It’ time to review iMovie ’09, the only other piece (apart from iPhoto) that has much interest for me in iLife.
In the interest of full disclosure, I made the move to the Macintosh just so that I could use Final Cut Pro. I learned to edit video on an ancient linear U-matic editor. I learned to edit non-linearly on Adobe Premiere and then stepped up to Final Cut Pro. ( Final Cut Pro is a huge improvement over Premiere  Windows sucks (or at least sucked at the time) as the basis for an editor.)
I’m no pro. not by a long shot, but I have developed the mindset that goes along with the traditional style of video editing.
iMovie ’09 is not at all like that… or, I should say it’s a different paradigm.
iMovie ’09 is the “fixing” of iMovie ’08, the complete new version that introduced the current scrubbing workflow but completely eliminated all the good stuff. For me iMovie ’08 was unusable. ’09 has fixed most of the problems and, once I got my head wrapped around it, works fairly well.
Today, I took some crap footage from my 2005 trip to Taiwan and began to edit it entirely in iMovie ’09. I started by capturing all three Mini-DV tapes from the trip. iMovie had no problem with the import, and it has a very nice feature in that not only does it read the time code and split the videos out into individual clips, but it also organizes them into daily events alà iPhoto. This makes locating and organizing video clips from a large capture much easier.
iMovie shines at rough cut edits, which some editors love, but I typically don’t use. I prefer to make each edit as close to the final edit as possible and this caused me some initial grief in iMovie. What it does best is to allow you to select and grab rough sections of your raw footage and toss it onto the timeline.
That’s great when you’re working at making a sequential piece from disparate clips, like this perhaps: First I toss in a shot of the park, then I grab a picture of my daughter running, then a long shot of a slide, then my daughter climbing a slide, then her sliding down. Makes perfect sense but you’d be surprised at how often you have those clips, but they aren’t in that order, so you’re looking at visual representations of the clips and you scrub a small section as you see them and put them one after the other in the timeline – then you watch and it is painful. The long shot is too long, she takes too long climbing the slide, there’s too much running and she’s facing the opposite direction when she’d climbing the slide.
Here’s where the precision editor kicks in. In the older version, all the editing had to be done with imprecise broad mouse strokes, with the new version, editing can be done with more precise, fine mouse strokes. Zero in on the transition between two clips and move the edit to the precise frame you want, click and the change is made. That’s a huge improvement over ’08, but they go further.
Now you have overlays, which can simulate an A-B roll (Final Cut Pro doesn’t use A-B rolls, either, so I’ve gotten used to the overlay system, but it still foxes some people I know.), green screen, Picture in Picture, narration (with automatic ducking) and separate audio control.
Plugin support for special effects and transitions is missing, so you’re stuck with the provided ones, and there’s still no keyframing mechanism. Keyframing is probably most often used in home movies to rubberband the audio track, although the concept can be applied to application of special effects and other post-production effects. I really miss that, but at least the narration (and other) tracks can be designated to cause other tracks to hide behind them.
Clearly the engineers at Apple figured out that people shoot lots of “event” footage – trips, birthday parties, weddings, etc. and this package is really geared towards trying to polish the typical turds that people with camcorders usually record.
They also figured out that, if you look at YouTube, and subtract all the completely pirated and illegal postings of music videos, there’s a massive number of homemade music videos (usually set to pirated and illegally obtained music.) iMovie’s new edit to the beat feature is phenomenally simple. Simply lay down an audio track, play it back, tapping out the beat with your finger, then start dropping video footage into your project. It’s automatically cut on the beat. Even random footage laid down to the beat of music looks great.
A lot has been said about the new automatic image stabilization feature, which analyzes more of that turd footage and makes it look steady. I’m not so enamored of this feature. In a camcorder, digital image stabilization (as opposed to the good stuff: optical stabilization) has been around for years. It’s a cheat. What it does is capture a larger area (or shrinks your available image area) and then essentially moves the image around based on an algorithm that tries to identify objects that ought to be “fixed”.
iMovie is doing the same thing, only it has no choice except to shrink your original footage to give itself room to work with. In other words, it’s applying digital zoom to your recorded images. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – turn off digital zoom on your camcorders. It makes the pictures look like crap (not just turds). Depending on how unstable your footage is, iMovie has to zoom in enough to compensate. Jerky footage rapidly looses image quality. That said, it does work nicely for slightly unstable footage, although it does make the occasional digital foobar with the image for no apparent reason. Best suggestion, buy a tripod or learn some tricks to stabilize your camera when shooting.
The other digital effects work well. The filters, the speed controls, the titles and transitions all worked smoothly.
It’s not without bugs, though. One bug in particular is nasty. Sometimes when making edits to clips that are already in the timeline, they don’t seem to take, and then the audio starts acting weird, and you can’t undo the changes. After fighting with this for some time, I discovered that if you close iMovie and restart it, the problem goes away and your change is probably still there – but not always.
All-in-all, it should be simple and easy to use for most home users, and once the bug fix is out it should be less frustrating.