Making Something Great even Better! Four Useful iMovie Additions

by Chris Seibold Dec 23, 2004

In 1999 I was a happy owner of a beige 233 G3. As far as I was concerned it was a perfectly serviceable machine, able to handle my modest demands. My warm feelings towards that machine turned to a mixture of loathing and disdain when Apple announced iMovie in October. I got over the negative vibes by putting the FireWire lacking piece of beige on ebay and snapping up a jazzy G4. From that point on life has been iMovie nirvana. Well, mostly nirvana, there were times I needed a bit more than iMovie had to offer so over the years I’ve collected a solid group of programs and plug ins that help iMovie really shine.

Of course one might look at the current version of iMovie and wonder why you would need to add anything. Well, iMovie wasn’t always so robust, the early iterations of iMovie lacked a ton of features found on the latest release. For example: the transitions were fairly limited, the titles didn’t offer a great deal of flexibility and volume control was non-existent. These obvious holes in iMovie gave impetus to a slew of programmers who began writing plug-ins and programs to supplement the sometimes paltry options of the original version of iMovie. Looking at iMovie today with the veritable cornucopia of effects and titling options, the intuitive yet powerful audio control one is tempted to think that Apple has crammed just about every possible goody into iMovie. While it is true that iMovie is more spectacular than ever straight out the box the third party developers haven’t stood still. The plug-in and iMovie companion programs just keep getting better.

iMovie is an editing and content creation program and at these functions it excels. iMovie is not a good option for archiving your footage, a very real concern when you’ve taken hours of digital video, so something more akin to iPhoto was needed. This is where FootTrack comes to the rescue. The tagline is: FootTrack is iPhoto for your digital video. Actually the tagline is a little disingenuous, while FootTrack can be compared to iPhoto it actually does much, much more. FootTrack will compress and catalogue your footage, read the timestamp, search clips, and burn your library to your choice of CD based media. Once you start using FootTrack you’ll find that it is a nearly indispensable addition to your library of programs and that it makes using iMovie that much better.

iMovie is filled near bursting with transitions and effects. This is good but often you’ll find yourself in need of an effect that iMovie simply doesn’t include. For example I once filmed a video review of my camera the Canon GL 2. We had a lot of fun shooting the video but when I went to edit the footage I realized that I was in very big trouble. One scene called for a dead body to be seen from the shoulders down. I was the dead body. The scene also called for the camera operator to talk at the same time. I was the camera operator. When I looked at the scene I realized I had made a terrible mistake: my head was fully visible as I was yapping away. That’s a pretty large mistake because, in general, dead men don’t talk. Another day spent filming was out of the question but thanks to an iMovie plug-in effect I was able to zoom the scene on the computer and hide my annoying noggin. Of course that is just an illustration, the actual number of the effects are huge and the number of clever uses is even larger. My favorite supplier: Stupendous Software. You’ll find over 450 effects and title effects covering everything from masking and green screening to dissolving titles. The coolest thing about Stupendous Software: They’ll give you 68 free effects.

The last two installments of Star Wars have been flat out horrible. Apparently the failings of the prequels have not dulled the enthusiasm for putting lightsabers in home movies. I say this because one the questions I’m most frequently asked is (as usually worded): “Dude, how can I get lightsabers in my movie?” The easiest way, of course, is to just go to the nearest intergalactic weapons shop and buy a couple. The only other way to do it is called rotoscoping. Rotoscoping may sound like an extremely unpleasant medical device (“You have what? WHERE? Ye Gods! Nurse fetch me the Rotoscope.”) but that impression is not accurate. Rotoscoping basically means drawing on each frame of your movie and the standard method is a major hassle (export every frame, draw, re import) and all but impossible with iMovie. Using MediaEdit Pro renders the process fairly painless. Sure it is still a time consuming process but nowhere near as cumbersome as the standard methods. MediaEdit Pro is actually designed as iMovie upgrade but the program is not nearly as intuitive (though it is more powerful) so you’ll probably want to edit your movie in iMovie and then import it into MediaEdit Pro. Once the movie is imported you’ll see each frame and familiar tools you can use to draw directly on the frames. You could use this to rotoscope just about anything you care to draw but does anyone ever rotoscope anything other than lightsabers?

iMovie is very liberal when the time comes to add that all important music to your project. You can pick any song, copy protected or not, from your iTunes library and slap it directly into your movie. Sometimes, however, you don’t want a prefab piece of music, you’ll want something made just for your Oscar worthy masterpiece. You could always fire up GarageBand and make a custom song provided you have the necessary ability. I don’t have that kind of ability, anything I create with GarageBand ends up sounding like two howler monkeys and a screech owl confined in the same cardboard box. For the musically challenged like myself SmartSound makes a wonderful music companion to iMovie called Movie Maestro. The program is slick, easy to use and provides perfectly timed music for your movie. The process is simple, you choose appropriate sounding loops and Movie Maestro does the rest. You can watch the movie while you’re laying down the score to get everything perfectly timed. It’s the next best to hiring Jon Williams and a symphony and you don’t have to worry about any legalities, every track is royalty free.

There you have it: four useful tools to make a great program even better. Of course what would really make iMovie all that it can be is more people using the program to put together watchable movies. So this year when you’re recording the festivities (or lack thereof) don’t just toss the tape in the “things I’ve recorded but will never watch again” pile. Take a little time and use iMovie to do some inventive editing, I bet you’ll love the results.


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