How to Add Visual Effects to MacBook Messages

By Mark L. Chambers

Our esteemed Apple software developers decided to bring a little Hollywood special effects flash to MacBook Messages with video backdrops. You can also use many of the special effects filters provided by Photo Booth to keep your video chat room laughing!

To add a video backdrop to your video feed, choose Video→Video Preview to display your stunning self in a live video feed; then choose Video→Show Video Effects. Use the scroll buttons to move to the backdrop thumbnails toward the end of the Effects library.

When you click one, Messages prompts you to leave the frame for a few seconds so that the plain background behind you can be correctly masked (just like those blockbuster special effects used in today’s films). When your background has been captured and masked, Messages prompts you to return to your spot, and you’ll see that your new static or animated backdrop is in place. Just plain cool!

The plainer the background behind you, the better Messages can process and mask your background. A plain wall painted a single color (blue or green are preferred) works best.

Want your own movies and photos for backgrounds? No problem. Messages provides eight user-defined backdrop slots for your own selections at the end of the Video Effects collection. (Click the right scroll arrow in the Video Effects window until you reach the last couple of pages.) To add your own visuals, you can

  • Drag a video from iMovie (or a photo from iPhoto) to an empty User Backdrop well in the Video Effects window.

  • Drag a video (or photo) from a Finder window to an empty User Backdrop well in the Video Effects window.

As long as an item can be displayed in Quick Look, it can be used as a video background. Think of the possibilities!

To try out a Photo Booth effect in Messages, choose Video→Video Preview to display your live video feed; then choose Video→Show Video Effects (press cmd+Shift+E). Click a video effect thumbnail to see how it looks on you in the Preview window! Effects range from simple Black & White to a Thermal Camera look, an Andy Warhol–style Pop Art display, and a number of really cool optical distortions.


After you find just the right video effect, close the two windows and start chatting. If you decide you’d rather return your video persona to something more conventional, display the Video Effects window again and click the Original thumbnail (which appears in the center of each screen of thumbnails).