A film transition is a technique used in the post-production process of film editing and video editing by which scenes or shots are combined. Most commonly this is through a normal cut to the next scene. Most films will also include selective use of other transitions, usually to convey a tone or mood, suggest the passage of time, or separate parts of the story. These other transitions may include dissolves, L cuts, fades (usually to black), match cuts, and wipes.
Every film today, whether it be live-action, computer generated, or traditional hand-drawn animation is made up of hundreds of individual shots that are all placed together during editing to form the single film that is viewed by the audience. The shot transition is the way in which two of these individual shots are joined together.
The most basic type of shot transition, the cut is the most common way to join two shots. In essence it is the continuation of two different shots within the same time and space. It is the most basic in that the film undergoes no special processes to perform a cut; the two film strips are simply played one after the other. While watching the movie, this is where one image on screen is instantly replaced with another, often in the form of a camera angle change. Though simple in construction, the subject matter on each side of the cut can have far-reaching implications in a film.
A basic cut; Shot A abruptly ends and Shot B abruptly begins.
An editor can strategically cut to juxtapose two subjects. For instance, somebody dreaming of a beautiful field of flowers, shot A, may be suddenly wake up inside a burning building, shot B. The sound would be serene and peaceful in shot A, and suddenly loud and painful in shot B. This contrast between peace and chaos is intensified through the sudden transition from A to B, something that cannot be achieved through a gradual transition.
An L Cut (also referred to as a split edit) is an editing technique that results in a cut occurring at a different time for audio than for video. For example, we may hear characters' voices a few seconds before we see them on film. In order to achieve this effect, the editor had to make an L-shaped cut on the filmstrip itself. Even today with the advent of computerized non-linear editing systems, the digital representation of the film in the program still takes on this L-shaped appearance.
The cut joins together two pieces of film that contain two similarly shaped objects in similar positions in the frame. A good example is shots of different television screens displaying the same newscast. Ideally, the image on the television doesn't change, but the box it is displayed in, and everything around it, does. For this example, this would create a feeling of unity among those watching.
Like the form cut, the match cut attempts to join two shots with similar frames together. The match cut, however, is designed to completely hide the transition from the audience. If a character were to walk towards the camera and completely cover it, the editor could then choose to cut to a shot of the same character walking away from the camera. The cut is disguised by the character blocking the camera; the audience still knows that a cut has occurred, they would simply have a hard time pinpointing the exact moment.
Parallel editing cut
For example, imagine an action scene where a villain is chasing the hero of the film. To spend the entire chase scene trying to keep both the hero and the villain in the frame at the same time will become very difficult and un-engaging after a while. A better way to approach this problem is through the use of parallel cutting. In this example, the scene would consist of several shots of the hero running in one direction, and some shots of the villain running in the same direction. Perhaps the hero looks back, out of frame, at his pursuer. At this point, the editor would insert a shot of the villain. Neither character occupies the same screen space, yet the audience still understands that one is chasing the other. This technique is parodied in the film "Naked Gun 2½" where the editing swaps between showing the hero and the villain firing at each other, then finally in a long shot we realize they are in fact only about four feet away from each other.
A jump cut is usually the result of a continuity error, and not a stylistic choice by the director. A jump cut occurs when a cut, designed to act merely as a camera angle change (less than 30-degrees), reveals a continuity error between the two shots. For instance, if a character has their hand over their mouth in a medium shot, and not in their close-up, this little detail, which probably was not noticed on set, is now painfully obvious to the viewers.
A fade occurs when the picture gradually turns to a single color, usually black, or when a picture gradually appears on screen. Fade ins generally occur at the beginning of a film or act, while fade outs are typically found at the end of a film or act.
Like the fade, a dissolve involves gradually changing the visibility of the picture. However, rather than transitioning from a shot to a color, a dissolve is when a shot changes into another shot gradually. Dissolves, like cuts, can be used to create a link between two different objects, a man telling a story, and a visual of his story, for instance.
A wipe involves one shot replacing another, traveling from one side of the frame to another. Think of a vertical line passing from the right side of the frame to the left. On the left side of this line, we have shot A, and on the right side of this line is shot B. When this line reaches the left edge of the frame, shot B will completely fill the scene, and the transition is complete. This example describes a vertical line wipe, though this is but one type of wipe.
Another common type of wipe uses objects in the scene, rather than an invisible vertical line. One interesting application of this creates the illusion of a camera passing through the ceiling of the bottom floor of a multi-story house to the ground of the floor above. In this case, shot A would consist of the camera rising to the ceiling, and shot B would have the camera rising from the ground. A wipe transition gives the impression the camera is passing between the floors of a house.
The wipe shape can also be circular through the use of the camera's iris. By closing the iris, a blurry circle sweeps inwards to the middle of the frame, drawing attention to the subject occupying this center space.
Although not always confined to shot transitions, a morph can be thought of as a dissolve combined with a visual effect. Rather than simply blending the colors together, a morph is able to gradually reshape an object to become another object, creating a much stronger connection than a simple dissolve can provide. One famous example of this can be found towards the end of the film Saving Private Ryan. The face of young private Ryan (played by actor Matt Damon) is slowly morphed back to an older private Ryan (played by Harrison Young), while at the same time the background is dissolved from a besieged city during World War Two, into a graveyard set in the modern day; there is no doubt in the audience's mind that these two men are one and the same.
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