iMovie Transition Tricks
Yes kids, now you can do splendid special effects in iMovie and iMovie2 with Transition Magician! Amaze your friends! This offer will not be made in stores. Send no money…in fact, spend no money, because these tricks are strictly a matter of technique and no hardware or software is required.
Oh, all right. If you want to get picky, you need a DV camcorder, a Mac, and iMovie, but I figure you have those already or you’d be skimming your way to an article you can use. So since you’re still reading, you’ll be pleased to learn you can do a couple of neat things that even the best manuals tell you that you can’t do—or at least, they don’t tell you how to do them.
- Neat Thing #1: Slow Motion with iMovie
- Neat Thing #2: Beam Things Up with iMovie or iMovie2
Both these neat things use a little-known feature of the Cross Dissolve transition. The feature is that if you Cross Dissolve between identical or nearly identical clips, the identical parts don’t change.
Slow Motion Made Easy (Or At Least Cheap)
Yep, there’s a fairly easy way to slow mo with iMovie, if you can tolerate some glaring limitations:
- maximum finished segment length is 4:00 (four seconds)
- only works for powers of 2 (you can run 1/2 speed, 1/4 speed…)
- anything more than 1/2 speed is visibly jerky
In brief, you duplicate the segment you want to slow, then do a Slow Cross-Dissolve transition between them. Since the frames are identical in both clips, the “dissolved” frame pairs are duplicated without any distortion/blending/blurring of the individual images.
In detail, you…
Okay, imagine you finally landed a triple giloolie after twenty eight years of skateboarding, and you want to extend your airtime a bit by the miracle of slow motion videography. Here’s what you do.
Make two duplicates of the clip that includes the segment you want to slow. The clip can be any length, though the segment you slow can’t be more than 2 seconds long. Let’s presume it’s a clip you’ve named SkateTrick.
- Select the clip you want to duplicate. Select Copy from the Edit menu.
- Click the cursor in a free section of the Shelf.
- Select Paste twice in the Edit menu, and two copies will appear in the Shelf, both named SkateTrick.
- Rename the first of these copies SkateTrickFront, and the other SkateTrickBack.
Determine exactly which part of these clips you want in slow motion, and using the scrubber bar, note to the second and frame where that segment begins and ends.
For example (uh, I’m going to presume everybody’s familiar with the basics of clip editing, so I’ll drop the step-by-step routine), if the clip is 06:00 long, and the segment you want to slow begins at 01:15 and ends at 03:05, write that down.
Using Split Clip at Playhead from the Edit menu, split SkateTrickFront at the end of the segment you wish to slow (03:05 in this example) and split SkateTrickBack at the beginning of the segment (01:15). You now have four clips, SkateTrickFront and SkateTrickFront/1, and SkateTrickBack and SkateTrickBack/1.
Move SkateTrickFront and SkateTrickBack/1 to the Movie Track, and discard SkateTrickFront/1 and SkateTrickBack.
Open the Transitions palette, select Cross Dissolve Slow, and set the duration slider to twice the length of the segment you want to slow. In this case it’s 03:05-01:15 = 01:20, and 01:20 x 2 = 03:10.
Sure hope that math wasn’t too fuzzy for y’all. From 01:15 to 03:05 there are 50 frames. 100 frames is 03:10.
Drag the Cross Dissolve Slow icon between SkateTrickFront and SkateTrickBack/1, and wait patiently.
The result is that the frames at the end of SkateTrickFront will be fit with the frames at the beginning of SkateTrickBack/1, rather like a “perfect shuffle” in a pack of cards. Each 1/30th of a second image is printed twice, which slows the movie to 1/2 its previous speed.
It also drops the effective frame rate to 15 frames per second, which is unnoticeable for a short segment. But hey, that’s how Final Cut Pro does it too, and unless you have a video camera that will record at 60 frames per second, this is as good as it’s going to get.
To do quarter-speed slow motion, export your movie back to the camera, or save it to disk as streaming DV (QuickTime Pro required), then Import it back into iMovie and do steps 1) through 6) again.
I suppose you could connect any number of four second segments together to make a longer slow-motion segment, but four seconds is usually too long. Like many other snazzy effects, slow motion should be used sparingly.
Oooh, but you won’t be able to resist overusing this next one.
Beam Things Into Your iMovies
I’m sure there’s a proper technical term for this effect, but since the original Star Trek started using it about six times per episode in the 60s, it’s been colloquially called a “beam.”
The effect is (as if you didn’t know), there’s a scene on the screen, and an actor or monster or object fades into the scene. Cool, right? It was, until you saw it six thousand times. But I’m going to tell you how to do it anyway. No blue screen, no lab work, no special plug-in, no $999 for Final Cut Pro. Just iMovie and Cross Dissolve.
Oh all right. One piece of hardware will make this a lot easier: a tripod. Otherwise, set your camcorder on a stack of library books or something, but don’t bother trying this with a handheld camera unless you’re trying to be terribly avant-garde.
The only limitation of this technique is that the person/monster/object you’re beaming in has to be the only thing moving during that beam-in moment.
Hey, don’t complain. When this was done on Star Trek (the Kirk and Spock version), the people being beamed couldn’t move either. This is way better—the beamee can be in motion, which adds needed realism to an unreal effect. All it took was three decades to get it in the hands of ordinary folks.
Let’s say, for example, you want your cat to materialize from thin air. I don’t know why, maybe you’re doing a documentary on quantum physics, but let’s say that’s what you want to do.
Aim your camcorder at a comfy chair and turn it to Record. Now take your unsuspecting kitty, and being sure to keep yourself out of the picture, toss it onto the chair.
Yes, I love cats— Siamese cats excluded (too much dark meat)— and most cats don’t mind this sort of treatment. They tolerate unusual behavior from humans because cats don’t have opposable thumbs and thus can’t operate the can opener. But toss it gently, don’t spike it like you just scored a touchdown in the Kittycat Superbowl. You could simply set the cat in the chair and then scamper out of the frame if you want to be a real stickler for this kindness-to-animals stuff.
Sorry, I drifted a bit. Back to our lesson.
Let the camcorder run a few more seconds and shut it off. FireWire it to your Mac and save the clip in iMovie. You have an empty chair, then a cat flying in from stage left (honest, my cat liked this part), landing on the chair, and looking at the camera with a feline what-was-that-all-about expression on its face.
Using Split Clip at Playhead, make a clip of the chair and no cat. Then make a clip of the cat, starting at the moment its paws first touch the chair seat. Discard the segment in the middle (the part with the cat in flight).
Drag both clips down to the Movie Track, and connect them with a Cross Dissolve from the Transitions palette. Set the duration to a second or so—any faster than half a second is too quick to appreciate, any longer than two seconds is boring, but YMMV (your mileage may vary).
After the transition has rendered, play the movie. You’ll see an empty chair, a cat fading in gradually from specter to ghost to solid, and then (depending on your cat’s acting ability) looking startled by the success of the matter transmission procedure.
And like all special effects, try not to overuse it. The SPCA may be watching.
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- Create Your Own iPhone Ringtones · February 2012
- Create Your Own Homemade Audio Book · December 2011
- Upgrade to Lion Painlessly · August 2011
- Make the Most of TextEdit · July 2011
- Using the Free Disk Utility on Your Mac · May 2011
- Making Use of QuickTime X · March 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · February 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · January 2011
- Complete Archive