iMovie Pre-Keyed Effects And Elements


Since we received such a great response from our last article about iMovie with so many e-mail messages, comments and questions coming in, we decided to do another one. The main reason for our last article was simply to post a movie of falling snow with an alpha transparency for use in your holiday season iMovie projects since we're getting so close to Christmas. Many of you have downloaded it and used it already.

We're starting to use iMovie 9 more and more for various web design projects. We love it because it's so easy to use. It has become so wildly popular that we often see posts from Windows users asking if it's available for the PC! You don't have to be an expert to create cool movies with this excellent piece of software which comes pre-installed on every new Macintosh computer. It's also available for purchase separately from the Mac App Store for your existing or older Mac. If you don't have it yet, think about purchasing the entire iLife 11 package which also includes iPhoto and GarageBand — these applications work together seamlessly with iMovie (note that iLife 11 requires Snow Leopard [Mac OS X 10.6] or Lion [Mac OS X 10.7]).

We're going to talk about pre-keyed effects and elements in this article — short little movie clips with an alpha transparency which you can place over top of a movie sequence to add special effects using iMovie's picture-in-picture function (the terms effects and elements are often used interchangeably and are sometimes mistakenly referred to as transitions). You can find all sorts of pre-keyed effects by doing a search on the Internet. Some are free and there are also some excellent collections which you can purchase online. This is one collection we really like:

Unlike Final Cut Pro, iMovie only allows you to use one pre-keyed effect on a particular movie sequence unless your movie sequence is long enough to allow you to string two or three together, one after another (what we're saying here is that you can't place one picture-in-picture over top of another one however, you can place them side by side if your movie sequence is a longer one). It's a bit of a drawback but iMovie wasn't designed to compete with high-end digital video editing software due to its ease of use (not to mention its modest price tag). You can still add a lot of "bang" to your movie with one pre-keyed effect, however, as you'll see below.

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Our short little sample movie was created with a couple of free pre-keyed effects which we found through an Internet search. The pre-keyed elements we used were lightning bolts and an explosion which were both really well done — you'll be able to find them quite easily on the Internet along with many more effects including bullet holes, muzzle flashes, smoke and all sorts of other nifty "pyrotechnics" to help you blow things up!

If you're not a Three Stooges fan or a pyromaniac and you prefer your movies to be much more "well-behaved", note that pre-keyed movie clips aren't just limited to fire and smoke. You'll be able to find them in all different sizes and flavors for use in family movies, documentaries and almost any other type of movie theme you can possibly imagine.

Rather than re-invent the wheel and explain how to import a pre-keyed element into your project all over again, we'll point you to our previous article which explains exactly how to import the effect without having it show up against a black background (remember to uncheck that "Optimize Video" checkbox). This is the most important step aside from "cueing" the effect in your movie.

Here's how the process works. Import the movie clip you shot with your own digital camera into your iMovie project as you normally do and drag it into your project area. Then import the pre-keyed element you wish to overlay on top of your movie clip using the correct settings as noted above. When the import is complete, drag and drop the pre-keyed element on top of your movie clip. A pop up menu will appear:

Choose Picture In Picture and you'll see the effect appear above your movie clip. Select it and re-size it so that you can line it up with your existing clip and then move the clip to the left or to the right to properly "cue" it (or position it) within your footage. That's all there is to it. Simple as can be. When it comes to adding sound effects, the process is even easier and there are dozens of public domain sound effects available on the Internet.

There actually is a "workaround" for adding more than just one pre-keyed effect to an iMovie sequence. Find your iMovie Projects folder inside of your Movies folder. Inside of that folder, find the project you're currently working on. Highlight it and duplicate it (press Command-D). Open the duplicated project in iMovie and delete the parts you don't need. Then export the sequence which has your pre-keyed effect(s) applied to it. Once the export is complete, open your original project again and import the sequence you just exported back into your original project. Now you can add another pre-keyed effect to it.

Be sure to turn on Advanced Tools before you attempt to do any of this. Here's how to do it:

Once again, we'll point you to Apple's excellent online iMovie tutorial for any help you may need with importing clips (an iLife 08 tutorial which will still help you to use iLife 11):

This Apple link will help to answer any questions you may have about using picture-in-picture (an iLife 09 help link which also applies to iLife 11):

Try not to blow too many things up and Happy iMovie making!

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