The more I play with QuickTime, the engine that seemingly powers all of Apple's impressive multimedia software and presentations, the more useful tricks I discover. Often these discoveries arise from annoyances. I learned about masking when confronted with some movies bloated by ugly, RAM-gobbling borders. (Here's how to slice them off.)

In this article, I'll share two more unusual techniques I've developed: how to bring vertical movies into a workflow designed for horizontal ones, and how to embed movies in a web page without messy wads of code. Before we get started, test whether QuickTime is installed on your computer.

Slick Trick 1: Vertical Movies in a Horizontal World

Sometimes a scene just cries out to be shot vertically, like the famous Oregon waterfall in Figure 1. Unfortunately, when I imported the waterfall clip into iMovie 6 for editing, the program squashed it to the standard 4:3 horizontal ratio (see Figure 2).

Incidentally, iDVD used to have this problem as well, but now it adds black borders to the left and right sides of narrow movies, which is exactly what we're about to do.

Fig. 1: Vertical Movie

Figure 1: I turned my digicam sideways to capture the waterfall. After importing the movie into the computer, I used QuickTime Pro to rotate it 90 degrees so it would display correctly. The resulting movie was 480 pixels wide by 640 pixels tall, a 3:4 ratio.

Fig. 2: iMovie Squash

Figure 2: iMovie was expecting a 4:3 movie, so when I fed it a 3:4 one, it squashed it like a bug.

For this trick, you'll need QuickTime Pro, which is definitely worth the $30 if you ever want to mess with QuickTime files. The first step in stretching the vertical movie back into shape is to create a black background image in the proportions iMovie expects. (Here, that's 4:3, though the same technique will work for 16:9 movies.) The process is similar to the one I described in "The Mask of QuickTime," in which the borders were too wide:

  1. In a graphics program, make a black rectangle that's as tall as your rotated movie (640 pixels, in this example) and as wide as the movie's height multiplied by 4/3. In this case, that's 640 x 4/3, or 853 pixels when rounded to the nearest integer. I used the GIF format for the rectangle because I've seen some flickering problems on Windows when using some other formats. Copy the rectangle to the clipboard.
  2. Now, open the vertical video in QuickTime Pro and select "Add to Selection & Scale" from the Edit menu. (The keyboard command on a Mac is Command-Option-Shift-V.) You should see something like Figure 3, with a big, black rectangle covering most of the movie and pushing the sides of the window outward.
  3. Open the QuickTime Pro Properties window (Command-J) and click the Visual Settings button. Select "Video Track 2" (the rectangle) from the track list, and increase its Layer number until you see the rectangle move behind the video. (See Figure 4.)
  4. Now select Video Track 1 (the movie) and align it horizontally with the rectangle. To do that, use the formula horizontal offset = (rectangle width - movie width)/2. In this example, that reduces to (853-480)/2, or 187 pixels. (Again, I'm rounding to the nearest integer.) Next, set the vertical offset to 0. (See Figure 5.) The movie will now be centered vertically and horizontally on the rectangle (Figure 6), and you can export it as a new file, ready for editing in iMovie or displaying on other devices that expect those proportions.
Fig. 3: Adding the Mask

Figure 3: When you add the rectangle to the movie in QuickTime Pro, it pushes the sides of the window outward, but the movie itself gets pushed up and left.

Fig. 4: QuickTime Layer Value

Figure 4: Move the black rectangle (Video Track 2) to the back by increasing its Layer number.

QuickTime Offset

Figure 5: The first Offset number is the horizontal displacement; setting it to half the rectangle's width minus half the movie's width will center the movie horizontally. The second Offset number is the vertical displacement; set it to 0.

Fig. 6: Padded Movie

Figure 6: The movie is now centered on the background, and has the 4:3 ratio iMovie expects. Now we just need to export it to a new file.

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