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Video Toys: Titles, Transitions, and Effects

The fact that your video clips can be trimmed and organized however you like is a huge improvement over playing back whatever the camera captured. But as an editor, you're going to want more, and iMovie delivers with its array of titles, transitions, and effects.

Gone are the days of setting the video camera so that it burns the date and time onto all of its footage—that's a great feature for FBI surveillance videos, but a distraction for everything else. iMovie's built-in titles let you use any font installed on your Mac and place text onscreen using a variety of animated effects, from a simple centered title to 3D spins to a Star Wars-style crawl into the distance. Simply type the text; choose a font, size, and color; and then drag the title where you want it to appear in the Timeline.

iMovie's transitions go a long way toward adding a professional feel to movies. Although you'll probably want to stick with something subtle such as Cross Dissolve, which blends one clip into the other, you can opt for flashier effects such as twirling one video clip into the middle of the screen or disappearing into a circle (see Figure 4). Again, as with titles, transitions are applied by simply dragging them to the Timeline (see Figure 5).

Figure 4

Figure 4 The Circle Closing transition.

Figure 5

Figure 5 Add a transition by dragging it to the Timeline.

As for effects, you can manipulate video in many ways: set clips to black-and-white, add noise and grain to replicate the look of aged film, adjust color balance, and more. Plenty of experimentation is available for the editor who's looking for something different.

The most exciting thing about these toys is that they're not the exclusive domain of Apple's iMovie development team. Third-party companies have taken iMovie's extensibility and run with it, creating a mini industry of plug-ins. At first, these were collections of more transitions and effects: If you needed one scene to blend into the next by zooming in on the shape of a heart, a plug-in was your solution.

However, plug-ins now add features that Apple never intended to put into the program: picture-in-picture scenes; green-screen matte removal; and one of my favorites, image stabilizers that reduce camera shake. (You can find links to many of these developers at my iMovie Visual QuickStart Guide site.) More powerful (and more expensive) video editing programs such as Final Cut Pro include these features out of the box (and sometimes do a better job), but those cost $1,000 versus around $30 for an iMovie plug-in package.

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