Transitions add depth to simple cuts. Which are the best ones for your project?
Transitions are an important part of video storytelling. When done right, they can seamlessly weave together a narrator-less montage, keeping the viewer latched onto the screen, or they can link together disparate pieces of storytelling, acting as the key to smooth jumps from scene to scene. They’re so key, that video editors always come stocked full of them, and companies have sprouted up across the Internet to sell packs of exciting transitions.
There are many ways to transit from one shot to another shot. Traditionally, this is called a “cut”, because it would involve taking a reel of film and literally cutting it and then attaching it to the next reel. When the cut takes on a special style or appeal, then it’s called a “transition”. This kind of cut is usually reserved for when it offers up some kind of meaning, whether it’s a change in time, characters, or plot. It’s generally a good idea to follow the original, cinematic intention of the transition, since overdoing it can spell death for your project.
The “seamless transition” is the popular thing to do now. It’s a transition that moves from one scene to the next where the cut is not noticeable or can’t be pinned. It’s thus “seamless”. One does this through all sorts of film “magic” or trickery, from just panning the film real fast or throwing a hat over the lens to reveal they’ve transported from a messy bedroom to a beautiful beach. Usually it involves lots of blurry motion, because life’s a blur. Or because it’s easier to cut.
Whatever transitions you choose to do, remember that they’re part of your brand. Don’t over do them and stick to two or three specialties. When you’ve finally settled on the right transition, make sure to settle on the right sound that goes with it, and remember we’ve got lots to choose from here.
Star Wars wipe
Separating every scene in all Star Wars movies is a very specific type of wipe, that’s instantly recognizable as Star Wars. Check out below. The wipe can come from any direction, but the speed and the feathering is always exactly the same.
Wipes come stock in any video editor out there. You can change the feathering as you like, or just have a very stark transition. But remember, no matter what you do, the wipe will always make people think of Star Wars.
These are most popular for more corporate, review, or other serious-toned videos. To reinforce your branding, you can easily use this effect (“color matte” on Adobe, or “color generator” on DaVinci). In this example, Andrew Huang moves from the introduction to the main subject in his music theory lesson about the supertonic. Notice he uses both a title and a color matte, and the color matte goes along with his brand, then it subliminally flashes a “subscribe” for just about one or two frames.
You can simply layer the color over the wipe transition and have it move with it. Or you can have the color come in to fill the whole screen and have it hiding the cut. With less than 15 frames, it won’t even be noticeable that it covered the whole screen in one of those frames.
To be a bit more creative, you can make your own shapes in Photoshop or some other editor, and use those shapes to wipe across the screen.
To make your own color matte transition, you will need an editor that can use keyframes. That means you’ll need something a little more pro grade. Don’t worry though, keyframes are easy enough to use. I’ll cover them in a future blog, so stay tuned.
Fade In/Fade Out
This is one of the most basic transitions there is and is especially popular as bookends. In the example below, YouTuber Sky fades in after her B-roll and episode title with a clencher shot of her crying about her death-defying and terrifying experience with the Ice Man Wim Hof, and then fades out.
A match dissolve transition is when one similarly shaped object dissolves into another similarly shaped object. In older or vintage-style films, you’ll often see the scene going from a spoon, cup of coffee, or clock and dissolve into the moon, or blinds transition to slatted shadows on a bridge.
To make the match dissolve even more interesting and magical, you can use the same object, but in different places. Hold your hand in front of the camera, move it around, turn off your camera. Turn it on with your hand doing the same motion but now at another place. Then as your editing, try to match up your hands movements, so it appears your hand never changed, but the scene did.
In his hilarious parody video of travel vlogs, Sam Newton pulls off a great match dissolve, holding his hand out the window of a helicopter and transitioning it to holding it full of beach sand, which successfully transfers him from the helicopter to a beach with just a wave of his hand.
You can also do this with pretty much any object – a pen, a moving person, and so on.
The zoom transition moves in or out at such a speed it blurs the screen, allowing you to cut it without notice, and then it slows down and the viewer is magically somewhere else. These kind of transitions are the most fun when you’re transitioning to similar things, or with the slight use of a greenscreen (move out from a TV screen that has the last scene, or move into a window and then you’re in the next scene, like if you’re flying a plane and want to transition to clouds). Here is JR Alli taking us from a television screen and zooming out.
Likewise, you can just use the stock transition in your video editor. The example here of Drew Binsky doing a zoom transition goes from his face into the open doors of a mosque in Turkmenistan. This was probably done using a stock transition in the video editor.
You can even do this transition with just your camera. Make sure to move in the same direction, move at the same speed, match color, and don’t set the shutter too fast (2 times the frame rate). Map the timing to try to match the scene. In the video editor, you might want to speed up the movement a little and add some directional blur.
Back to JR Alli’s video, he’s got a beautiful zoom in transition, leading through the aisle of an Egyptian bazaar into the deep desert. The last image he uses is of a mirror, and the camera juts forward towards the mirror.
Notice also how he uses sounds to play alongside and augment his transitions.
As you may have noticed, the effect works best using a gateway that transports the viewer, whether a mirror, a doorway, a window, or even a television.
Mask/frame blocking/frame fill
Mask blocking is when you go into the editor to mask one part of the picture to uncover another picture. One popular implementation of this is to put the mask along someone’s leg as they’re walking by, revealing the next scene, or perhaps a tree that the camera is panning across.
Here Lost LeBlanc uses a tree to make the transition:
When you do a mask transition, make sure to use the same direction and have a clear change in perspective. The object doing the masking needs to block the whole frame and go all the way across the screen. If you move the camera opposite the masked object, or have the object move the opposite direction, it helps the trick even more. Then adjust the feather to make it smoother and place the second clip under the first clip.
Some more fun examples of this is to throw some clothes at the camera, and then take the clothes off to reveal the scene change. Or use a hat. Or anything, just as long as there will be one frame that will completely cover the screen. And if you use this sort of magic, make sure that you use the same trick uncovering the camera.
Sam Kolder often takes advantage of the play between light and dark. Here he does a brilliant frame fill transition, where he’s in a cave holding a torch, moving to a dark spot in a cave, and the camera makes it feel like he’s emerging from a cave, but it’s actually a drone shot moving alongside a mausoleum. His videos are almost like film editing commercials, check them out for some great ideas.
Rotation is another fun one that you can use completely with your camera (though it’s also easy enough with a video editor). First just rotate your camera so that it goes at least 180 degrees and make sure you remember the direction. When you open the next scene, press record and rotate it 180 degrees (start with the camera upside down). Then bring it into the video editor and match up the peak blurs of each movement. Add some radial blur to enhance the effect.
Matt Komo uses a rotation here:
This is an interesting example because most rotation transitions will transit on both ends using a rotation. Here Komo closes the last scene with the rotation, but then fades in on his portrait, which has a jarring and powerful effect.
The whip is when you end the scene moving quickly and start the next scene with the quick motion. It first started in pan shots, whipping the camera from one character all the way across to another character. Then people decided it would be easy enough to throw a transition in that blur. The whip pan is still used a lot in film today, especially with hipster directors like Wes Anderson. It’s an easy trick to do to make it look like it’s part of one shot, but actually be able to move all your crew over and reframe the whole scene at your convenience.
You can do your own whip pan transitions this like with the rotation transition, either with the camera or without. With the camera, just move it fast in one direction, and when you open your next scene, make sure to move it about the same speed in the same direction and angle of rotation.
As Matt Komo shoots himself shooting his weekend in Chicago, he implements a nice, vertical whip transition here:
Choose your favorites and stick to them, perfecting them and using them as your brand. But make sure to always follow the top rule: don’t over do it. Otherwise, be creative and have fun developing your own style.