kimovie: Synchronizing Slides to Music in iMovie

Last Modified: Feb 22, 2011 5:16 PM
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As everyone knows, the hardest part of creating a slideshow is synching the slides to the music. (That's optional, of course.) The Bookmark feature in iMovie HD and iMovie 4 makes it pretty easy. This describes how to do it.

I suggest trying this first on a small project -- a half dozen slides or so. You want to make initial mistakes on a throwaway project. To test image quality, be sure to burn a DVD.


• Switch the clip viewer to Timeline mode (to see all three tracks.)

• Set iMovie preferences to "Enable Timeline snapping" and "Play snap sounds". We'll use those features later to help match the slides to the music.

• Set the menu command View->Show Clip Volume Levels to "unchecked".

• Create a new iMovie project. Import the music and Save.

• Create the leading title, if any. If you want the music to start after the title, drag the music clip to the end of the title clip.


• Next, we create a series of Bookmarks that matches the beat of the music for the entire movie. As the music plays, hold down the Command key (Apple key) and tap the B key wherever you think a change of slide feels appropriate. There are no rules. You want a change of slides when it "feels" right. Don't worry about adding a few too many Bookmarks; you can ignore some later.

• Play the project from start to finish, watching to see if the Bookmarks feel right. If necessary, remove all the Bookmarks and start over. You'll tap better the second time. When the Bookmarks feel right, Save.


• Turn off the Ken Burns Effect checkbox (so stills are not rendered as clips.) Set the KB duration to something convenient to work with, say 5 seconds. Import the first image.

• Using iMovie's direct trimming, drag the right end of the clip to the next Bookmark. Our preferences will cause iMovie to snap the clip to the Bookmark.

Caution: Be sure to click on the right end of the clip ONLY when the iMovie cursor displays a bar with a left-pointing arrow. Otherwise iMovie will drag the left end or drag the entire clip.

• If you added a title earlier, play the title and the first image. Adjust as required.

• Import the other images. After importing each, drag the right end to match the next Bookmark. Note you can import several images together, place them in the order you want, then drag each to fit a Bookmark. As you work, play the movie occasionally to be sure it looks right. Errors are hard to fix later.


• The clips should now all play with the proper sync. Now you are ready to start your real editing.

• Where you want an image animation instead of a still, swap the still image for an animated Ken Burns zoom/pan of that image. Click on a clip in the Timeline. KB will automatically display the play-time for that clip. Turn ON the Ken Burns Effect checkbox, then configure the pan and zoom. The Update button converts the still clip into an animated clip. Repeat for each clip you want an animation.


Some transitions will shorten the play-time of clips, which is not what you want for they mess up your synchronization. Try Overlap instead, which does not shorten clips.

• The transition length you choose will depend on the type of music and the play-time of the slides. Fast transitions usually work best with fast music, slow transitions with slow.

• Apply the transition to a few slides. If you're not pleased with the result, Undo and try another duration. When it's what you want, apply it to other slides.


• Be careful here. If the project contains stills that were NOT converted into animated clips, pressing the Create iDVD Project button will cause iMovie to ask to render those stills. Do not allow rendering, for iMovie adds lots of jaggies. Skip iMovie rendering. Or skip the Create iDVD Project button altogether and use iDVD to import the iMovie project.

Karl Petersen

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