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Creating an iMovie Slide Show

Apple’s winning iPhoto software makes it easy not only to collect and categorize your digital photos, but also to create slide shows that feature blended transitions between pictures and an accompanying sound track. However, iPhoto is available only under Mac OS X. Although other applications under Mac OS 9, such as iView MediaPro, offer slide show capabilities, I use a handy program that came with my Mac to create nifty slide shows: Apple’s iMovie 2.


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Now, iMovie doesn’t even pretend to have all the picture management tools available in iPhoto, but it does let you create QuickTime slide shows, DVDs (if you have iDVD or DVD Studio Pro), and even videotapes of your photo collection. You can employ professional-looking transitions such as wipes and dissolves, add audio and text narration, and lay down a soundtrack that works in conjunction with the photos. Because iMovie can make QuickTime movies and export to video, you can send narrated stories of your adventures to people with or without computers.

This article is a step-by-step introduction to creating a professional slide show using iMovie 2. Although designed primarily to capture and edit digital video, iMovie can also import still images and turn them into video clips, which can then be edited using all of iMovie’s controls. By taking advantage of this feature, we can build a movie composed of many still images.

I’m going to assume that you’ve already transferred the photos from your digital camera (or scanned print photos if you don’t have a digital still camera) to a folder on your hard drive. And, of course, I’m assuming that you have iMovie, which has been included free with every FireWire-equipped Mac since July 2000; the Mac OS 9 version of iMovie 2 is also available for $50 from the Apple Store.


Start the Show — A random collection of photos is fine when they’re spread out across the dining room table, but a great slide show tells a story. Start by coming up with a narrative for an event such as a birthday party or a vacation. Let’s assume that you’ve spent the day taking pictures of your child’s birthday party and you want to share the experience with grandparents who live somewhere else.

When you launch iMovie, it prompts you to create a new movie project. Call it something meaningful, like "Third Birthday." At first your project is empty, so use the File menu’s Import File option to navigate to the folder containing your photos. You can import each file individually, but it’s easier to select all the files by pressing Command-A, which highlights all the files. After you click the Import button and wait a few minutes (depending on how many pictures you’re importing), the images appear as thumbnail clips in the right section of iMovie’s interface, also called the Shelf. At this point, the photos haven’t yet been added to a movie; the Shelf acts like a holding pen.

Assemble the Cast — As you look at thumbnails in the Shelf, start thinking about which photos to use and the order in which your slides will appear. One of the dirty secrets of digital video is that because it is now so cheap, people tend to shoot far more footage than they can use; a typical movie may have five to six times more film than what appears in the final product. The same is true of most slide shows. Thankfully, you don’t have to extract sections of scenes – just choose the pictures you want.

To start building your movie, drag and drop your chosen thumbnails to the bar at the bottom of the screen, which is called the Clip Viewer, keeping in mind that the movie will play from left to right. You can reorder the movie by dragging and dropping pictures to other locations in the Clip Viewer.

iMovie assigns a default time of five seconds to each picture, indicated by the numbers that appear at the top of the clip. If you want to modify the length of time a picture is displayed, select the clip and change the value in the Time field at the top of the Clip Viewer. (iMovie uses timecode notation for clip length, so a length of five seconds looks like this: "00:05:00". Broken down, this reads as "zero minutes, five seconds, and zero frames" – since each second of video is comprised of 30 frames, a number such as "00:12:26" would be zero minutes, twelve seconds, and twenty-six frames, or just four frames shy of becoming thirteen seconds.)

At this point, you’ve created a basic slide show. Using the controls in the Monitor (the main window), play your slide show from start to finish, or scroll forward and back through the movie by dragging the Playhead (the small triangular control located just below the Monitor’s screen). It’s a pretty boring slide show so far, though, so the following steps will make it much cooler.

Adding Titles — Let’s start by adding a main title to the slide show. Click the Titles button at the bottom of the Shelf to display the Titles panel, which shows a list of available title styles. Clicking an item in the list shows a rough example in the preview window at the top of the panel, so feel free to click each one to see the different styles. Let’s use Centered Multiple, which displays several lines of text, faded in and out in series. Type the name of your slide show in the text fields below the title list; iMovie shows only two lines at a time in this title style, which is why the fields are broken out in pairs. The second set can be used to enter the date of the event, some comments, or whatever you choose. Click the plus-sign button to add another set of two lines. Since this is the title of the entire slide show, we want it to appear on its own instead of piggybacking on one of the slide images, so click the checkbox labeled Over Black. When you’re satisfied with the results, use drag & drop to place the title name (Centered Multiple) at the beginning of the slide show. Now you’ve added a professional intro. A small black bar appears on the bottom of the clip’s thumbnail, with a red bar inching across to indicate the progress of rendering the title clip. Don’t worry, you can work with other pictures while this is going on.

Adding titles to individual slides follows the same process, but without enabling the Over Black option. Instead, select a thumbnail in the Clip Viewer and choose another title style; type the title; choose options for font, size, color, and duration using the controls in the Titles pane; and drag the title style at the position just to the left of the picture it will appear on. iMovie overlays titles on top of clips, so if the title’s duration is longer than the clip, the title overlaps the next clip or creates a new clip if it’s at the end of the movie.

Adding Transitions — By now, our slides appear in the order we want, and many of them include titles. However, each slide image appears abruptly one after another, so let’s make our show a little more interesting. The biggest "ooh-ahh" factor in old Kodak projector slide shows was elicited by two projectors blending into each other’s image, so let’s use the Overlap transition to create the same effect. Click the Transitions button in the Shelf to view the list of available transitions and select Overlap. Specify the effect’s duration by dragging the Speed slider. When you’re satisfied with the effect shown in the preview window, drag the transition to the space between the two slides where you want the effect. iMovie inserts a transition icon in the Clip Viewer and renders the transition.

Adding Narration — At this point you have the equivalent of a silent film, so let’s turn it into a talkie. Click the Audio button in the Shelf to bring up the Audio panel. Before you begin speaking, position the Playhead in the Monitor window at the point where the narration will begin. Using a built-in or external microphone connected to your Mac, click the Record Voice button to record some dialog about a particular image. Click Stop when you are done.

As iMovie recorded your voice, it switched to the Timeline Viewer, which displays more detail about when clips start and stop. As you record, a small orange bar appears on the audio track portion of the timeline. Click the segment to find out how long your voice clip was. If you want to match the image’s duration to that of the narration, select the picture’s clip, switch to the Clip Viewer, and edit the Time field. Repeat this for every slide you want to add narration. If you want to add sound effects, iMovie provides some fun ones that you can drag onto the Timeline or Clip Viewers.

Adding a Soundtrack — The last step is to add a score to your slide show. You can import audio files in AIFF or MP3 formats, which appear as purple bars in iMovie’s second sound track area. Position the Playhead at the point you want the music to begin, then use the Import File command under the File Menu to navigate to the folder containing your music and import a clip. If the music is too long, you can shorten it by dragging the triangle on the far right of the song clip. Unlike iPhoto, you can add more music clips where you want.

You’re done! You’ve created a professional looking slide show. Now, it’s time to release it to the world at large.

Exporting the Movie — How should you pull your slide show out of iMovie? If you are going to send it via email or post it on the Web, export the show as an appropriately sized QuickTime movie. If your recipients don’t have a computer, consider sending them a videotape or DVD.

Select Export Movie from the File menu and select QuickTime from the pop-up menu at the top of the dialog box that appears. iMovie includes some commonly used settings for exporting to different movie sizes, such as Web Movie, Email movie, or CD-ROM movie. The higher the quality, the more disk space the movie will occupy, so make sure you have a powerful enough machine and sufficient disk space.

If you are making a videotape, you have two options. Export a QuickTime movie using the To Camera or For iDVD export options and then copy it to a regular videotape recorder, or record directly from your computer. The first approach gives you the best quality, since you’re recording from either a MiniDV tape or DVD. The latter option requires your Mac to be equipped with a video-out port and the appropriate RCA style cables that plug into your VCR. From the iMovie monitor, click on the full screen mode and press record on your VCR. It may take a few tries to synchronize the two actions.

Either way, you’ve put together a slide show that’s more interesting than most of what’s created in business presentation programs, and which didn’t require upgrading to Mac OS X or purchasing third-party software. And in the process, hopefully, you’ve discovered that iMovie can be a fun tool to use, even if you don’t own a digital camcorder.

[Charles Wu splits his time between Mountain View, CA and Denver, CO and is currently a member of the redundant economy, contemplating either business school or returning to the work force. His last position was as a Technical Marketing manager, and in the past has worked as a software engineer, product manager and in business development for various technology companies. However, he is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up and is entertaining any interesting ideas. In his spare time he runs a restaurant review site for Denver called Zig Zag Club.]



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