Windows Movie Maker – A Free and Versatile Program
A decade ago, getting together to view vacation pictures and movies with family and friends usually meant dragging out the projector and subjecting your audience to an often boring set of slides or movies appearing one after another on the screen. Digital photography and videography, in its simplest form, can mean more of the same kind of boredom. Preventing that boredom is all in the way your shots and movies are presented. Microsoft’s free new application, Windows Live Movie Maker for Windows 7 (WLMM), enables anyone to create high-quality audio/visual (A/V) slide shows and movies that entertain your audience in a manner formerly available to only those who purchased expensive electronic equipment, such as dual-projector dissolve units and audio programmers. WLMM was available in beta form earlier this year; Microsoft released its final version recently (August 2009) with a significantly expanded feature set.
Many video editing programs such as CyberLink PowerDirector for videos or ProShow Gold for slide shows or videos are available for online download. However, nearly all of these are pricey, costing anywhere from $19.99 to several hundred dollars. The free programs that are available such as Pazera Free MP4 to AVI Converter do not offer anywhere near the same set of features as WLMM; in particular, none of them offer the capability of creating A/V shows from still images.
You can install WLMM on a computer running either Windows Vista or Windows 7, but Windows XP and older operating systems do not support WLMM.
Downloading and Installing Windows Live Movie Maker
WLMM is one of several programs available for free download from the Windows Live website. It enables you to create slide shows and movies, complete with voice and music accompaniment, from videos created on your digital camcorder, as well as images from your digital camera.
Simply select the Download link and follow the instructions provided. Click Run and supply administrative credentials if requested. The installer also enables you to install additional free programs such as Windows Mail, Writer, Messenger, and others. Select the desired program or programs, and then click Install. The installer takes several minutes to install WLMM and several related applications, and then invites you to sign up for a Windows Live ID. It will install Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG) if you have not already installed this program. This step is optional, and merely helps you to share your movies and slide shows with friends and family.
The Windows Live Movie Maker Home Page
When you open WLMM, it displays a home page from which you can add or remove videos, photos, and sound files as required. On the left is a preview window where you can view your movie as you're working on it, and on the right is a storyboard area that holds thumbnails of all images and videos in your movie. Beneath the preview window are found controls that enable you to play, pause, and resume your movie as you work on it. At the top is a ribbon interface that is similar to recent Microsoft Office products, with four tabs: Home, Animations, Visual Effects, and View, which enable you to access the various functions available with WLMM. Additional tabs will appear later as you add components to your show. To the left of these tabs is a drop-down button that accesses a File-type menu, enabling you to open previously created projects, save projects, publish movies, and access several other options.
To start creating a movie, click Add Videos and Photos in the Home tab of the ribbon interface. In the dialog box that appears, navigate to the folder containing the desired photos or videos, select them and then click Open. You can also drag the selected photos or videos from any open folder window to the WLMM home page. All images and videos appear in the storyboard area on the right hand side of the WLMM home page. Videos appear with a frame-by-frame representation.
To add a soundtrack, click Add under the Soundtrack section of the Home tab, and navigate in the same fashion. You can also add music that starts at a selected point in your movie. To modify the sequence of photos, videos, or music, simply drag them in the storyboard. To remove unwanted photos, videos, or music, select them and click Remove. This action removes them from the movie but does not delete them from your computer.
Adding Photos from Windows Live Photo Gallery
If you have installed Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG) on your computer, you can import photos directly from this application to WLMM. Select the desired images, and then click Make > Make a Movie. WLMM opens (if it is not already open), and adds all selected images and videos. You can now proceed to add a soundtrack as previously described, or perform other tasks as described on the pages to come.
Importing Photos and Videos from Your Digital Camera or Camcorder
Working together with WLPG, WLMM makes it easy to import photos and videos from digital cameras, camcorders, and scanners. From the drop-down menu to the left of the Home button on the taskbar and select Import from Device. Select the appropriate device and click Import. A dialog box informs you of the photos and videos that were found, and provides two choices:
- Review, organize, and group items to import – Provides a dialog box that enables you to select which groups of items you want to import. These items are grouped according to date and time, and a slider enables you to adjust the time range within which groups are separated.
- Import all new items now – Specify a folder name in the text box provided. WLPG imports all photos and videos from your device and stores them in the folder you specified.
To add your imported images to your movie, proceed as indicated on the previous pages.
Once you've added your photos and videos by any of these means, it is simple to organize them into whatever sequence you desire. Simply drag an item to the desired location.
Using AutoMovie to Quickly Create Your Movie
The AutoMovie feature automatically adds titles, transitions, and effects, and adjusts the timing of your movie to fit all images and videos to the music file(s) you've included. From the Home tab, click AutoMovie, and then click OK in the message box that appears. Within seconds, WLMM informs you that AutoMovie is done. Blank slides with a default title of "My Movie" and "The End" are supplied at the beginning and end, and zoom and pan effects are added, together with cross-fades from one image to the next.
Whether you've used AutoMovie or not, WLMM enables you to edit your raw movie, using the tools available from the various tabs. This includes changing the default actions supplied by AutoMovie. We will explain these editing options on the pages to follow.
Titles, Captions, and Credits
WLMM enables you to enhance your movie by including professional-looking titles, captions, and credits. A title is a blank slide placed before the first slide or any other selected slide, a caption is lettering that appears on top of any image in the movie, and credits appear on a blank slide at the end of the movie.
To add a title, select the image before which the title should appear, and click Title from the Home tab, and then type the desired title in the area provided. Select any other item in the movie and the title is automatically added. To add a caption to an image, select the image and then click Caption. Type the desired caption. To add credits, click Credits and type the desired credits. The Credits image is automatically placed at the end of the movie.
Whenever you add any of these text items, the toolbar automatically switches to the Format tab, which is added if it is not already present. This tab provides options for modifying the font, including the text size, style, and centering, its transparency, timing, and visual effects. By default, credits scroll upward across the screen, but you can change this behavior here if desired. You can also add other visual effects that allow letters to grow, shrink, spin, or move around the screen, as desired.
Timing Your Photos
By default, each image appears on the screen for five seconds. Rarely will your images and music end at the same time. To adjust the timing of your photos so that they end at the same time as the music, click Fit to Music from the Home tab. The timing is automatically adjusted without further input from you.
You can manually change the duration that one or more slides appear on the screen. To do so, select the slide(s) and then access the Edit tab. Type the desired number of seconds in the Duration text box. This obviously causes a mismatch in the length of the movie compared to the soundtrack. If you do this, you should be prepared to manually adjust the timing of all images in your project, because it is not possible to use the Fit to Music command on only a subset of your images.
Adding and Modifying Transitions
By default, AutoMovie provides a crossfade-type transition between each image, plus pan and zoom effects. The Animations tab enables you to modify these transitions, or create your own if you haven't used the AutoMovie feature. A large number of transitions are available; use the controls to the side of the Transitions section of this tab to locate and select your desired transition. When you hover your mouse over a transition, you receive a preview of this transition in the main preview area of WLMM. After selecting your transition, type a desired duration in the Duration text box. The transition is applied to all selected images (use the Select All button in the Home tab or press Ctrl+A to apply the transition to all images in your movie).
To add pan and zoom effects, select the desired images and then select an effect from the Pan and Zoom section of this tab. You can select from a variety of Pan Only, Zoom In, and Zoom Out effects, or you can choose Automatic, which lets the program decide for you which effect is applied to each image.
Adding Visual Effects
WLMM enables you to modify the appearance of any image in your movie with a series of custom effects. Select the desired image and click the Visual Effects tab. Available effects include edge detection (as illustrated), posterization, threshold (highly saturated colors), black-and-white with several simulated filters, sepia tone, and flipping the image right-to-left. The preview area provides a preview of each effect. You can also modify the brightness of an image or video -- simply click Brightness and adjust the slider that appears.
The View Tab
The View tab enables you to modify the appearance of items on the home page, and to fit the finished show to a specified aspect ratio. The zoom in and zoom out controls on this tab adjust the space allocated to each image or video on the storyboard; they are most valuable in viewing a frame-by-frame representation of a video, and are not particularly useful with still images. Click Reset to reset the view to its default. The Thumbnail Size control enables you to select from five sizes (extra large to extra small) for the thumbnails in the storyboard area; the default is Small.
The Aspect Ratio control adjusts your movie according to the device on which you intend to show the final movie, such as a computer screen, TV, or projector. The Standard setting is applicable to most devices, and provides a 4:3 aspect ratio. The Widescreen setting fits your movie to a device such as an HDTV or widescreen computer monitor. This is the only control on this tab that actually affects the appearance of the final movie.
Advanced Video Editing
The Edit tab under Video Tools provides several additional tools including adjustments of the movie’s audio volume with fade-in and fade-out effects, background color, splitting, and trimming. The audio fade-in and fade-out enable you to bring the sound volume gradually up at the start, and fade it out gradually at the end. The Background Color setting enables you to select a background color for the title and credits slides, and the accompanying Duration setting enables you to specify how long these slides will be displayed.
Anyone who has shot a lot of video with a camcorder will realize that often only small portions of a video clip are useful in a final presentation. The Trim control enables you to select the desired portions of a video clip and discard the remainder. Drag the sliders to select the start and end position of your trimmed video clip. The Split tool enables you to split a video into two or more portions, after which you can drag these portions to any location within your movie as desired. You can also copy and paste portions of video clips to other locations in your movie, and set the start and end points of the video appearing in your movie. Note that trimming or splitting affects only what is shown in your movie, and does not modify the original video clip.
Advanced Music Editing
The Options tab under Music Tools provides options for editing the sound track. The fade-in and fade-out controls (available options are none, slow, medium, and fast) enable you to fade the volume of a single audio clip up or down, similar to the video editing fade controls discussed on the previous page. The split tool enable you to split the music into two or more segments, in the same fashion as the video split tool mentioned on the previous page. You can then drag a segment of your music to a different point in your movie, thereby enabling you to synchronize the music to events appearing in the movie. You can also use only a segment of the current audio clip, by setting its start and end points.
Creating Your Final Movie
To create your final movie, select Save Movie from the drop-down list to the left of the tabs on the ribbon interface. As shown, this provides several formatting options, as well as options for creating a DVD or saving for portable devices such as a mobile phone or sending to a recipient via email. After you've selected your option and chosen a filename and folder, WLMM takes several seconds to create the movie, and then gives you an option to view the completed movie or open the folder to which it has been saved. Note that the movie is created in the Windows Media Video (.wmv) format; at present, no options exist to create movies in any other video format.
Sharing Your Slide Shows and Movies
WLMM provides several sharing options. You can upload your movies directly to file sharing websites such as YouTube or Facebook. To upload to YouTube, simply select this option from the Home tab of the ribbon interface. After logging in to your account, follow the instructions provided.
To upload a movie to Facebook, download a free plug-in. The installer runs a wizard that asks you to accept the terms of its license agreement and agree to a User Account Control (UAC) prompt for administrative credentials. The Sharing section of the Home tab of the ribbon interface then includes an icon that connects to Facebook in a manner similar to that used for YouTube.
This section of the ribbon interface also enables you to save your movie to your hard drive in any of several formats including mobile devices and email as described on the previous page, or to add additional plug-ins that enable sharing your movie on any of several additional Web-based services.