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iMovie '11: The TUAW review

One of the more widely-used members of the iLife suite, iMovie, has been around for quite a while, although the original iMovie hit a dead end with iMovie HD 6 and was reborn as a completely new app as iMovie '08. It's now in version 9.0 as part of iLife '11, and this edition has both new features and a bit of added polish across the entire product. In this hands-on review of iMovie '11, I won't be pointing out every menu item or movie-making feature; instead I'll focus on the new capabilities.

I've been dabbling with video production since I was in high school (yes, television did exist back then). The tools available for editing video have come a long way in that time, but for the most part they've still been rather difficult to master. iMovie '11 introduces some new tools that make it easy for just about anyone to take advantage of expert-level effects that would have been difficult or impossible for novices to achieve before. Read on to hear about some of those tools and how they work.

Trailers

During the October "Back to the Mac" event, one of the most talked-about items was the iMovie '11 trailer feature. This makes it simple to create a short movie trailer that looks and sounds like those you see in movie theaters and on TV. There are 15 different trailer templates, each of which plays off one of the popular trailer types.

To make a trailer, first create a new project. Then choose the appropriate trailer type, depending on the action taking place and the number of "cast members." A simple outline appears. You enter in the name, date, cast, and credit info, and then move on to the storyboard tab of the Trailer wizard. Here you're given a chance to edit the text, and you see how the various shots are going to be intercut with titles and the credits.

There's a shot list window as well, which suggests the type of shots that you should get -- action, close-up, medium shot, wide shot -- and slot into the various spaces. The sample trailer you see below was shot in about 8 minutes with a Canon HD camcorder. Video was imported from an SD card into iMovie, and the various shot types were dropped into the storyboard placeholders by simply clicking on the appropriate location in the raw footage. In less than 20 minutes, without having ever touched the trailer feature before, I had this rather professional looking (except for the actor) movie trailer. Be sure to watch it in HD for full effect:

While the appearance of trailers on YouTube or one of the other video services now supported by iMovie '11 (more on that next) may get old very quickly, it's still fun, easy, and something that you could quickly burn onto a DVD or post online to show "coming attractions."

Sports and News Themes

Ranking right up there with the trailers in iMovie '11 are the new sports and news themes. Parents of young athletes will enjoy creating fairly professional movies for highlights of sporting events. The sports theme provides a way to add team vs. team graphics and titles, standings, game scores and player profiles.

Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd use the news theme to create another demo video that shows just how good these Apple-created movie making tools really are. You just drag the segments of video clips that you want in your "news show" and iMovie throws in a title animation, transitions that match the theme, and similar features. I threw in a few extra lower-thirds titles for fun, plus some audio and video effects. The video effects (there are 15 of them) are things like cartoon, x-ray, vignetted image, and so on. The effects just take one click to apply, and can be removed easily if they're too distracting. There are also audio effects which can be applied to ambient sound -- echos, lower or higher pitch, different sized rooms, and more.

Sharing

Users of iMovie '09 could share their files in any number of ways, but now Vimeo and CNN's iReport are also included for immediate upload of your video. Note that 1080p or 720p HD video are now included under the sharing menu for those services that accept it. Video podcasters can also render their iMovie work of art directly to Apple's Podcast Producer 2 running on Mac OS X Server.

The other options to share with MobileMe Gallery and YouTube are still there, as are all of the export alternatives. I wasn't sure if Facebook sharing was a new option or not, but it's included as well.

Audio Editing Improvements

I alluded to the audio effects earlier, but Apple has gone much further in terms of audio editing than just adding some sound effects. Now, when you add tracks to your movie project, you have the option of seeing audio waveforms. Any sound wave peak that is much louder than the ambient sound is highlighted in yellow, and to bring the audio back to a normal level, you simply drag a line down until the waveform peak is no longer yellow. You can do that for the entirety of an audio clip, or just a section. Let's say you have video of a bunch of kids talking loudly, and one child is very quiet. Using the tools you can bring up that child's audio level to match the others.

Ducking works extremely well -- this is the way that you reduce the level of one sound (a soundtrack, for instance) so that you can hear another sound (voices). Once again, the way you do this has been improved in iMovie '11, as you can apply ducking to any soundtracks connected to a clip so that one of the tracks becomes dominant.

Single-Row View

A long time ago, iMovie worked with a long timeline. Many of us who used the application really liked this view of our work, since you could see how a movie was being laid out from beginning to end. iMovie '11 still uses the wrap-around movie editor of iMovie '09, but you can now click a small button with three dots on it (kind of like an ellipsis) to display your project clips in one long row -- the old method. And here I just got used to the multi-row view.

Analyzing Video for People

This is one of the least understood features of iMovie '11, with many people (including myself) mistakenly thinking that this was the iMovie equivalent of Faces in iPhoto. There's a big difference -- iMovie can't recognize the identity of people like Faces can. What it does do is recognize how many people -- one, two, or a group (more than two) -- are in a shot and whether they are close up, in medium distance, or far distance.

How is this useful? When you're creating trailers, the shot list contains placeholders for different types of shots. If you have more than one actor in your movie and there are some scenes where you show a single person, and others where you show the group, the shot list will tell you where to put those scenes.

Performance

Although I didn't benchmark the performance of iMovie '11 in comparison with the previous version, it seems just as fast when rendering videos. As with iPhoto '11, the performance of the application definitely benefits from one of the quad-core i5 or i7 CPUs found in the iMac and larger MacBook Pro.

Conclusion

If you use iMovie '09 on a regular basis, then you really should consider upgrading to iLife '11 just to get the new version of the app. The audio editing improvements, special themes, one-click visual effects, and trailers alone make the upgrade worth the $49 ($79 for the Family Pack) price tag.



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Software Video

One of the more widely-used members of the iLife suite, iMovie, has been around for quite a while, although the original iMovie hit a dead...