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6 Video Transitions Every Filmmaker Should Know

Use these techniques to better tell a story visually
Photo of video transitions

Video transitions are a staple of filmmaking and visual storytelling. As an editor, they help you transition from shot to shot, and when used correctly, also act as a storytelling tool.

If you’ve used an editing program like Premiere or Final Cut, you’re probably already familiar with fades—often the default transition between clips—and a classic way to start or end a film. While fades are important to know, there are a ton of other creative ways to transition between your scenes.

A new video we’ve embedded below from Mango Street explores six transitions every filmmaker and editor should have in their toolkit. Here, we’ll explore how to effectively use these transitions for your own video storytelling. Watch the video at the bottom of this story to see what these transitions look like visually.

Match Cut

A match cut takes components from one shot and matches them to the second shot to connect the two shots together. It’s often used with a character’s face or an object to demonstrate a flashback or to show the passage of time. If a great deal of time has passed it can be an effective visual clue for altering your viewers that it’s the same character in the scene and it helps move a story forward. For the best execution of Match Cuts, you will want to plan to match certain compositions and actions while you are shooting.

Smash Cut

A smash cut is when the audio and the visuals between two scenes change abruptly. It’s often used as a tool to cut tension, add comic relief, or denote a dream sequence is happening. Once you’ve shot the two scenes you simply smash the clips against each other in your edit timeline.

Whip Pan

A whip pan is a physical camera action that keeps the momentum up between shots. It’s often used to jump ahead in time, environments or move to another character in the story. Because a whip pan is something that must be captured in-camera you will need a tripod, gimbal or steadicam to execute it best.

Ideally the camera will move along the x axis at a fast enough speed to create in-camera blur—as it will help hide the cut in post. If you are using a whip pan in your final edit, keep in mind where you will want the frame to land, and try to keep your speed consistent. They’re a storytelling device that’s regularly used in Wes Anderson films. According to Robert Yeoman, who worked as a cinematographer on The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s best to work backwards when shooting one. “You find a really comfortable position with your feet and your body to be in for the end position,” Yeoman says at the 1:31-mark in this video. “And you start in a very uncomfortable position and then you come to that position where you are comfortable.”

Fades + Dips

Fades are one of the most well-known video transitions, and although they can be extremely effective, if you overuse them the result is very cheesy. A fade in from black is often used in an opening sequence, while fading to black gives a feeling of closure. Fading to white is often used as a tool to transition to a dream sequence, or in more dramatic cases, the afterlife. A dip is similar to a fade, but shorter and makes for a more dramatic effect. Dipping into black within a scene can give the feeling or blinking in and out of consciousness or emphasizing a heartbeat. Fades are often a default transition while editing, while dips can be found in the effects panel. 

J + L Cuts

These cuts are named because of how they appear in your timeline when editing and refer to how the audio and visuals of two scenes are interacting. A J cut means the audio of the next scene comes in as the visuals of a previous scene are still playing. An L cut is where the audio from the previous scene continues to play while the visuals from the next scene appear. L cuts are often used to add more emotion to a story, while a J cut will provide your audience with more info about what is to come. To utilize either of these in your edit you will need to unlink your audio and video tracks in your edit timeline.

Passing

In a passing transition, either a person or object passes in front of the frame of the camera, or the camera moves past a person or object. It’s a creative flourish that can keep your story moving along in a clever way. You will want to decide beforehand if it’s that camera that will be providing the movement or if it’s a person or object that will be passing through the frame. Once you’ve decided how to shoot make sure that your second scene will begin with a similar movement so that you can match the two with speed, direction in style. Using masks and key frames in your editing software can help make this transition smoother and more effective in post. Check out the full video below to learn more about these transitions and see them in action.

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