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ATPM 7.02
February 2001


How To



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How To

by Jamie McCornack,

iMovie Transition Tricks

Yes kids, now you can do splendid special effects in iMovie and iMovie2 with Transition Magician! Amaze your friends! This offer will not be made in stores. Send no money…in fact, spend no money, because these tricks are strictly a matter of technique and no hardware or software is required.

Oh, all right. If you want to get picky, you need a DV camcorder, a Mac, and iMovie, but I figure you have those already or you’d be skimming your way to an article you can use. So since you’re still reading, you’ll be pleased to learn you can do a couple of neat things that even the best manuals tell you that you can’t do—or at least, they don’t tell you how to do them.

Both these neat things use a little-known feature of the Cross Dissolve transition. The feature is that if you Cross Dissolve between identical or nearly identical clips, the identical parts don’t change.

Slow Motion Made Easy (Or At Least Cheap)

Yep, there’s a fairly easy way to slow mo with iMovie, if you can tolerate some glaring limitations:

  • maximum finished segment length is 4:00 (four seconds)
  • only works for powers of 2 (you can run 1/2 speed, 1/4 speed…)
  • anything more than 1/2 speed is visibly jerky

In brief, you duplicate the segment you want to slow, then do a Slow Cross-Dissolve transition between them. Since the frames are identical in both clips, the “dissolved” frame pairs are duplicated without any distortion/blending/blurring of the individual images.

In detail, you…

Okay, imagine you finally landed a triple giloolie after twenty eight years of skateboarding, and you want to extend your airtime a bit by the miracle of slow motion videography. Here’s what you do.

  1. Make two duplicates of the clip that includes the segment you want to slow. The clip can be any length, though the segment you slow can’t be more than 2 seconds long. Let’s presume it’s a clip you’ve named SkateTrick.

    • Select the clip you want to duplicate. Select Copy from the Edit menu.
    • Click the cursor in a free section of the Shelf.
    • Select Paste twice in the Edit menu, and two copies will appear in the Shelf, both named SkateTrick.
    • Rename the first of these copies SkateTrickFront, and the other SkateTrickBack.
  2. Determine exactly which part of these clips you want in slow motion, and using the scrubber bar, note to the second and frame where that segment begins and ends.

    For example (uh, I’m going to presume everybody’s familiar with the basics of clip editing, so I’ll drop the step-by-step routine), if the clip is 06:00 long, and the segment you want to slow begins at 01:15 and ends at 03:05, write that down.

  3. Using Split Clip at Playhead from the Edit menu, split SkateTrickFront at the end of the segment you wish to slow (03:05 in this example) and split SkateTrickBack at the beginning of the segment (01:15). You now have four clips, SkateTrickFront and SkateTrickFront/1, and SkateTrickBack and SkateTrickBack/1.

  4. Move SkateTrickFront and SkateTrickBack/1 to the Movie Track, and discard SkateTrickFront/1 and SkateTrickBack.

  5. Open the Transitions palette, select Cross Dissolve Slow, and set the duration slider to twice the length of the segment you want to slow. In this case it’s 03:05-01:15 = 01:20, and 01:20 x 2 = 03:10.

    Sure hope that math wasn’t too fuzzy for y’all. From 01:15 to 03:05 there are 50 frames. 100 frames is 03:10.

  6. Drag the Cross Dissolve Slow icon between SkateTrickFront and SkateTrickBack/1, and wait patiently.

The result is that the frames at the end of SkateTrickFront will be fit with the frames at the beginning of SkateTrickBack/1, rather like a “perfect shuffle” in a pack of cards. Each 1/30th of a second image is printed twice, which slows the movie to 1/2 its previous speed.

It also drops the effective frame rate to 15 frames per second, which is unnoticeable for a short segment. But hey, that’s how Final Cut Pro does it too, and unless you have a video camera that will record at 60 frames per second, this is as good as it’s going to get.

To do quarter-speed slow motion, export your movie back to the camera, or save it to disk as streaming DV (QuickTime Pro required), then Import it back into iMovie and do steps 1) through 6) again.

I suppose you could connect any number of four second segments together to make a longer slow-motion segment, but four seconds is usually too long. Like many other snazzy effects, slow motion should be used sparingly.

Oooh, but you won’t be able to resist overusing this next one.

Beam Things Into Your iMovies

I’m sure there’s a proper technical term for this effect, but since the original Star Trek started using it about six times per episode in the 60s, it’s been colloquially called a “beam.”

The effect is (as if you didn’t know), there’s a scene on the screen, and an actor or monster or object fades into the scene. Cool, right? It was, until you saw it six thousand times. But I’m going to tell you how to do it anyway. No blue screen, no lab work, no special plug-in, no $999 for Final Cut Pro. Just iMovie and Cross Dissolve.

Oh all right. One piece of hardware will make this a lot easier: a tripod. Otherwise, set your camcorder on a stack of library books or something, but don’t bother trying this with a handheld camera unless you’re trying to be terribly avant-garde.

The only limitation of this technique is that the person/monster/object you’re beaming in has to be the only thing moving during that beam-in moment.

Hey, don’t complain. When this was done on Star Trek (the Kirk and Spock version), the people being beamed couldn’t move either. This is way better—the beamee can be in motion, which adds needed realism to an unreal effect. All it took was three decades to get it in the hands of ordinary folks.

Let’s say, for example, you want your cat to materialize from thin air. I don’t know why, maybe you’re doing a documentary on quantum physics, but let’s say that’s what you want to do.

Aim your camcorder at a comfy chair and turn it to Record. Now take your unsuspecting kitty, and being sure to keep yourself out of the picture, toss it onto the chair.

Yes, I love cats— Siamese cats excluded (too much dark meat)— and most cats don’t mind this sort of treatment. They tolerate unusual behavior from humans because cats don’t have opposable thumbs and thus can’t operate the can opener. But toss it gently, don’t spike it like you just scored a touchdown in the Kittycat Superbowl. You could simply set the cat in the chair and then scamper out of the frame if you want to be a real stickler for this kindness-to-animals stuff.

Sorry, I drifted a bit. Back to our lesson.

Let the camcorder run a few more seconds and shut it off. FireWire it to your Mac and save the clip in iMovie. You have an empty chair, then a cat flying in from stage left (honest, my cat liked this part), landing on the chair, and looking at the camera with a feline what-was-that-all-about expression on its face.

Using Split Clip at Playhead, make a clip of the chair and no cat. Then make a clip of the cat, starting at the moment its paws first touch the chair seat. Discard the segment in the middle (the part with the cat in flight).

Drag both clips down to the Movie Track, and connect them with a Cross Dissolve from the Transitions palette. Set the duration to a second or so—any faster than half a second is too quick to appreciate, any longer than two seconds is boring, but YMMV (your mileage may vary).

After the transition has rendered, play the movie. You’ll see an empty chair, a cat fading in gradually from specter to ghost to solid, and then (depending on your cat’s acting ability) looking startled by the success of the matter transmission procedure.

And like all special effects, try not to overuse it. The SPCA may be watching.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (19)

Tyler Witbrod · April 14, 2001 - 13:15 EST #1
In iMovie 2 at least there is an easier way to do slow motion. Click on a clip and, down at the bottom, there is a slider where you can speed it up or slow it down.
anonymous · April 28, 2001 - 23:23 EST #2
What is Tyler Witbrod talking about? I don't see this slider. How come only Tyler and Jeff Goldblum know how to do this?
QB · May 3, 2001 - 16:30 EST #3
You have to be in the mode where you can see the audio tracks before the Slo-Mo slider will show up on the iMovie screen.
anonymous · July 6, 2001 - 18:26 EST #4
The slow-motion (or fast-motion option, for that matter) is only available in iMovie 2. All you have to do is make sure you're viewing the timeline (both audio and video tracks are present).
Curly · August 20, 2001 - 10:07 EST #5
Does anyone know how to fade a section of audio track without having to split it and insert a quieter section? If, for example, someone on the video track starts to speak and you want to fade out the soundtrack music you're adding, just for a few seconds. Can this be done?
Matt · October 17, 2001 - 21:27 EST #6
iMovie 1 has the slow-motion and fast-motion option too. iMovie 2 is just a beefed up version with cooler transitions. Curly, try a shareware audio program that lets you modify the volume of your audio track. This is best done on an AIFF, not an mp3. I use Felt Tip Audio whenever I mess around with stuff.
Chris · December 8, 2001 - 13:23 EST #7
Does anyone know of places where I can get more transitions or effects for iMovie? Cheap to free would be best.
Titeo · November 4, 2002 - 15:58 EST #8
Hi. I would like to know where you can download iMovie transitions. Please let me know, and it is a pleasure to have you let me know about iMovie. Thank you!
Cal Hanlon · December 15, 2002 - 01:57 EST #9
I hate the slow motion sound in iMovie. It doesn't stretch it out and make it sound all deep and cool. It just chops it up and puts it in. Is there any way of getting the real slow motion sound--for example, if any of you skateboard, when somebody lands a trick and then it's like OHHHHHHHH real slow and deep? Please help me and tell me how to do this or what plug-in to get. Thanks a ton.
Annie Blick · June 19, 2003 - 11:41 EST #10
In iMovie 3, I cannot insert an edit or, as Apple calls it, paste over at playhead. I want to loose the audio of the small pasted clips and retain unbroken sound in the longer clip. My insert clip always has its sound with it. I don't remember this problem with iMovie 2. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · June 22, 2003 - 20:47 EST #11
Annie - open up iMovie 3's Preferences and make sure the option to "Extract audio in paste over" is checked. Now, when you paste in smaller clips, the pasted clip's audio will be extracted to the second audio track where you can delete it if you don't want it.
Bob · July 18, 2003 - 15:39 EST #12
I would also like to know where I can get free or cheap transitions, effects, etc. for iMovie3. I would appreciate any info.


Don · August 31, 2003 - 11:20 EST #13
You can get some free 'Slick' samples at GeeThree. Click on downloads, then sampler. I bought volume three for $50 and it has more than I'll ever use.
Bill Shaw · February 1, 2004 - 02:36 EST #14
After importing video from DV to my iMac (the playback worked before), I had video clips but no audio clips or sound on playback. Did I somehow turn the audio off?
anonymous · November 3, 2004 - 19:50 EST #15
Get real Editing Tool like

Final Cut Pro


Danielle Tan · May 14, 2008 - 05:03 EST #16
I'd like to know if I can get free transitions and effects for iMovie 08? I read somewhere that cfx transitions don't work!
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · May 14, 2008 - 09:26 EST #17
Danielle (and others who have asked) - there have already been answers about finding more transitions and effects for iMovie. Please have a look through past comments to find them. For example, my own comment, #9 above, from November 4, 2002.
Danielle Tan · May 14, 2008 - 09:48 EST #18
Lee, I did see your comment, and I also tried it. But when i downloaded a transition and tried to figure out how to use it on my version of iMovie, it said that it will not work on my version.
So I was wondering if it is at all possible for me to download any transitions that would work with iMovie 08.

Thank you!
Sophie · April 25, 2009 - 10:59 EST #19
Thankyou ... you saved me in creating a flawless loop.

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