11

I'm a software engineer but as the junior member on the team I was tasked with making a looping demo for our product that will be played continuously at an upcoming convention. The video is not only an advertisement for our software but also for some of the hardware platforms that it runs on, so I have to introduce a number of products and logos.

After a month of working on this I've trimmed and snipped down to a tight 4 minutes, but some transitions between clips and stills just feel off to me. I've tried a one-size-fits-all-but-not-really with "Cross Dissolve". I've also tried a spectrum of slides, wipes and dissolves but it feels like someone's PowerPoint presentation from the late 90's (minus the stock sound effects). Does this community have any guidelines that they follow when creating transitions in their own projects?

  • 1
    I don't want to add an answer but - being a self-taught video editor over the last few years - I've found cuts and dissolves/fades are the only ones that don't draw attention to themselves, otherwise it just looks like one of those documents when some discovered they had access to 100 fonts for the first time. Sometimes I do want a transition to draw attention to itself, when the transition itself is content. But I find the hardest work is actually leading to the transitions so that they feel a natural progression and are not noticeable. – Joel Goodwin Sep 9 '16 at 15:29
  • What's a movie do, and you never notice? Simple cuts, fades, and crosses. Everything else is show. – user24601 Sep 19 at 23:33
12

A while back I ran some introductory video editing workshops. I used to tell the participants about a particularly cool effect that I once found in Pinnacle; it was a pinhata that came swinging into the first video along with a stick that hit the second video out of it and it unfolded across the screen.

The point of this anecdote is the following: Don't use transition presets. Like, at all. Sure it looks cool in the preview reel, but all those fancy swipes, wipes, slides et c. are just distracting and ugly. Of course it depends on what kind of video you're making, but I would always try if it works with no transitions at all first (i.e. hardcuts). If it doesn't, maybe try a simple, short cross dissolve (like, 0.5 seconds max) or maybe a dip to black. But keep your hands off all the other transition presets.

My rules of thumb are the following:

  1. Don't use transitions.
  2. If you have to use transitions, use as little as possible and be consistent.

The second point is particularly important, even if you're a fan of transitions. Be consistent with (a) what type of transition you use and (b) when you use them. For example, if you use a transition to visually seperate two scenes for the first half of your movie and then suddenly start using a transition for every cut in a scene, it's confusing and distracting. And if you drop different transitions every time, it looks like a crappy Youtube AMV made by a 12 year old.

For example, watch Star Wars (the prequels). They use those swipes and slides with soft borders all over the place. I don't really like those, but at least they're consistent with it.

but some transitions between clips and stills just feel off to me

This may be opinionated, but in my experience a transition looks weird as soon as you notice it. The best possible transition is the one you don't notice, because a transition is a tool to better tell your story, not a story element itself. And the easiest way to have a transition that you don't notice is to not use one at all.

  • 1
    Halving from the default 1 second of transition to .5 was very satisfying, and also got rid of some weird artifacting with "cross dissolve", so I was able to swap out most "film" dissolves for better consistency. I tried making it all hard cuts, but that just made it more obvious that the source material I'm working with comes in 3 different resolutions with 4 different backgrounds. Thank you. – HireThisMarine Sep 9 '16 at 15:06
4

The least noticeable transition is a cut. Any transition, even a dissolve takes some time and draws attention to itself to some extent. That means a transition (and here I'm using transition to mean anything else but a hard cut) becomes part of the story that you're telling.

For example a dissolve would seem at first glimpse to be a way of merging two shots, but it actually has the effect of separating them, implying that the second shot is occurring later or at a different location; it's a bit like the box in the corner of a comic frame saying "meanwhile…" or "later…". Other transitions draw even more attention to themselves and become part of the look and content of the film. Don't use them just because they look cool, they have to be motivated by the story you're trying to tell if they're not going to look like they've been hot-glued on.

The problem is that cuts can also be noticeable. Any cut from one shot to a similar shot, e.g. two similarly framed shots of an interview subject, will jump - it's called a jump cut. Counter intuitively the way to make a cut less apparent is to make the two shots it separates different from each other. So if you want to cut two shots of the same subject together you go from a close to a wide or vice versa. Another way to motivate a cut is with movement. Matching movement within the frame will often sell a cut that wouldn't work with static content. Entrances and exits to the frame likewise will motivate a cut.

There has been a lot of study done about this; basically what I'm describing is the craft of editing - as opposed to knowing how to use editing software which lots of people mistake for being the same thing. Edward Dmytric's On Film Editing is a good read, as are Walter Murch's books particularly In the Blink of An Eye

1

Use cuts for most all transitions. Some exceptions...

Use transitions which convey a meaning:

  • A clockwise wipe indicates the passage of time.
  • Dreamy blur (with harp music) for a daydream sequence.
  • Cross dissolve for gentle moments/sensitive topics.

One absolute exception: When doing a kids video (made for kids), add plenty of silly transitions. The more obnoxious the better. Dinosaur transition, use it. Shark transition, use it. Volcano transition, use it. They'll love it.

0

I will try to categorize some different transitions, and comment on them. Of course, this is not carved in stone.

Cut

Yes, a cut is a transition. It sounds simple, but it has many flavors. The most simple is the direct cut, where you simply put one clip after another.

One of those flavors is the J-Cut, where you do not change the clip at the exact same time as the audio. For example a dialog between two persons, as a viewer you could turn your head to the other interlocutor after you hear he is now talking, so the audio changes before the visuals.

It is the cut that gives more continuity to a sequence, so much that actually you can use it to disrupt it, for example, you change from a battle scene to a calm paradise, this can surprise the audience trying to figure out what happened because they were teletransported without any warning. This is a smash cut.

But a cut can be back and forward between to shots, like in a dialog, this is a cross cut, or it can be to speed up a single shot, like a jump cut.

As you can see it has many variations.

The speed and rhythm could be different aspects of a cut. but you need to leave time for the images to be understood, the simpler the image the faster you can switch, the more elements it has, more time on screen it needs. Some music videos have so much frenetic rhythm that are unwatchable.

Cross dissolve

This normally implies some calm situation, it can add an "elegant" element.

They can be used between clips or between two bigger sequences. It can either link them or distance them depending on the context, but normally it links them despite an intrinsic element of distance, for example, one person thinking about some other across the world.

But it also can show the passing of time.

The duration of the transition itself is another narrative element.

Fade to - fade from

Black or white.

A fade to black is one of the transitions that distance two senes the most, it gives a sensation of closure, for example when some years have passed and the prior situation wants to be forgotten.

A fade to white can have a similar effect, but gives a small relief, implies some hopeful feeling. It can imply some "metaphysical" element, passing by, new beginnings.

It can be used between two scenes or as a final element of a video.

It also has some variations depending on the "blending mode" applied. If a transition has a blending mode that increases the luminosity of the video can be used as an intro to a flashback or something like that. But this variation could look "cheap" as a low budget tv show.

This three are the most often used by far.


Overlay

One element appearing above the two clips as a middle transition element. One example is a "film burn", where this foreign element appears and disappears during the transition. Normally it implies a different blend mode different than just a dissolve.

A film burn is can be used of course to give some nostalgic feeling, but you can be creative.

Seamles

Normally this combined with a camera movement, for example, a camera travels from left to right and a tree is very close to the camera, and now another scene is revealed behind a light pole with the same camera movement. (It is a creative way to use a wipe)

You can approach to a black object, and start the next scene walking away from another black object.

Wipe

It makes an element appear from one side overriding the image underneath. If it is used between clips, it can give a "comics" style. It can imply that the two scenes are occurring in different locations at the exact same time, for example, a telephone call.

But it can also be used to add an element over the existing scene, for example, some text over a video, or an enhanced version of a video over the original.

The edge could be sharp or can have some gradual blending.

Blur

Changing focus, or adding some kind of a gaussian blur.

An obvious usage is a person losing conscience but can be a cheap... or economic way to switch between scenes. It was used when direct cut was the only available tool, turning off a recording and on again. I doubt is used a lot these days.


They need to be combined with other resources

For example with camera movements, lighting conditions, and above all... the story.


But you also can use whatever you have!

Yes, you can throw a "fancy" transition on a kids video, with balloons, stars, and flipping pages. Just keep in mind that this can have a very short-lived style. But probably this is what you need, giving a video a 90's look could be what you need.

Compositing

Keep in mind that "Video editing" and "Video compositing" are two different but related crafts. Some motion graphics or visual effects elements can be considered transitions.

A video being torn by pieces, color bars floating around, geometric shapes, particles appearing, maskings, overlays, 3D movements, glitches... Just remember to have the elements with a context in mind. It is different to make a music video for a Techno music group than a documentary.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.