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Creating transparent overlays for iMovie

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011, 01:38 by Martin Andersson. Posted in Animation, Video |

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imovie-logoThe transparent functionality is back again thanks to John Sadler, his excellent contribution in the comments to get around a bug is marked red below. Thank you John.

Sometimes you want to add graphics on top of your iMovie. Maybe you want to show an arrow pointing at something, maybe you want to encircle something or to insert special text or graphics including bouncing letters or any kind of text. When doing so, you can make stunning presentations and movies with a very professional touch.

What you want to do is to add a transparent picture or a transparent movie to overlay the clips you already have. This can be done with transparent PNG files but I don’t think it’s the best way. The better way is to use Keynote for creating the graphics. After saving the presenation as a QuickTime movie, it can be imported as a PiP (picture-in-picture) in iMovie, and resized to fill the screen. During playback in iMovie, it does not display correctly (on my Macs), maybe the processing time was not enough to do the PiP “live”, but after sharing the movie as “Export movie”, it turned out to do exactly what I wanted.

Detailed explanation

  1. It is usually important to position the overlaid graphics precisely. You will therefore need still pictures form the regions you want to add graphics to. The best way to do this is to add a stillframe from an EVENT, which is normally located at the lower lower part of the iMovie window.Move the playhead (the red vertical line) over a frame in the Event browser, and then hold down the Control key as you click. In the menu that appears, choose “Add Still Frame to Project.” If you want to add other graphics to other places, repat this procedure.
  2. You will now have a set of stills at the end of the event. Hold down the Control key as you click on any of them and choose “Show in Finder”. You will then be taken to the folder where the still jpg is located.
  3. Open Keynote and make sure to have the same aspect ratio as in the iMovie project. If the iMovie project is 4:3, create a slide show (custom resolution) set to 640 x 480 pixels. If the project is 16:9, set the resolution in Keynote to be 960 x 540.
  4. Add slides and add the still pictures from the finder window.
  5. Add the graphics. Finally!!! This is what you wanted to do.
  6. Spend time to make lots of nice graphics including text effects, arrows. Add shadows in using the inspector window if you find it suitable. Anything will translate will into iMovie!
  7. When all your nice graphics is completed, remove the still images.
  8. Select all the slides in the slideshow in the leftmost side of the Keynote window. In the inspector, push she slide button, it is the second button from the left. Push the Appearance tab.
  9. Set background to White  (New!!!) and set the Color Fill Opacity to 0% (New!!!) when the Color selector window opens.
  10. Export as QuickTime Movie. Check “Include transparency” and select “Fixed Timing”. Default values are okay, you can change timings later. Select “Custom…” format.
  11. In the “Custom window” select Animation (or PNG), 25 for frame rate (or 30 or what ever you want to match to your iMovie project) and select “Millions of colors+” (note the plus sign) and “No filter”.
  12. Export the movie to the desktop. You can preview it to make sure it looks like you want. If the background succeded to become transparent, it shows up as black in the QuickTime movie. (If it is white, you have a problem).
  13. Import the QuickTime movie into the event and selct the regions that you want to copy to add to the movie editor. Drag it to the clip where you want it to be inserted and place the mouse pointer ON the clip. A plus sign on a green dot will show up and when you release it, you will get a list of choices to choose from on how to insert the clip. Choose PiP.
  14. Resize the clip to fill the screen and voila, you are done.
  15. You can of course drag the PiP-clip to the left and the right to get the timing good.


Again, please note that this type of overlay may not show up correctly when you preview and play the movie in iMovie, especially if your Mac is slow. However, when the movie is shared and exported, it will show up perfectly.

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