Video overlay options in iMovie

I’ve used iMovie a lot over the years but only using the standard, most basic video editing options. But during the period of remote learning, I was keen to upskill in this area so that I could make more engaging video content for my students. Furthermore, my classroom will be 1:1 iPads next year and so I want to be really familiar with these great Apple products. Below are some fantastic video overlay opportunities that I didn’t know about previously.

The remainder of this blog post outlines how these overlay options work in the more advanced Mac version of iMovie, but they are also available on iPad and iPhone. In these versions, adding a new video will display the insert and preview options as shown in the screenshot below. By clicking the three dots, you will see the four video overlay options, as well as the option to insert the audio only.

Click here to see the video overlay options on iPad and iPhone

In the Mac version, the timeline allows for two video/image tracks. By adding a second clip above your original track, you can explore the overlay options: Cutaway, Green/Blue Screen, Split Screen and Picture in Picture. It really is as simple as adding a second clip! And that’s why all of the screenshots below show two video layers. Have a play while you read!

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 9.42.17 AM.png

Selecting the top video layer will show the video overlay icon. Below, I have briefly described each of the four overlay options:


Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 10.30.58 AM.png

Cutaway is the default overlay option. At points in the timeline when a second video/image is added above the original track, the project will cut to that above footage. Your project will revert back to the original footage when the above track ends. This is an easy way to cut back and forth between different clips. The shade and opacity of the above footage can be adjusted using the sliders.

Green/Blue Screen

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 10.05.23 AM

The option to create with a green screen is the main reason why I started exploring these overlay features (blue screens also work). I had no idea that it was so easy! I first started to play around with our green screen at school but I also wanted the option to create green screen content at home. I noticed a green washing machine cover for sale nearby, ripped it up and hung it up. Hey presto!

Simply add the green screen footage above the background video/image track. Selecting Green/Blue Screen will remove the green/blue background of the top video, revealing the footage from the first layer. Depending on lighting, shadows and crinkles, you might need to polish the look. iMovie offers easy tools for this, including the clean-up tool and softness slider. The green screen footage can also be cropped to show only the section that you need.

Remember, a green/blue screen doesn’t always need to be a background. You can play around with props, shirts, etc. Endless fun! I made a Harry Potter invisibility cloak just by wrapping myself in a green cloth!

Split Screen

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 11.07.25 AM.png

The Split Screen overlay allows you to display two videos/images side by side. The easy options allow you to change the positions of the content, left/right and top/bottom. You can also add a slide-in transition by simply moving the slider along or adding the seconds manually.

Picture in Picture

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The Picture in Pictrure option allows users to add an image or video to a small section of the screen. After the overlay option has been chosen, the size and position of the additional window can be adjusted. Effects can also be applied to the overlay, such as a border, shadow and transitions.

Learn how to apply video overlay effects in #iMovie. This post outlines the overlay options (Cutaway, Green/Blue Screen, Split Screen and Picture in Picture). Click To Tweet

As mentioned, the iMovie timeline can hold two video layers in each project, allowing for only one video overlay effect at any given point in the timeline. Adding two overlay effects isn’t possible within the same section but there is a workaround. After the first effect has been added, export the video as if it is finished. Then, in a new project, add that video so that the first effect has already been created, allowing you to add the second effect. For example, in the project below, the Pokémon green screen effect was added and exported previously so that I can now create the Split Screen effect.

Screen Shot 2020-07-18 at 9.42.43 PM

I hope that these explanations and screenshots are useful, especially as you create more video content for students during remote learning. I strongly encourage you to have a play because these effects are far easier to apply than I would have thought! I’d love to see what you create so consider sharing your projects on social media.

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  1. Ooooooohhh, I really *can* add transitions to video overlays — if I export the whole thing, and then import it again. Nice workaround. Thanks!! …I really just need to learn a spiffier platform. Until then, this will work!

  2. I have been using Mac, iPhone and iPads for the past 6 years; however, I have only used the basic iMovie editing options on my Mac. I didn’t realise iMovie was available on iPads and iPhones.🙈

    1. Hi Jahseen,

      Yes, it’s available but limited in comparison so I always just use the Mac version. Have a play with these overlay options and let me know how you get on. You should share your creations on social media!



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