Reviewing iMovie’s effects

on Sunday, May 31, 2009

For a free program, Apple’s iMovie sure comes with a lot of great features, including some special effects that can quickly transform the look and feel of your video clips. Besides the effects that come with iMovie, you can add effects by installing plug-ins from Apple and third-party software vendors. To view a list of iMovie’s effects, click the Effects button. The Effects pane appears. To preview an effect, just click it in the list of effects. A small preview of the effect appears at the top of the Effects pane, using whatever video is located at the current position of the play head in the timeline.
  • Earthquake: As the name implies, this effect shakes the video image as if an earthquake were happening. Use a short earthquake effect combined with the sound of a large thud when someone falls down in your video.
  • Electricity: This one has a shocking effect on your video by creating a continuous lightning bolt in your video. Use this effect in conjunction with the Electricity sound effect in the Audio pane
  • Fairy Dust: This effect looks more like a burning fuse to me, but the folks at Apple call it “Fairy Dust,” so who am I to argue?
  • Flash: The Flash effect makes the video image flash periodically. Combine the Flash effect with the Earthquake effect to create a more disorienting scene, or combine it with the Aged Film effect to make your video look really old and deteriorated.
  • Fog: Add some mystery to your scene with the Fog effect. This effect is a classic example of an image that is often easier to edit into your video via software than to actually photograph. Use the Fog and Black & White effects together for a film noir look.
  • Ghost Trails: Slight ghost trails are added to moving objects in the video image. Here’s another effect that can be used to make a scene look disorienting.
  • Lens Flare: Lens flares are bright spots or streaks that occur when the sun or another bright light source reflects on the camera lens. You need to avoid lens flares when shooting video, but sometimes you may want to add a lens flare to make a mostly-imaginary scene look “photographed.” Professional moviemakers often add “fake” lens flares to animated or computer-generated images to make the scene look more realistic.
  • Letterbox: Simulate that Hollywood movie “widescreen” look with this effect, which puts a black bar across the top and bottom of the video image. Just keep in mind that the top and bottom of your video image will be cut off.
  • Mirror: iMovie actually offers two Mirror effects that turn half your video picture into a mirror image of the other half. One Mirror effect reflects only horizontally; the other can reflect both horizontally and vertically.
  • N-Square: Ever wonder how a housefly would see your video? The N-Square effect may show just that. This effect divides the screen into squares and copies the video clip to each square. You can adjust the number of squares from four up to 64 as shown in Figure.
  • Rain: Add some fake weather to your scene with this effect. The fake rain drops added to a video clip by this effect show up much better onscreen than real rain, yet the scene still looks realistic. Use this effect in conjunction with the Rain sound effect in the Audio pane.
  • Soft Focus: Simulate a soft filter on the camera with this effect. The Soft Focus effect works well in dream sequences, or to cover up blemishes on a video subject.

Using Video Effects in iMovie


When I mention “special effects,” what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? You’re probably envisioning spaceships soaring between the stars, giant monsters destroying a city, or a superhero soaring unassisted through the sky. Such effects are indeed special, but they only scratch the surface of how effects can be used in movies. Special effects can
  • Transport the viewer to a different place and time.
  • Show subjects that would be otherwise impossible or too expensive to photograph.
  • Change the mood or feel of a piece of video.
  • Add visual excitement or a sense of the exotic. Special effects aren’t all about spaceships and monsters. Consider the scene in Figure. I have used a Mirror effect in iMovie to create a kaleidoscopic image. This effect would look right at home in a music-video-style project.

Generating background music with SmartSound


Pinnacle Studio comes with a tool called SmartSound, which can automatically generate music in a variety of styles to match your project. To generate some music from SmartSound, open a project in Studio and choose Toolbox➪ Generate Background Music. The audio toolbox appears. SmartSound offers music in a variety of styles. Each style includes several songs; most have a few different styles available. Click the Preview button to preview a style, song, and version. When generating background music, figure out approximately how long you want the musical piece to play. For example, when the three sample clips are placed in the timeline, their total length is a little more than 21 seconds. Adjust the duration of the music by typing a new time in the Duration box (in the upper-right corner of the audio toolbox). When you click Add to Movie, SmartSound automatically generates a piece of music in the chosen style, song, and version, and it plays for approximately the duration you chose. You can also name the selection if you want, using the Name field at the top of the toolbox.
One advantage of SmartSound’s automatically generated music is that you can use it without paying royalties every time someone views your movie. Even so, remember that SmartSound does have some licensing restrictions. They’re worth reviewing before you use them in a movie you plan to show to the public. For SmartSound license details, click the SmartSound button in the Studio audio toolbox.