iMovie needs batch export

Since I was a teenager, I have been fascinated by the process of video production but purely from the technical point of view. The complexity of capturing video, editing (the process not the artistic element), video effects, etc. drove my curiosity. A few years ago I worked with someone who also really into video as well. He captured videos for lots of family events and learnt to use professional tools and techniques. While I get really excited as I discussed the ins and outs of the equipment and setup my friend has, I was definitively unable to find a reason to take video for personal use. Capturing family memory is great but who actually would sit down and watch hours upon hours of family videos, apart from the family themselves?

It all changed when I started organising the NY ALT.NET events last September. We decided that we would video tape each meeting so members who were unable to attend would have a chance to participate, albeit in a passive form. As a result, I started learning to use iMovie ’08 as a tool to process approximately 2 hours of video from each monthly meeting.

When Apple rebuilt iMovie from the ground up for the ’08 version, lots of complains were raised because many features from iMovie ’06 were dropped. What the user gained, however, was a much simpler user interface that makes editing movies a snap. Without any preparation and little learning time, I was able to import, pick video clips, add title and transition, and export videos within minutes. Literally. And the new version iMovie ’09 added new features that were missing from iMovie ’06, such as Precision Editor, themes, more transitions, etc. I especially love the Precision Editor because I can easily control the entry and exit points of each clip with ease.

But, and there’s always a but, all these great time-saving features come to nothing when I need to export the video for people to consume. Because Apple is targeting the consumer market with iMovie (Final Cut Express for prosumer, and Final Cut Studio for pros), there is no facility to batch up video export.

Why is it important? Let’s look at the typical time I spent working on videos for a monthly meeting:

  1. ~2-2.5 hours importing from camcorder. This is fixed time because it is a MiniDV tape camcorder and the only way to get from tape to hard disk is to replay all the footage in realtime.
  2. ~20-30 minutes editing each part. I break down the 2 hours meeting into around 30 minutes parts (actual length depends on the nature stopping point of the conversation). I then change the opening credit, make some adjustment to the audio (boast volume) and video (colour correction).
  3. ~2 hours exporting each final video to hard disk for uploading. This result in a 640×480 H.264 QuickTime video file around 550MB.
  4. ~1 hours uploading to Vimeo.

Now, there is no way for me to multi-task step #1. There is only one camcorder and thus I can only do one import at a time. Not a big problem as I can do other things once the import has started.

Step #4 is a background process. Once I kicked it off in the browser, I can do other things on the computer. For example, step #2.

The problem is with step #3. iMovie does not have the ability to export video in the background. What it means is that once the exporting process has started, I can’t use iMovie to work on my next clip and thus save time. It would not be that bad if iMovie uses all the CPU power my computer has. My Mac Pro has two CPUs, each CPU has two cores, making it a total of four cores. That’s a lot of computing power. But iMovie can only take advantage of one CPU at a time! So instead of a reasonable export time of around an hour, I have to wait for two before I can work on the next clip.

Now, if iMovie is able to export in the background, then at least I can work on the next clip using one CPU while exporting uses the other CPU. Alternatively, if iMovie has the facility to batch up videos for export in a queue, then I can work on editing all the clips and export them in a single batch while I sleep, or do whatever. But iMovie has neither and so the process of producing four 30 minutes video clips basically takes up most of my weekend instead of a few hours. Granted most of the time is spent waiting but still…

Of course one can argue that background or batch exporting is a pro feature and I agree. But when should I sacrifice the ease of use of iMovie, learn a completely different editing paradigm (arguably more difficult to use), just so I can save a few hours each months when my hardware is more than capable? I am more than willing to pay extra for iMoviePlus or plug-ins to achieve what I need but unfortunately I don’t think either would be available any time soon.

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11 comments

  1. Ken

    1) the queen might say "learnt," but it just sounds weird on this side of the pond2) time to get a 17" mac pro so you can use imovie on that while the mac pro is rendering!

  2. Alex

    I'm glad you find it useful 🙂 I'll also be recording and live streaming sessions from the upcoming Alt.NET Seattle conference as well. So stay tune!

  3. David Chartier

    I think you're mixing up your arguments. You agree that batch exporting is a pro software feature, bit you then move on to claim that because your hardware can handle it, you should have it.

  4. Alex

    Just tried your idea and it is working out great! Now I have two rendering sessions going with each iMovie instance is maxing out one CPU. Potentially I can create more users to max out all 4 CPUs. But right now I only have two movies to render.

  5. Pingback: Video recording equipment « Lost in Colonisation

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