Create polished home videos for free

Get started with Windows Live Essentials Movie Maker

We explain how to turn your raw video footage into a presentable production using Windows Live Essentials Movie Maker, a free download for Windows 7.

Video is everywhere these days. More and more websites are including video content, while video-hosting site YouTube is the third most popular web destination after Google and Facebook. The cost of shooting video has dropped considerably too, with some sub-$200 pocket camcorders offering direct uploads to websites.

But quantity doesn't always translate to quality, and a fair proportion of what ends up online is unedited, raw footage, uploaded directly from the camcorder. Although many pocket models include rudimentary editing software, this is rarely used beyond trimming the start and end points of a video, if at all.

It doesn't take long to turn raw footage into a memorable, well-paced video, however. Nor do you need to spend a fortune on doing so: tools to create better video clips are freely available.

Windows users can download Microsoft's free Live Movie Maker software, which contains everything you need to take your raw footage and turn it into something far more interesting to watch.

Over the following pages, we'll provide advice to help you turn your holiday videos, family events or corporate footage into something your friends, relatives or colleagues will actually want to watch.

We edit our video on a Windows 7 computer. While Windows Live Movie Maker has been available for a while now, preinstalled on both XP Service Pack 2 and Vista, it isn't included in Windows 7. If you don't already have the software installed on your PC, you can download Live Movie Maker here. The latest version is a major update, both in terms of the interface and features.

Step 1. Download and install Live Movie Maker. Launch the program and import a video, either by dragging-and-dropping files into the workspace or clicking on the 'Drag videos and photos...' link visible in the main screen. You can import photos in exactly the same way.

Step 2. If the footage is still on your camcorder, attach it to the PC via USB or insert its memory card into your reader. Using the drop-down menu next to 'Home', select 'Import from device'. This calls up a wizard for importing video and photos, which supports tape-based camcorders as well as hard disk- and Flash memory-based models.

Step 3. In the next screen, select the clips you wish to import. By default, all files will be copied to the My Pictures folder - use the 'More options' link to specify the My Videos folder instead. When your videos have finished copying across, follow Step 1 to import them into Live Movie Maker.

Step 4. If your imported video was shot in widescreen mode, you'll get a letterbox effect in the preview window. Switch to widescreen editing under View, Aspect ratio. To aid visibility you can also change the thumbnail size under the View menu, and drag across the central line to make the preview window bigger.

Step 5. By default, video clips are arranged in the order they were imported in Windows Live Movie Maker's timeline. To rearrange this order (and thus the sequence of footage within your finished video), simply drag-and-drop the clips to their desired position in the timeline.

Step 6. It's unlikely that you'll want to use every second of each video clip. Select each clip in turn and choose Edit, Trim. The video will be loaded into the preview window; use the two markers underneath to specify your start and end points. Click 'Save trim' to apply the changes.

Step 7. Currently, we have a 'straight cut' between each clip, with each frame jumping straight to the next. You can substitute transitions by clicking on the second clip in each pair and choosing an option from the Animations menu. Alter the transition's duration in the dialog box. Use these sparingly, however.

Step 8. You can also add filters using the Visual Effects menu. The most basic adjustment is Brightness; other options let you posterise the clip or apply black and white or sepia tones to it. As with some of the more elaborate transitions, we recommend using these sparingly in your video.

Step 9. Bring still images to life by selecting them on the timeline and heading to the Animations menu. You can use the automated animation option, or one where the pan and zoom comes in from a specific direction. From the Home menu it's also possible to rotate images that have the wrong orientation.

Step 10. Music can be added to your video via the Home menu. A green band will appear above your footage. Double-click on this to call up the Music Tools, where you can adjust the soundtrack volume, add beginning and end fades and alter the duration to fit your footage.

Step 11. Next, we want to create a title for our video. First, add an opening slide. Ensure the timeline marker is at the beginning of the project and choose Title in the Home menu. The Text Tools will appear, allowing you to configure the font, text size, background colour and any applied animations.

Step 12. You can create scrolling end credits by moving the marker to the end of the timeline and choosing the Credits option. Add the people you want to mention in a list and format the text. You can also add subtitles and superimpose text by placing the marker as required and selecting Caption in the Home menu.

Step 13. Movie Maker offers a wide range of output options, including the ability to burn your finished project to DVD, save it as an HD video file or upload it directly to YouTube. Plug-ins for uploading your video to other online video-hosting services are available under the Sharing section of the Home menu.

Step 14. We're burning our movie to DVD. Movie Maker automatically encodes the file and loads it into Windows DVD Maker, where you can choose a menu style and customise the text to fit your production. If you choose the YouTube option, the program will request your login details and a description of the video.

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