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TRANSITIONS

The purpose of a transition is to indicate a change in scene. This is accomplished using


elements in picture, sound or both. Over the years many creative transitions have been
devised. Some can seem gimmicky so care should be taken that they are appropriate to
the style of the film. Transitions can also effect pace, depending on their length. The most
popular transitions are discussed below:
Transitions are used to indicate a scene
change.
Fade
The fade is the oldest form of transition and still one of the most popular. A fade-out
occurs when the screen darkens to black, and a fade-in occurs when the screen emerges
from black. Fades are used to indicate long stretches in time between scenes. Fade-outs
are usually used to close a film.
A fade-out is usually coupled with a fade in, but each can stand alone using a direct cut in
the adjoining scene. Combined fade-in and fade-outs of more than two seconds will slow
pace considerably. Other colors besides black can be used for fades. A nice variation is to
use white when fading to or from a distant flashback. This works particularly well when
the colors are washed out in the flashback.
Film fades are created by the lab during printing and can be 16, 24, 32, 48, 64, or 96
frames in length, depending upon the lab. There are no frame constraints when the final
product is video or DVD.
Fades are normally added in post-production, but they can also be made in the camera
during production. The effect is created by slowly opening or closing the lens aperture
during the shot. The danger with in-camera effects is that they can't be changed.
Lighting Fade
Lighting fades are a commonly used in stage productions and can be used in films.
Simple fades are accomplished by dimming the lights up or down. The typing scene
in Meet John Doe is an atmospheric example of this technique. Cross-fades involve
fading-down one set while simultaneously fading-up an adjoining set.
A variation on the cross fade is to position one set behind the other. The dividing wall is
made of a special material that appears solid when the front set is lighted and transparent
when the rear set is lighted. During the cross fade to the rear set, the wall will seem to
disappear. This approach is highly stylized, and was used extensively in Coppola's One
From the Heart.
Natural Fade
The natural fade occurs when the subject physically covers or uncovers the lens during
shooting, as part of the action. The resulting fade effect can be quite natural or very
conspicuous, depending on how it is handled. An example of the latter is in The Black
Cat, where a character puts his coat over the camera lens, as if it were a coat hanger!
Dissolve
The most common transition is probably the dissolve. A dissolve occurs when the
outgoing image appears to dissolve into the incoming image. It indicates a shorter
passage of time than a fade of equal duration. Long dissolves, however, can slow pace so
care must be taken in determining length. Dissolves can also be used to enhance mood.
Dissolve
Technically, dissolves are created by overlapping a fade-out and a fade-in. When the
image is screened, the outgoing shot will appear to dissolve into the incoming shot.
Although dissolves usually involve two shots, additional shots can be layered in to add
more visual elements.
Film dissolves are created by the lab during printing and can be 16, 24, 32, 48, 64, or 96
frames in length, depending on the lab. There are no frame constraints when the final
product is video or DVD.
While film dissolves are normally made in post-production, they can be done during
production in the camera. After taking the first shot, which must end with a fade-out, the
camera is back-wound to overlap the second shot, which must start with a fade-in. This is
a complex affair since it requires meticulous planning. All the transitions and special
effects in Coppola's Dracula were done in camera.
Partial Frame Dissolve
In the partial frame dissolve only certain elements in the frame dissolve. For example, a
character can dissolve from one side of a room to the another. It is created like a normal
dissolve except that the camera's position is fixed from one shot to the next. Only the
elements that will dissolve are moved from shot to shot.
An obvious use of the partial frame dissolve is to show changes over time. Since the
results can be truly bizarre, another use is to convey a character's troubled state of mind.
There are several variations that can be used separately or in conjunction with one
another:
Single Shot with Dissolves - A single shot is cut up and rejoined with dissolves. In the
final effect, there is a strange sluggishness in the subject's movement caused by the
overlapping action. The effect is superb.
Add or Subtract Objects - Add or subtract objects between dissolve shots. The objects
will appear to dissolve in or out of the frame indicating a passage of time. This was used
in The Big Chillsneaker scene.
Change Subject Size - The image size of the subject is changed between dissolve shots.
The camera will appear to move toward or away from the subject with a surreal quality. A
change of focal length must be used to avoid moving the camera.
Impact Dissolve
The impact dissolve is a cutting technique that approximates a dissolve without the use of
a laboratory process. It involves the quick intercutting of two shots with the outgoing shot
fragments decreasing in length and the incoming shot fragments increasing in length.
When screened, the incoming shot swiftly displaces the outgoing shot. The result
approximates a dissolve because of persistence of vision, though the effect has
reverberating feel. For example, the cuts can be made as such:
Shot Length in Seconds
outgoing: 4+
incoming: 1
outgoing: 3
incoming: 2
outgoing: 2
incoming: 3
outgoing: 1
incoming: 4+
In this example the incoming fragments increased in length and the outgoing fragments
decreased in length, but equal length fragments may also work, depending on the subject.
The right number of fragments, excluding the head and tail, seems to be about three for
each shot. Easy Rider made extensive use of this type of transition.
Wipe
A wipe occurs when a new image appears to wipe the old image off the screen. The wipe
can transgress in many directions, including vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and from
the center outward. Shapes can also be used to create a wipe. In addition, the edge of the
wipe can be hard or soft.

Wipe
A variation is to wipe to a black screen and then fade up. Wipes were used regularly in
silent films. They are stylized by today's standards and used infrequently, usually in
fantasy movies. Star Wars made extensive use of them. Film wipes are created by the lab
during printing, while video wipes are created with the editing software.
Natural Wipe
A natural wipe occurs when the subject creates the wipe by moving past the camera,
momentarily obscuring the image. When the image is again visible, the subject is in a
new location. This is accomplished by shooting the subject movement in both locations
and then cutting the shots together at the point that the subject obscures the image.
Usually the image is black at this point so there is no matching problem. If the location is
still visible, the movement itself will usually mask the cut as long as the speed and
subject movement are identical. If this does not work, a short dissolve at the cutting point
will usually do the trick. This technique used throughout The Seven Samurai.
Camera Pan
In a pan shot, the camera pivots horizontally from one subject to another. With a little
trick editing, the pan can seem to transport the audience from one location to the next and
thus act as a transition. There are two variations:
Swish Pan - In a swish pan, the camera quickly pans or swishes from one location to the
next. To create the effect, the first shot must end with a quick pan (swish) off the subject.
The second shot requires no special treatment and is simply joined to the first. When
projected, the effect is a continuous swish pan from one location to the next. This
transition was a staple of the 1960s TV series Batman.
Normal Pan - In a normal pan, the camera pans off the subject in the first shot and pans
to the subject in the second shot. To create the effect, a pan is needed in both shots. The
cut is disguised by having a neutral field at the end of the first pan and beginning of the
second pan. This can be a nondescript background or wall. The cut can be further
disguised by adding a short dissolve. A dissolve can sometimes substitute for a neutral
field. It is important that the panning speeds be identical in both shots. Hitchcock was
fond of this technique.
Direct Cut
The direct cut is the simplest transition one scene to the next. For this to work, the
incoming shot must transport the audience to the new location or time period with instant
intelligibility. Something in the new shot must indicate this or the audience may be
confused. Usually the location change is enough, but not always. The following
techniques can be used in conjunction with the direct cut to make the scene change more
obvious to the audience:
Look - A shift in the look of the new scene can indicate a transition, particularly when a
time change is involved. For example when going to a flashback the image can take on an
amber, faded or grainy look.
Sound - A change in sound or sound quality can immediately indicate a new location and
scene. In Hitchcock's Marnie, the flashback was indicated by a slight reverb in the sound.
A sound fade and cross-fade (overlapping fade-in and fade-out) can be used to smooth
out the abruptness of a direct cut in picture from one scene to the next.
Delayed Cut - Holding the outgoing shot a little longer than normal can be used to
indicate a passage of time. This is most useful when there is a time shift and the location
remains the same. An example is found in a three shot sequence inFatal Attraction: shot
1 shows Dan going out to walk the dog; shot 2 is of his wife smiling (this shot is held);
shot 3 is Dan returning.
When delaying a cut, there should be something interesting in the frame that the audience
can focus on. In the above example, it's the wife. It's possible to put the delay on the
incoming shot, but this usually has an adverse effect on pace and should be the second
choice.
Match Cut
In the match cut transition, the scene change is made duringa match cut, where the
incoming shot starts the new scene. Shots are edited using the match cut rules previously
discussed. There are different ways to indicate the scene change:
Matched Action - In this scenario the action of the character is matched but the time or
location is changed to reflect this. An example would be a moving vehicle in different
settings from one shot to the next. An outstanding example is found inMidnight
Cowboy where Joe Buck walks down 42nd street and the background shifts from day to
night to day again. This was accomplished by having the actor repeat the walk during
different times of the day. The shots were then mixed and matched by the editor.
Matched Aesthetic Value - This type of match cut is based on some aesthetic value in
the frame, such as an idea, shape, pattern, color, even focus. For example, cutting from a
child pushing a toy car off a table to a real car driving off a cliff. This example shows that
the subject can be substituted, while maintaining the essence of the match cut.
Exit/ Entrance
In the exit/ entrance transition, the scene change is madeduring an exit/ entrance
sequence. The incoming shot starts the new scene, so either the time or location is
changed to reflect this. The shots are edited using the exit/entrance rules previously
discussed.
Disorientation Cut
Sometimes the editor will want to momentarily confuse the audience to perk them up.
The disorientation cut plays with the audience by giving them no indication that a scene
shift has occurred. After the cut, the audience initially feels that they are in the old scene
but then something within the shot indicates otherwise. The effect is usually created with
a match cut or exit/entrance. Using continuous sound over the cut will solidify the effect.
For example, in one shot a character kicks a tin can that appears in the next shot. The
audience assumes that they are watching a continuous scene, but when the character kicks
the can again, he is much older. The audience was propelled into a different scene but did
not notice it at first because of the deceptive match cut.
Focus
When using focus as a transitional device, the outgoing shot will blur and the incoming
shot will come into focus. The shots can be joined with a cut, but a dissolve will make the
joint virtually invisible. There are variations in which other effects are used, such as a
rippling of the images.
Early Picture or Sound
In an early sound transition the incoming sound briefly precedes the incoming picture. In
an early picture transition, the incoming picture briefly precedes the incoming sound.
Both variations propel the audience naturally into the next scene.
Dialogue
There are two types of dialogue transitions that are used to propel the audience into the
next scene:
Answering - The new picture or dialogue answers a question or comment made in the
outgoing dialogue.
Matched Words - A word or phrase in the outgoing shot is repeated in the incoming
shot. Answering and matched words are often used for humor.
Subtitles and Title cards
Subtitles (text, usually at the bottom of the screen) quickly signal a new scene by
indicating a change in time and/or location. Title cards are similar, except that the whole
frame is used for the text . They are useful for conveying additional story information
along with the scene change. Title cards were used extensively in the silent era of
filmmaking and have regained popularity today. They are stylized and often used for
humor.