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iLife Review Feature: iMovie ’11

The second in our series of iLife Reviews, iMove '11 gets a good seeing to.

iMovie had an image problem. When Apple revamped its movie editing software in 2007, subsequent versions were measured – inevitably unfavourably – against the more traditional iMovie HD  from 2006.
But iMovie ’11 finally casts aside the ghost of iMovie’s past. It not only adds a host of new features, but restores some old favourites. Let’s start with the new. The ‘Movie Trailers’ feature, which lets you quickly create short movie previews based on professional-looking templates, might sound gimmicky, but it’s huge fun. Each trailer template, styled in a different genre, and featuring symphonic background music, features an editable storyline that you can use to construct the trailer’s story. The storyline includes dummy images called animatics to help you mix the type of shots to use. This all makes trailers easy to create and can make a beginner feel like a budding Kubrick or Capra. Which is what, surely, iMovie is all about.
Movie Trailers has a practical purpose too. Not only can you turn a trailer into a fully editable project via a menu command, but you can use its features elsewhere in the program. Animatics, now sharing panel space with backgrounds and maps, can be dragged to any project to help plot its story. You can add effects, transitions and titles to the animatics and switch them with real video at any point.

Click to view larger image

The arrival of Animatics ties in with iMovie’s new People Finder. This scans footage – quickly and accurately – to find the number of people in a shot and its type: close-up, medium or wide shot. You can then filter footage according to this. That comes in handy when you’re looking for a particular shot to replace an animatics clip you’ve storyboarded.

Adding some simple effects is now much easier through One Step Effects, collected in a new Clip menu. To apply an effect such as slow motion or instant replay to a project in iMovie ’09 meant duplicating the original clip and using the Inspector to adjust the duplicated track to your needs. Now a simple menu

command adds the effect to a selected area of the project, and if you’re adding a replay effect it’ll even add the ‘Instant Replay’ title in the clip for you. Even better, because One Step Effects simplifies standard effects, you can edit them and their associated titles later.
There are minor but useful improvements to iMovie ’09’s editing features. One of the better ones is a new ‘Side by Side’ effect, which shows two video shots simultaneously; one in each half of the screen.
For all the impressiveness of the new arrivals it’s the simple return of old iMovie features that will delight many. In particular, iMovie ’11 sees the return the timeline. With a simple button click you can switch the project view to a single horizontal view, at a stroke making the program more intuitive for those weaned on traditional digital editors.
And at last, too, you can once again edit audio within movie clips. Since iMovie ’08, you could only adjust audio universally across an entire clip: to do anything more refined you’d need to split your project into tiny individual clips or detach the audio track to edit it in another program. No longer. With a click of the Waveform button in the Project window you can see a clip’s audio displayed below it and adjust a selected area’s volume by dragging the volume bar up and down. Adjusting fades is as easy as it was in iMovie 6: just drag the handles around the volume adjustment to adjust its fade in and out points.
That isn’t the only improvement made to audio. A slider in the Audio Inspector reduces background noise – for example gusts of wind – and for more granular control, an audio equaliser is also available with a clutch of presets for common audio adjustments. iMovie ’11 also includes a clutch of audio effects, which range from the kitschy ‘Cosmic’ to more useful filters that can change how sound appears to be in different environments; useful, we imagine for budget productions recorded in broom-cupboard sets that want to sound a little more professional.
Are there any flaws in iMovie ’11? Only a couple: we still found it occasionally a little sluggish switching between large projects, and you can’t edit AVCHD video: iMovie still needs to transcode it before it can be used.
Still, iMovie ’11 is a triumph. Nearly everything in iMovie ’06 is here, just done better and even more intuitively.