Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

electric pi


Free QuickTime Movie Software

iMovie Sans the iMac

© 2000 by Dennis R. Dimick

Washington Apple Pi Journal, July/August 2000, pp. 32-35, reprint information

In case you haven't noticed recent television ads for Apple's iMac, the message of late has been this: You can become your own Hollywood mogul, and iMac with its iMovie software can transform you into a movie producer.

That's fine, except for those of us who haven't got a latest model iMac. Even if your Mac is a "colored" G3 or G4 Mac, you haven't been able to get iMovie until now.


When you launch iMovie, a video clip runs to introduce the program. This is the last frame of that "splash screen" movie.

Someone in Apple's corporate suite must have seen the potential in freeing iMovie from the bonds of iMac, for recently Apple posted iMovie, all of it, to its website for free downloading by anyone.

The file download runs about 19 megabytes, so plan on a long wait if you've got a dialup web connection. If you have a Mac of adequate "horsepower" and haven't tried making QuickTime movies yet, iMovie offers a simple and reasonably powerful way to get started.

iMovie overview

Apple's free iMovie program takes over your Mac's desktop. At top right the "bin" holds all files you've imported into iMovie. A timeline, at bottom, shows the sequence and duration of items. The timeline also converts to a "storyboard" so you can see an item-by-item sequence of items in the project. The large window at top left shows the current clip or image you are editing. The transitions window is at lower right: add transitions to a movie by dragging a selected transition to the junction between two clips on the timeline.

Apple makes it sound like the only Macs that will support iMovie are the latest "Firewire" PowerBooks and G4s. If you want to actually use iMovie you will need a powerful recent model Mac with G3 or better processor. (I have run it on a G3/266 desktop Mac.)

Optimally your Mac will have some sort of "Firewire DV" digital video input. Even if your Mac doesn't support DV it is still possible to make movies with iMovie. It will just be a bit harder.


If you have a Mac that doesn't support the DV format, or you don't have the DV parts of QuickTime properly installed, you will get this error box upon launching iMovie. If you don't plan to import DV format media you can just click through this box and keep working.

The Basic Premise

Making QuickTime movies with iMovie is about as simple as it gets. A simple assembly sequence goes like this: 1.) Import video clips, pictures, or audio. 2.) Place and sequence them on a timeline window in the order you want them to appear in your movie. 3.) Add transitions between scenes. A common transition is the "cross-dissolve." 4.) Add titles. 5.) Finally, export the project to a movie file..

Besides owning a DV-equipped iMac which ships with iMovie, the ultimate in ease comes if you have a DV-format video camera and a late model "colored" G3 or G4 desktop Mac. iMovie will let you control the playback and record functions of the video camera through the Firewire connector cable so you can easily transfer video direct to disk from the DV camera.

If you have an older Beige G3 you'll need a separate PCI Firewire card such as those sold by ProMax (www.promax.com). If you choose to add a PCI Firewire card to your older Mac, beware not all cards are created equal, as not all will work well with DV cameras. Apple maintains a list of supported DV cameras and other hardware on its website.

If your Mac doesn't have Firewire DV input, you can still use iMovie, you will just be limited in the media types you can use to make movies. You can use existing QuickTime movies, but you will have to convert them to DV format before iMovie will be able to "see" the files and work with them.

You can convert QuickTime movies to DV format by opening them in the "Pro-Enabled" version of Apple's QuickTime Player and export the files as QuickTime movies in DV format.

Bring on the Effects

iMovie comes with an array of preset titling templates that make it incredibly easy to make the titles on your movies look like those in a Hollywood feature. There's even a template so you can title your movie to look like those "music videos" where the artist and album name appears in the lower left corner of the video window. Other choices include: flying letters and words, rolling credits and typewriter, among others.

If you're into sound effects, iMovie comes with a bunch. You can place these anywhere in the movie soundtrack to add your own special impact: cats meowing, crickets, crowd applause and clapping, dog barking, drum rolls, footsteps, forest rain, glass breaking, honking horns, a whinnying horse, laughing, thunder, a trumpet fanfare, and even a wild laugh.

Sound effects

The sound window lets you choose from a variety of special effects sounds and also gives you controls to record your own voice using the Mac's built-in microphone inputs.

Besides the sounds that come from your videotapes, you can further customize movies by recording "voiceovers" using iMovie and your Mac's microphone. You can also import audio tracks from audio CDs, and this "digital to digital" conversion from CDs causes no quality decline on import to your project.

The transitions offered, though limited in variety, will cover most of the basic needs: cross-dissolve, fade in and out, overlap, push right, and scale down (the first scene gets small and disappears while the new replaces it.)

Help is on the Way

One thing you don't get with iMovie is a printed manual. You can get by without one, because Apple has supplied a reasonably useful and comprehensive online help system.

Not only does online help explain terms specific to digital video and editing movies, but it also explains how to create and set up projects, import media, and organize and manage your source files. You get a complete iMovie tutorial, and an online "walkthrough" on how to assemble and edit a movie.

You also get an introduction to the field of digital movie making, and basic information for setting up your camera and equipment.

How Good Is iMovie?

iMovie may be all most people need to make digital movies. Other more powerful programs such as Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro offer significantly more power, but you have to pay from $600 to $1,000 for them.

For example, iMovie does not allow you to move, or pan, across still images as part of a movie production. iMovie will not allow multiple images in the same frame, such as "picture in picture." Its library of transitions is limited, and it offers no video filters of the type one might find in Premiere, or in an image-processing program like Photoshop.

The real cost of iMovie comes in the hardware requirements. You really do need a very fast recent "colored" G3 or G4 to take full advantage if you don't already own an iMac with DV capability. You'll also need a video camera built on the DV standard. (Apple's website lists DV cameras compatible with Apple's implementation of the Firewire DV standard.)

Still, even if your hardware setup is less, there are ways to take advantage of aspects of what iMovie offers. You just need to be more creative, and understand that slower, older Macs will be limited in what they can do with iMovie, especially if your Mac cannot directly acquire DV format source video.

Pi member Dennis Dimick has been writing about graphics and QuickTime-related subjects for The Journal for nearly eight years. One day, not necessarily soon, he will get a Mac and video camera that support DV. He can be reached via email: ddimick@aol.com

iMovie v.1.02
Digital Video Editing Program
Free from: http://www.apple.com/imovie/download/

Apple's Stated Requirements:

Power Mac G4 or PowerBook FireWire; Mac OS 9.0.4 or later, QuickTime 4.1 or later; 64 megabytes (MB) of random-access memory (RAM); iMovie requires a minimum of 16 MB of free memory.

A CD or DVD drive; 2 gigabytes (GB) of available hard disk space highly recommended. A display that supports 800 x 600 resolution and thousands of colors (1024x 768 and millions of colors recommended). A built-in FireWire (IEEE 1394) port. A 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire cable (for use with DV camcorders).

Return to electric pi

Revised July 1, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/