How to create a pointer or a custom title

Version 5
Last Modified: Jul 20, 2014 1:45 AM

First of all: This is no documented 'feature' of iMovie, it is a workaround! For instance, you will probably notice some stutter or no playback at all of the inserted graphic in iMovie; in the exported movie, your graphic will appear flawless. And you can apply only one graphic per clip - if you need more, split the clip or create a graphic containing all elements,


// Read the updates for iMovie vers. 10 aka 'iMovie13' down below //


Step #1)

Set-up iMovie

In iMovie11's Preferences, switch on 'Show Advanced Tools'

In the Project Properties, set 'Initial Photo Placement' to Crop

pref crop.png



Step #2)

Creating a Pointer/Circle/Title


I prefer to use a designed paint-tool such as Pixelmator; for sure, you can use any other 'paint'-app, which supports transparency.

In my painting app, I'm creating a new document.

HINT: this document has to have the same aspect-ratio as your video; 'widescreen' is 16:9, standard is 4:3.

recommendation: choose your videos resolution, such as 1280x720. dpi is of no use in video.



pixelmator painting.png


as you notice in the screen-shot, I'm starting with an empty, transparent background (indicated by the checkerboard) - we had reports, adding transparency later by selecting/erasing a background can cause 'borders' by undefined selection.

best practice: paint on transparency!


Save as .png

HINT: only png (or tiff) preserves transparency! As a jpg, the transparent background will immediately get solid white.




Step #2.1)

Creating a pointer without additional software


You can 'abuse' your Mac's pre-installed as a painting tool:

open any picture with the correct aspect-ratio, here: a screen-shot of a video, select all (cmd-A) and hit delete/backspace.

Now, the frame is 'empty', ready for painting.


preview pointer.png


Use the annotation tools of Preview (click the little stencil in the menu-bar, select circle/arrow/box/text) to create your graphic.

Save that new graphic as .png




Step #3)

Add, size and place graphic


Drag the .png from its Finder location onto the clip in the project.

Releasing the mouse will offer you a context-menu, choose 'Picture in Picture'


drag n pip.png


You're now allowed to move, size and place your graphic wherever you want it - well, not exactly: there's some limit in size, a full-screen is not optional (example: to create a key-hole effect)


circle in im.png




that same trick, using a transparent.png allows many other 'effects': think of speech-bubbles, a 'censored'-bar or customised titles as in this example:


customized title.png


update, for usage in iMovie vers.10:


There's no manual switch for 'Advanced Tools' anymore - all its features are avail by default.

Just drag 'n drop/import your overlay into your Project onto the clip you like to highlight.

Be sure, your Video-Overlay settings are set to 'Pic-in-Pic', by default it is set to 'Cut away'


hl circle.jpg


Be sure, your overlay graphic has an aspect ratio of 16:9 - otherwise iMovie will cut-off parts of it.

Be sure your overlay graphic is saved as 'png', to keep transparencies.


In iMovie vers. 10 you can apply several Pic-in-Pics over a single clip.


hl arrow.jpg



You can stretch a Pic-in-Pic to 'full screen'; this allows to create a 'dim effect' by adding a (here: 75%) opaque grey in your overlay graphic:


hl circlle + grey.jpg


And, no, you can NOT animate nor 'track' such a pointer in iMovie.



Enjoy movie making!