iLife '09 continued: My first iMovie '09 video

Nicole Lee took iMovie '09 on a test drive, and here's what she has to show for it. The video is of the Pillow Fight Flash Mob on Valentine's Day 2007.

I spent most of Friday fiddling with iPhoto '09, and you can read my first impressions here. On Saturday, I spent some major quality time with iMovie '09, and I have to say it's pretty easy to grasp. I'm no professional, and I'll admit that I preferred iMovie HD (or the '06 version) to iMovie '08, but it's not too bad. In fact, I created this short little video of the public pillow fight in San Francisco on Valentine's Day 2007 in about three hours (It could've been shorter, but I spent most of the time finding the source material).

As you might recall, when iMovie '08 first debuted, there was quite a substantial outcry in the Mac community. iMovie '08 was drastically different when compared with its predecessors, without a lot of the depth and advanced features to which most Mac users have become accustomed. So much so that Apple made it a point that you could download iMovie '06 (also known as iMovie HD) for free if you missed all the functionality you lost with iMovie '08.

But it appears Apple has listened to user complaints, because iMovie '09 sees the return of many of the features that were missing from iMovie '08. They include dynamic themes, video effects like speed and reverse play, and plenty of new title animations. And of course iMovie '09 has a couple of new features that help replace the missing timeline.

iMovie '09's new precision editor
iMovie '09's new precision editor (Credit: Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive)

Perhaps most interesting of these new features is the addition of a new precision editor window. Right-click on one of your selected clips and select "precision editor" to access it. You will now see that the bottom half of iMovie has been taken over by the precision editor panel.

The precision editor essentially lets you "zoom in" on your video clips, magnifying the sequence of the selected video clip as well as the one preceding it. The selected clip is on the bottom while the preceding clip is above it, and the grayed- out areas are where the clips overlap in the transition. This way you can have better control over the way each clip transitions just by clicking the spot you want to cut.

You also have better control over the audio track, the title animation, and the sound effects--you can change them or move them around, for example. But we still would prefer a more precise manipulation. For example, we wanted to match up an exact part of a song to a specific point in a video clip. We could only do this after a lot of dragging and dropping and trial and error. If we had a timeline, lining them up would be a lot easier. For better transitions and edits, the precision editor works great, but we still miss the timeline.

iMovie '09 now has themes with Apple-provided transitions and title screens.
iMovie '09's advanced drag-and-drop, plus plenty more title animations (Credit: Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive)

iMovie '09 also features an advanced drag-and-drop tool. In iMovie '08, whenever you dragged a clip into your project, it would just insert it. Now when you drag a clip on top of another clip on your project, you're presented with a few options--insert the clip, replace the clip, or just insert the audio. There are also a few ways you can replace the clip: Cutaway, which lets you replace the video but not the audio; Picture-in-Picture, which fills in the new clip in a tiny little window in the corner of the existing clip; and Green Screen, which lets you place the new clip in front or behind the other clip (provided you shot one of the video clips in front of an actual green screen).

If you've ever had a problem with shaky videos, you'll like iMovie '09's video stabilization feature. Just select "Analyze for Stabilization" and iMovie will do its best to analyze every pixel to correct any jerky movements. Bear in mind, though, that if you're using a low-quality camera, it can't fix the blurriness inherent in the hardware. iMovie '09 does promise to stabilize most photos, even the ones taken in a car or a boat. If you want, you can adjust the amount of stabilization in case you want the video to look shakier.

iMovie '09 now has themes with Apple-provided transitions and title screens.
iMovie '09's advanced drag-and-drop, plus plenty more title animations (Credit: Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive)

As we mentioned earlier, themes have come back to iMovie '09. Themes are basically video templates that let iMovie add titles and transitions automatically to your project, without you having to do much to it. If you want, you can go back and manually add theme elements like titles and theme transitions. iMovie '09 has six different themes: Photo Album, Bulletin Board, Comic Book, Scrapbook, Filmstrip, and none. I used the Filmstrip theme in my video above, for example.

Other video effects include Cartoon, Aged Film, Film Grain, and Vignette. These effects give your videos a nice professional finish, without a lot of work. There are also more than 32 title animations, like Lens Flare and Pixie Dust. You can combine the title animations with animated backgrounds or green screen effects if you want. Lastly, you can speed up or slow down a clip with the Speed change slider.

iLife '09 is big into maps with iPhoto '09, and it's no different with iMovie '09. There's now a Maps option, which you can access by hitting the globe icon in iMovie. You can choose from a variety of animated maps to show your location, or if you're shooting a travel video, you can create a map that animates your journey and make your own mini travel documentary.

The last addition to the iMovie '09 application is the ability to edit music, especially when you're making a music video or something that's music-focused. You drop beat markets in a music track, and iMovie '09 will attempt to match the video clip durations to match the markers. Of course if you want fine-tuning, you can use the precision editor.

We're still working on refining the rest of the iLife '09 review, but we'll get some of our screenshots posted shortly.