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Maintain both original and optimized footage in iMovie Apps
I shoot a lot of HD video of my kid, and at first I struggled to find a good balance between maintaining the full-resolution original footage and having something a little more reasonable and lightweight to work with. For example, even on my one-year-old iMac, I can't smoothly scrub the full HD video clips in the editor -- but if the clips have been 'optimized' to 960 x 540, they're smooth as butter (and still look good enough for almost every output scenario).

If, when you're importing the original footage, you enable the "Optimize video" checkbox, you'll get the lightweight version in your event library, but you won't get a copy of the orignal footage as well. It'll still be on your camera (or wherever else you put it before heading to iMovie), but that's not very helpful.

If you're using iMovie '09 (v.8) or '11 (v.9), there's a decent way to do this that isn't terribly obvious.

So here's what I do:
  • When importing the original footage, disable the 'Optimize video' checkbox, and select the 'Move files' radio button. This will move the full HD clip into /[selected volume]/iMovie Events/[event title]. (Or you can use 'Copy files' and get the same end result.)
  • Select the new event in the Event Library in iMovie, and go to File » Optimize Video » Large -- 960x540 (or 'Full,' which is still going to be more compressed than the original HD, but at the same resolution; I find 'Large' to be just fine for my needs, though).
That second step takes the original HD clip that was in /[selected volume]/iMovie Events/[event title] and moves it into /[selected volume]/iMovie Original Movies/[event title], and then puts the optimized version into /[selected volume]/iMovie Events/[event title].

Now you've got a fully organized directory structure containing all of your original HD footage, sorted by event, plus an Event Library full of nice lightweight versions for quick editing and exporting.

[crarko adds: I haven't tested this one.]
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Not Necessarily Compressed
Authored by: mdwittenberg on Feb 22, '11 08:41:10AM

Excellent hint. I wish that this was the default behavior (or at least an option), though I suppose it does use up a LOT of hard drive space.

NOTE: The "optimized" full size video is not necessarily "compressed" nor suffer from any lost quality. In fact, technically it's less compressed because iMovie converts it to a different format that is simply more easily accessed for scrubbing. Imagine an accordion file folder with many documents stuffed in: the original camera footage keeps the file in the "compressed" state, though normal speed playback is possible by carefully pulling out each page. In contrast, to properly scrub through in iMovie the accordion file must be opened all the way. The footage is (should be) virtually identical, just simply stored in a different way.

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Not Necessarily Compressed
Authored by: Unsoluble on Feb 23, '11 10:19:20AM
Well, with the 960x540 optimization you're clearly losing data. You might be correct that the "Full" optimization is completely lossless, but I've never seen that confirmed.

Edit: Yep, my original assumption was correct — the "Full" optimization is not lossless. Here's a side-by-side comparison of a video frame, with the original HD on the left, and the Full version on the right. Until optimizing doesn't result in that kind of artifacting, I'll be keeping my raw footage.

Edited on Feb 23, '11 10:33:50AM by Unsoluble

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Not Necessarily Compressed
Authored by: mdwittenberg on Feb 23, '11 05:27:26PM

Thank you for running the comparison Unsoluble; I never bothered to check iMovie's conversion quality.
If anyone is interesting in full speed scrubbing AND lossless video, I've used MPEG streamclip in the past at 100% quality. The file size was outrageous, but it worked and appeared to be lossless.

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Maintain both original and optimized footage in iMovie
Authored by: slchorne on Feb 22, '11 11:10:25AM

Another trick is to create your own 'reduced' version for faster editing.
- Copy the file to you hard disk
- Use a 3rd party tool like handbrake to create a tiny res (150x100) version of the movie
- Import and optimize that file. (the optimise step will be super fast)
- Do all your editing using the tiny file and you will get super fast scrubbing even on a slow mac.

Then, when you are ready to render the final product, use the finder to swap out the tiny-res file with the original hi-res version (use the same file name).

iMovie doesn't seem to notice/care that the image size in the file has changed, and it will cut you an edit in high-res.

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Maintain both original and optimized footage in iMovie
Authored by: Unsoluble on Feb 23, '11 10:37:15AM

Great tip for anyone using iMovie on a computer that can't handle even the 960x540 versions. Although I can't imagine putting myself through that kind of suffering to begin with :)

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