Tutorial: Video Editing in iMovie

This will be more of a walkthrough and reference for the iMovie application than a tutorial. We will not be supplying video source files. If you like, check out these Apple training resources and videos that walk you through the basics of iMovie '11 and try them for yourself!

Make sure to enable iMovie menu > Preferences > General panel > Show Advanced Tools and iMovie menu > Preferences > Browser > Show Fine Tuning controls for the best experience.

The Event Library

This is the iMovie Event Library, where your raw clips are stored and arranged in folders called Events (usually date-based). Clicking the top-right hard drive icon reveals/hides the various disk drives available for your use.

If you plug in an external hard drive and import your video clips onto the external drive instead of the internal drives, it's easier to work on your project from multiple computers (i.e. if it is a group project).

You can import your own videos from camera or computer. If you don't have your own video clips to work with, you can download sample clips from sources of high-quality public domain videos, like Archive.org or The White House (all White House videos are available for free download as MP4 files which can then be imported into iMovie).

When you import clips into iMovie, it will ask to which Event you wish to add the clips, as well as whether to import them at Large or Full (Original) Size. Select Large to save space or Full for best quality video.

The Toolbar

Now let's take a look at the main features of the iMovie interface. You can always hover your mouse cursor over the buttons in iMovie to get a hint about what they are. Here are some buttons on the left side of the toolbar:

Camera Import: This opens the window for handling video imports from your camcorder or webcam. To import video files instead, use File Menu > Import > Movies.

Swap Events and Projects: This button just changes the position of the Project Library and Event Library panels. "Traditional" video editing software interfaces usually have the raw clips in the top left and the editing area in the bottom right.

Thumbnail Size: This slider controls the size of the Event and Project thumbnails. If you want see more of the overall project, slide left to zoom out. If you want to see more details of a specific section, slide right to zoom in.

Here are the buttons in the center of the iMovie toolbar:

Arrow: This is the basic tool to have enabled so you can select and move clips.

Edit Tool: You can use this to add clips to your project. Select a portion of a clip from an Event and then click the Edit tool to add it to the end of your project. (You can also drag clips to exactly where you want it in your project using the Arrow tool.

Favorite Tool: Use this to mark a select clip as a "Favorite" which then will be indicated by a green line under your clip in the Events Browser. It's good practice to watch through all of your raw clips and mark all of your good shots so you don't forget to use them. You can then select View Menu > Favorites or View Menu > Favorites and Unmarked to filter your raw clips.

Unmark Tool: Use this to remove the Favorite or Rejected indicator from a clip.

Reject Tool: Use this to mark a select clip as a "Reject" which then will be indicated by a red line under your clip in the Events Browser. It's good practice to watch through all of your raw clips and mark all of your bad shots so you don't accidentally use them. You can then select View Menu > Favorites or View Menu > Favorites and Unmarked to only show the raw clips that are usable.

Keyword Tool: You can add keywords to clips so that you can keep track of what's in the clip. Clips with keywords associated with them have a blue line above them in the Events Browser. For example, you may want to mark all of the clips that have a dog in them, and a separate keyword for every clip that has a car in it. Then you can easily search using Window Menu > Show Keyword Filter to show only clips of "dog" or "car."

Record a Voiceover: This opens up a control panel for you to record a narration audio track.

Crop, Rotate, and Ken Burns: This tool opens up in the main viewing canvas so you can choose how to size a clip in relation to the rest of the project. If you select the Ken Burns option, you will see a green Start rectangle and a red End rectangle to indicate how the video will zoom during the duration of the clip. This can be a useful way to create a sense of motion even if your video was shot on a tripod and you did not adjust any camera settings during the original recording. Click each rectangle's outline to define its size.

Inspector: This opens up the Inspector panel which enables you to control many powerful options for clip, including video effects (black and white, dreamy look, etc), audio effects (robotic, echo, radio static), speed (slo-mo, timelapse), stabilization, brightness and color correction, and audio volume and fades.

Here is the audio section of the iMovie toolbar: 

The left button toggles whether you want the audio to playback when you're scrubbing across video clips. Sometimes that gets pretty annoying so you may want to click the button. The green meters tell you the volume level of your audio clips, independent of the volume you have set for your headphones or speakers.  If your audio causes the two rightmost dots to light up red, iMovie is warning you that the volume of the clips is set too loud. Adjust these values in the Audio tab of the Inspector panel until the red dots stop lighting up during playback.

Here are the various palettes you can access from the rightmost end of the iMovie toolbar.  Take note that you can also access these palettes from the Window menu, and the fifth button is not available in iMovie '08.

Music and Sound Effects: This panel enables you to access audio clips from your iLife and iTunes libraries. To use audio files from other sources, just drag them directly onto the clip in your project where you want that sound or music to start.

Photos: This panel helps you access images in your iPhoto library. To use image files from other sources, just drag them directly into your project where you want that image to display.

Titles: This panel allows you to add animated text and title screens to your video. Hover your mouse cursor over a title to preview its animation. Then click and drag the one you want to a spot in your project. As soon as you drop it down, you will have a chance to edit the text of it. Titles and text can be very useful, but don't overly rely on them to tell the story. Instead, use action in your video to convey the ideas.

Transitions: This panel gives you options for adding animated transitions between clips in your project. Common ones are the simple Cross Dissolve and Fade to Black. Remember that you don't have to use a transition between every single clip. The straight cut (with nothing fancy between the end of one clip and the start of the next one) is by far the most common type of transition in TV and movies.

Maps, Backgrounds, and Animatics: This panel gives you access to a number of specialized motion graphics elements, such as 3D maps of the world and animated backgrounds.

The Project Library

Here is the iMovie Project pane where all of the editing occurs. It is currently displaying a project in progress:

Let's take a look at just a single clip in the project. It is layered with a number of indicators:  

Surrounding the iMovie clip above are the following elements:

  • the "Intro" tag is a chapter mark (mainly useful if you're outputting for DVD)
  • the "Find better shot?" tag is a comment, the leftmost icon represents a themes transition
  • the rightmost icon represents a cross-dissolve transition
  • the bottom green bar represents an audio track
  • the black sun icon indicates that the clip has had some video adjustments applied to it through the Inspector
  • the black speaker icon indicates that the clip has had some audio adjustments applied to it through the Inspector. Muted clips have no "sound waves" emitting from the speaker icon.
  • the black crop icon indicates that the clip has had some cropping, rotation, or zoom effects applied to it using the Crop tool.
  • the blue arrows icons at the bottom of the clip are handles for fine-tune editing of the clips. If you don't see them in your instance of iMovie, iMovie menu > Preferences > Browser > Show Fine Tuning controls are enabled.
  • the blue gear icon at the bottom of the clip opens up various controls, including the Precision Editor and Clip Trimmer tools.

If you don't see some of the described features in your instance of iMovie, make sure to enable iMovie menu > Preferences > General panel > Show Advanced Tools.

Exporting & Sharing

You have a variety of options for exporting your edited movie. This walkthrough will cover YouTube as probably the most popular option. To start the process, select Share Menu > YouTube to get this dialog box:

Under "Size to publish," notice that higher-resolution / higher quality versions are listed near the bottom of the list. We recommend selecting the highest quality possible.

Make sure to uncheck the "Make this movie personal" box, or else nobody will be able to see your creation on YouTube because it will be considered Personal or Private!

Click Next after filling in the relevant details and iMovie should take care of the rest of the details, including supplying you with a URL to your uploaded movie on YouTube.


For more project-based learning about this software application, the Apple Training Series for iLife 11 paperback with companion DVD is available.