Video transitions are what make films cohesive and easy to follow. This postproduction technique allows editors to take individual shots and weave them into a narrative.
Applied during postproduction, video transitions connect shots to each other. A transition can simply guide the viewer from one shot to the next, or it can be used stylistically to convey a mood and perspective. Choosing the right transitions for each scene is vital to a film’s sense of continuity and cohesion.
Transitions are the backbone of a film’s flow. It’s how the audience understands not only what is happening from moment to moment but how they should feel about it. Slowly fading to black after an impactful line of dialogue gives the viewer time to reflect on the moment. On the other hand, suddenly hard-cutting to a new character mid-sentence without introducing them could be jarring.
The primary types of video transition effects are fades, wipes, dissolves, and cuts.
Fades are gradual transitions between scenes and a color, most often black. They are usually used to slowly introduce images to viewers, replace visuals with a sense of finality, or transition between scenes.
- Fade in: This transition slowly fades from a color into a scene.
- Fade out: Alternatively, the fade out replaces a scene with a color.
- Washout: Like the fade out, the washout replaces images with a color. Unlike the fade out, the washout bleaches the images until they become replaced with white.
Example: In the final scene in “Monster,” Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) utters a series of platitudes after being sentenced to death for killing seven men who solicited her for sex work. The washout transition provides a feeling of finality and death paradoxically juxtaposed with a sense of purity and innocence.
Dissolves slowly fade one scene into another, usually to indicate an ongoing narrative or the passage of time. The length of the dissolve often correlates with the length of time it’s meant to signify: quick dissolves indicate shorter times between scenes, and long dissolves indicate longer times.
- Cross dissolve: This dissolve slowly layers a scene over another one, starting with a transparent image and ending with an opaque one.
- Ripple dissolve: The ripple dissolve lives up to its name by making a rippling effect between scenes.
Example: In this scene from “Spaceballs,” a dissolve is used to transition from night to day—and metatextually hailed for doing so.
Wipes quickly replace one scene by “wiping” it away with another, usually from the side of the frame.
- Iris wipe: The iris wipe uses an expanding or shrinking circle—the iris—to transition between scenes.
- Shape wipe: This is similar to the iris wipe, but the circle is another shape, such as an expanding or shrinking star, heart, matrix, or clock.
- Invisible wipe: Invisible wipes follow a person by tracking parallel with the camera. They are often used to make cuts in action sequences that are undetectable to viewers.
Example: This scene from “The Simpsons” uses a star wipe for comedic effect when Homer makes a dating video for Flanders.
Cuts happen when a film transitions directly from one shot or scene to the next. They imply connection and progression between images.
- Hard cut: This is your basic cut—it transitions from one shot to the next without any insert.
- Jump cut: Jump cuts are sudden, blatant transitions that purposely break visual continuity.
- L-cut: This cut sees the audio from the first clip continue into the following clip.
- J-cut: Alternatively, the J-cut brings audio from the next clip into the visuals from the first.
- Match cut: Match cuts transition between two shots that feature similar composition, shapes, movements, or sounds to signify a connection.
- Cutaway shot: B-roll footage takes center stage during the cutaway shot, which cuts away from the primary subject to a B-roll shot and then back to the original scene.
- Insert shot: Insert shots quickly show a different (often closer) angle of a key piece of information within a wider shot, such as a newspaper headline, a pair of hands performing a task, or the name on a document.