Creating a Digital Story with iMovie ’11

Apple’s iMovie ’11 is powerful but easy-to-use video editing software that comes preloaded on all new Mac computers as part of the iLife series of applications. iMovie is simple to use yet provides everything needed to make professional-looking movies. It’s also a powerful tool for creating digital stories.

Interface Overview

The iMovie interface is divided into six areas for viewing, organizing, and editing video.

imovie interface

  1. The PROJECT LIBRARY lists all the iMovie projects you’ve created. While working on a project, this area becomes your TIMELINE where you put together pictures, video clips, music, and more to create your digital story.
  2. The VIEWER is where your digital story preview plays.
  3. The TOOLBAR is where many of the tools and controls you need are located.
  4. The EVENT LIBRARY lists all the events you’ve recorded on video and imported into iMovie.
  5. The EVENT BROWSER shows the contents of the events you’ve selected in the Event Library.
  6. The MEDIA & EFFECTS BROWSER shows your iLife media content and available transitions and titles.

The steps below outline how to create a digital story using iMovie. Although they are written for iMovie ’11, they should work equally well with iMovie ’08 or ’09.

STEP 1: Start a New Project

To begin a new project in iMovie, go to File > New Project…

imovie new project

☉ Give your new project a name.
☉ Choose your aspect ratio (standard or widescreen).
☉ Choose “No Theme” to start with a blank project.
☉ Uncheck the option to automatically add a transition effect.
☉ Click the “Create” button.

STEP 2: Set picture import settings

Ken Burns is a zoom and pan motion effect often used with photos in video projects. This effect is often turned on in iMovie by default and is applied to every picture imported into a project. You may not want this effect applied to every picture in your digital story, so we’ll deselect it in the project settings. You may choose to use this feature for select photos later in the creative process. We’ll also lengthen the default duration of photos.

To change the default picture import settings, go to File > Project Properties…

imovie project properties

☉ Set Initial Photo Placement and Initial Video Placement to “Crop”.
☉ Set the default duration of each photo to “5.0s” and “Applies to all photos”.

STEP 3: Import Pictures

You can bring your pictures into iMovie in two ways. If your pictures are in your iPhoto library, click on the camera icon in the media browser to show your iPhoto library. Locate the pictures you want and drag them to the Project Window in the order you want them to appear in your digital story. You may also drag pictures directly from a folder on your computer into your project.

imovie import pictures

STEP 4: Import Video (optional)

With iMovie, you can also include video in your digital story. To import video clips for use in your project, you first need to create a new event. Events are like holding areas for your video clips.

To create a new event, go to File > New Event

imovie import video

☉ Give your new event a name.
☉ Open the folder that contains your video clips and drag them on top of the event to import them.
☉ You may also go to File > Import > Movies to import the video clips.

To import directly from a video camera, connect your camera to your computer, then go to File > Import from Camera…

STEP 5: Build the sequence of photos in the project window

Continue to drag and drop pictures from your iPhoto library or folders to the Project Window in the order you want them to appear in your digital story. If you wish to include a video clip, click and drag to select the video segment in the event window. The clip you selected will be highlighted in yellow. Once selected, drag the clip into the project.

imovie sequence

STEP 6: Add Narration

Click on the microphone icon in the TOOLBAR to record the narration. In the voiceover window, choose your microphone and adjust the input volume.

imovie voiceover

Using the mouse, click on the Project Timeline to select where you want to begin the narration in the project. Position the starting point (indicated by a red line) between photos so your narration can span multiple images if desired. Clicking directly on a picture will limit the narration to only that photo’s duration. After the 3-second countdown, begin recording. Hit the space bar to stop recording. If you make a mistake, choose Edit > Undo Voiceover and try again.

STEP 7: Assign durations to individual images

You may find you want a picture to appear for a longer or shorter duration to go with your narration. To adjust the duration of an individual image, hover over the image with the mouse and select the gear icon. In the drop down menu, choose Clip Adjustments. You can also double-click the image with the mouse to bring up the Inspector window. Uncheck “Applies to all stills,” enter a new duration, and click Done.

imovie duration

If you want the photo to appear over the entire voiceover segment, set the picture duration equal to the voiceover. Notice in the image below that the duration of the voice narration (purple bar) and the picture are now the same.

imovie equal duration

You can also drag the voice narration along the timeline to adjust where it begins and ends.

STEP 8: Repeat until all your narration is recorded

Repeat steps 6 and 7 to record each segment of your narration, placing them on the Project Timeline and adjusting the duration of the images as needed.

STEP 9: Add visual effects to individual images

iMovie gives you the option to crop and rotate photos in a project and add the Ken Burns pan and zoom technique if desired. To add visual effects to individual pictures, hover over the image with the mouse and select the gear icon. In the drop down menu, choose Cropping, Ken Burns, & Rotation. Adjustment options will appear in the viewer.

imovie visual effects

Available options:

FIT – Make the entire picture fit in the window. Black bars may be visible on the sides, top, or bottom.
CROP – Crop the image so as much as possible fills the entire window.
KEN BURNS – Add motion and make your image pan and/or zoom by setting a starting and ending point.

STEP 10: Add transitions

iMovie also allows you to add transitions between photos and video clips. To add a transition, click on the transitions icon on the TOOLBAR, then drag the desired transition between the clips.

imovie transitions

Hover over the transition, click on the gear icon, and choose Transition Adjustments to lengthen or shorten the duration of the transition.

imovie transition adjustments

STEP 11: Add Music and Sound Effects

iMovie includes two separate sound tracks. The first track includes all voiceover narration that you recorded earlier. The narration tells the story. The narration track appears in purple under your images. The second track can be a combination of sound effects and prerecorded music. This track appears in green.

Click on the Music Notes icon on the TOOLBAR to browse your iTunes library. To add music, select it from your iTunes library and drag it to the Project Window. You may also drag a music file from a folder directly onto your project to import it.

imovie add music

The song will appear as a green track under your pictures. Click and drag the track along the timeline to adjust where the music will begin playing. If the song you choose is longer than your total video length, it will fade out at the end.

imovie music track

STEP 12: Add Titles and Credits

You may want to add titles and credits to your digital story, perhaps at the beginning to introduce your story or between transitions from one event to another. To add titles or credits, click the title button on the TOOLBAR and select a title style. Drag the title on top of the picture or clip to add it to the project.

imovie titles and credits

Type your text in the viewer.

imovie title text

STEP 13: Save, Export, & Share Your Video

iMovie automatically saves and catalogues your project. To share your digital story, go to File > Share. iMovie ’11 has preconfigured options to share your project on a variety of video sharing sites including YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook.

imovie share

You can also export your project in Quicktime m4v format to play in iTunes, e-mail to family and friends, or uploaded to other video sharing sites. Go to Share > Export Movie, select the size desired, and click Export. To burn your digital story with iDVD to play on your television, choose iDVD under the Share menu.

imovie export

This tutorial touches on the basic capabilities in iMovie ’11 for creating digital stories. If you want to learn more about iMovie, Apple’s website includes documentation, video tutorials, and a very active discussion forum.

Learn more about digital storytelling in our 7-part series:

Part 1: Creating a Digital Story From Your Family Travels
Part 2: Turning Your Child’s Journal Entries Into a Storyline
Part 3: Creating Your Storyboard
Part 4: Organizing Your Project Files
Part 5: Creating a Digital Story with iMovie ’11
Part 6: Creating a Digital Story with Photo Story 3
Part 7: Creating a Digital Story with Movie Maker