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iMovie: An Introduction

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This post is part of a series called Mac for Beginners.
Alfred Workflows for Beginners
Getting Started With iPhoto

iMovie is part of the iLife package which comes with every Mac, if understood correctly you can use iMovie to create quality projects worth showing off. Apple have always aimed to innovate ways of making workflows simpler for their users, however, iMovie may still seem hard to understand at the start.

In this tutorial I will show you around the iMovie layout, then continue on to the different ways you can import clips -- whether it be from a SD card or mini DV tape. I will then finish with a guide on how to record a voiceover.


Introducing iMovie

With every new Mac the package called iLife is pre-installed -- easy to use software that attracts many people to the Apple Mac. For pre-existing Mac users without the package it is available for around £30 on the Mac App Store and from Amazon. If not buying directly from the Mac App Store ensure you buy version 11 which is the newest at the time of writing. iMovie is one of three applications in this package; the other two being GarageBand and iPhoto.

Whilst all three have their uses, the other two are easily replaceable with free applications. Although, for an effective movie editor you're looking to pay at least £50+ with prices ranging quite high -- so it's great if you get all of it free with your computer purchase.

The iLife package encourages improved creativity.
The iLife package encourages improved creativity.

This tutorial will serve as an introduction to iMovie while the second tutorial will highlight some of the basic editing mechanisms regarding the movie making process.


The iMovie Workspace

If you've used any video editing software, previously, the general UI of iMovie probably won't cause too much confusion.

On the top left you'll have your Project window which shows a timeline for all added media. On the bottom left is the Event Library, here will be displayed past events which have been made and allow to access them quickly.

The empty workspace needs to be figured out before attempting editing work.
The empty workspace needs to be figured out before attempting editing work.

Next to your Event Library is the space where all of your imported video clips will be held. These can then be dragged and edited to fit perfectly in the timeline phase above.

This is a matter of preference, but you do have the option to switch the top and bottom sections here by clicking the opposite arrow button on the left hand side. In turn, it will bring your timeline to the bottom making it bigger and in my opinion easier to view. You'll probably be using this part the most so being able to see more at once gives you a more powerful workspace to edit with. The proportions of these areas can also be changed by dragging your mouse from the middle of the screen.

The switch button is located on the left hand side of the middle bar.
The switch button is located on the left hand side of the middle bar.

Along the middle you have many different buttons which will be explained in the article which follows this one in more depth. Visiting the top bar you can access Preferences and again up here there is a group of different editing tools which are used during the editing phase.

After starting a project and adding clips to an event your iMovie interface will look a bit more like this.
After starting a project and adding clips to an event your iMovie interface will look a bit more like this.

Importing Your Data

Before bursting into Start a New Project it's probably best that you import all the video footage you're going to use. There a few different methods which you can use to move the clips into the workspace. I will show the main few below.

Importing Footage From Hard Drive

To import data which are already on your computer you need to go to File > Import > Movies. After finding and selecting your desired clips you have a few options to change at the bottom of this interface. The first is the save location, this will as default is your Mac's HD, if need be change this. The next bit is the important part, here you can choose to add the video to an existing event or to a new event. Unless the footage you're adding is going into a group of footage which has already been imported you'll want to change to Create new Event. Naming it something appropriate here like the date is something I would recommend.

Importing data from your computer.
Importing data from your computer.

Below this is the optimise video tool, as default iMovie will reduce the size of your clips to 960x540. Most cameras including my Canon DSLR will record at a higher pixel rate than this. If you believe 960x540 isn't big enough for the type of movie you're looking to produce you can use the drop down menu here to keep the original size. iMovie recommends you use the large format as in theirown words "Selecting large significantly reduces file size with little image quality loss."

Make sure to sort out your event details correctly.
Make sure to sort out your event details correctly.

The final option here is whether you intend to copy or move the files. Again you can save storage space by selecting move.

The process of importing videos and creating events above is the same for every type of importation into iMovie. Having an organised events system is great for reducing the time it takes to find all your video clips.

Capture Footage From MiniDV Tape

If you want to convert a tape into iMovie and use this footage, you are able to do this. After gathering the correct cables and connecting your VCR player to your Mac you need to go to "Import From Camera." At the bottom there is a dropdown bar here switch needs to be set to DV.

Click import in the bottom and select/create a new event as shown above in the previous method. The next step is simple, click play on the VCR, the video will appear on your Mac screen, this is recording the footage in real time. Clicking stop on the VCR will stop the clip and save it to your Mac computer. To finish the process click import in the bottom right. The footage will have been imported into the video area under the event which you selected. At the end of the next article I will show how you can then burn this to a DVD.


Recording a Voiceover With iMovie

For beginners, recording a voiceover may seem like a tough task but really it's quite easy. After dragging a clip into the timeline phase at the top you need to click the microphone button underneath the video preview box. You can also use the default hotkey of O.

This is the handy interface which appears when recording a voiceover
This is the handy interface which appears when recording a voiceover

Clicking on this will bring up a box which lets you configure where to record your audio from. To start recording click on the place in the clip where you want your voiceover to begin. iMovie will then give you a three second countdown and you can start speaking. Clicking again will stop the recording.

Adding voiceovers to clips is a great way to enhance the quality of your movie. You can use this ability to introduce, narrate or even conclude the work you've done. An extra element which can help an awful lot.


It's a Wrap!

In this tutorial I showed you around the iMovie layout to give you a better understanding of where certain tools are located. I explained how to import your clips into various events. This included importing footage from an SD card or recovering footage from a MiniDV tape. I also highlighted was how to record a voiceover to accompany your clips.

With this knowledge you should now be more accustomed to how iMovie works and possesses the foundation skills for creating a final project. Keep an eye on Mactuts+ in the coming days for another tutorial where I will teach you how to customise your content into a complete movie.

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below.

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