller’s
Keynote at MacWorld referred to iMovie ’09 as iMovie the Apology. Tacitly acknowledging that
iMovie ’08 didn’t live up to customers expectations. The new iMovie adds improvements, restores
several missing features and even adds some new ones.
iMovie ’08, being a complete
rewrite, was more like a 1.0 release. This certainly leave a lot of room for improvement with
iMovie ’09. Take drag and drop. It was good in iMovie ’08 but it’s much better in iMovie ’09. You
can now replace or inset clips using a single pop-up menu. Or you can choose to just insert the
audio from a clip.
They’ve added a Project Library pane. Sounds ho hum right? What’s great out
this feature is it allows you to movie project files off of your internal drive to an external
device. You can do this right from within iMovie, so linking is not an issue. You can choose to
move just the project file or the project and its associated source clips. It now provides a
filmstrip representation of each project, think iPhoto photo Events, allowing you to skim, play
back or export without having to open it for editing. They’ve also added a Cover Flow browser,
with full screen previews, for switching between projects.
Other improvements that have been made
include: Detaching Audio from a video clip in a project. This allows you to move it independently
or change the audio speed. You can use an inspector to apply the same effect, sound level, or
speed adjustments across selected clips. Sharing to DVD is a whole heck of a lot easier. Apple
has brought back the easy work flow that used to characterize iMovie’s integration with iDVD. You
can now send projects directly to iDVD, with chapter markers (also a missing feature in iMovie
’08). iMovie can once again speed up or slow down clips.
The Precision Editor is designed to give you more detailed control over your edits. It displays a magnified
filmstrip that shows exactly where one clip ends and the next begins so you can precisely edit
your video. You can edit audio and video independently, so you can use the sound from one clip
with the video from another. Reposition and adjust the duration of titles and transitions —
without leaving the Precision Editor. You call it up by clicking on the new Action menu that
appears on every clip, the Event Library disappears and the Precision Editor fills the entire
bottom half of the screen. It takes a little getting used to. But once you get into the swing of
things it becomes second nature.
This is that really cool feature that makes
a real impact during a presentation. If most of your video is taken by holding the camera by hand
you’ll love this. iMovie can now analyze how much your camera was moving while you were
recording, then automatically reduces camera shake. You can adjust the smoothness with a simple
slider. This lets you bring back that natural camera movement for effect. If a clip is so shaky
it can’t be fixed by iMovie it will warn you with a red squiggly line. iMovie can analyze footage
either at import or on a clip-by-clip basis later. Because it’s looking at every frame, the
analysis can take a while, a safe average would be over 3 times the duration of the clip. I found
out by reading up on this feature that the analyzed clips are not re-rendered, but rather iMovie
keeps track of how much zoom and rotation is applied to every frame in order to minimize the
amount of movement.
iMovie even comes with special advanced features. You won’t find them from just looking through
the interface. No, you have to enable them from an advanced menu command.
iMovie gains the ability to have more than one video track in a project. It does so via
Picture-In-Picture feature. iMovie places a video track on top of the existing filmstrip in the
Project Editor; in the monitor, you can resize and reposition the overlaid clip. (The new Cutaway
feature also places video on a separate track.)
Green screen: iMovie ’09 adds the ability to do green screening. You shoot a scene with a person,
or people, against a green background. iMovie can now knock out the green background and
substitue other footage in it’s place. I like to call it the “Weather Man” effect. It only works
with green, and doesn’t mask with the quality you’ll find in professional software, but it does a
good job nonetheless. You can even adjust a “garbage matte” around the objects set against the
green screen to help define which area to knock out.
Maps and backgrounds: This is one of those features you’ll either love or completely forget
about. If you like to take movies as you travel you’ll love it. You can create destination
points in your movie, using the Google Maps integration. iMovie then loads this information onto
one of four globe styles or four flat maps onto which you can project a moving line that zips
from city to city. Also available are a number of decorated backgrounds onto which you can add
text, use as filler, or set as a backdrop for picture-in-picture or green screen scenes.
Edit to music: In a new blank project, add a song as a background music track, and open it in the Clip
Trimmer. Then play the song and hit the M key wherever you hear a beat (or where you want a
visual edit to occur). When you add clips or photos to the project, their durations match up to
the beat markers you applied. It’s a quick jump on building slideshows or music videos.
Camcorders that do not use tapes are becoming the latest trend. They all suffer from a common
problem: It’s not always easy or convenient to import video when the camera fills up. Apple has
added a feature that should make these folks happy. You can now use the new archive feature to
copy raw video files to a hard disk, or other storage medium. You can later import, transcode,
the archived video when it is convenient.
There is certainly a lot to love about this
update. It gains new features such as: Picture-in-Picture, video stabilization, and green screen.
It also brings back some features like direct export to dvd and chapter markers. And of course
its a live system, meaning now waiting for rendering. It feels much more complete.
There are still features absent in this release. If you were hoping 3rd party plug in
support would reappear, you will be disappointed this time. It is still not possible to do
precise audio editing within iMovie. (A kludgy workaround is to chop the clip into lots of pieces
and set the volume for each one, a technique we did away with when iMovie 3 came along.) The
ability to write video back to tape is non-existent. I was also unhappy that you had to hit an
advanced menu to turn on a bunch of useful, albeit advanced, features in iMovie. I wouldn’t have
known that option existed from my scanning of the menus if I hadn’t watched one of Apple’s
iMovie ’08, while promising, fractured the user base for the program. Many stayed with
the older version. iMovie ’09 does a great job of addressing many, but not all, of the
shortcomings in iMovie ’08. At the same time it also adds features that were not present
previously. This new release signals that Apple considers the new iMovie a stable platform they
can build upon. They can move forward and innovate with new features and new workflows. It may
not have all of the old features, but it has all of the essentials plus some snazzy new tricks.
Posted: Sunday, August 2nd, 2009