Death by Transition


Will somebody please warn students about this nasty disease that seems to be prevalent amongst media students?

In my travels around the country, I see many students’ short films/videos and often cringe at whizzy transitions between shots, which add nothing to the film but often distracts from what otherwise could be a very good piece of work.

SPECIAL TRANSITIONAL EFFECTS should be used appropriately and for a particular purpose, otherwise they may detract from the director's intent.

A film transition is a technique by which shots are joined together to make a scene. Most films will include selective use of transitions, usually to convey a tone or mood, suggest the passage of time, or separate parts of the story.

CUT The simplest transition between shots is a straight cut, which occurs when one image is immediately replaced by another. It is the simplest, most common way of moving from one shot to the next, and is considered a ‘smooth cut’ if there is continuity between the two images. For example, in a conversation scene such as the one shown here, the cut moves directly between the two pupils.

FADE A fade works much like a theatre curtain. A fade-in shows the beginning of a sequence, as the screen gradually changes from black to a picture, and a fade-out shows the end, as the image returns to black.

DISSOLVE The dissolve is also known as a cross dissolve or cross-fade. Two shots overlap each other with the first gradually disappearing while the next one appears, and then remains alone on the screen. Thus, one shot blends into the next one. Unlike the cut, it takes up time and space on the screen. A dissolve influences the audience's perception of screen time and the rhythm of events. It suggests a thematic tie between two shots. An example of a time bridge, or change in time, might show a teenage girl playing tennis dissolving to the same person a few years later nursing a baby. A dissolve can also show change in event rhythm. For example, by dissolving between a canoe on a river to a bustling harbour.

WIPES The wipe is the technique where one shot is replaced with another by the movement of a distinct edge, or shape, which replaces the previous shot by “wiping” it. There are hundreds of different wipes. Some of the common ones are a straight line, an expanding circle and a page turn – often used in tacky wedding videos! However, like all transitions, wipes have their place if used appropriately. One of the most cited examples is their use in Star Wars, to make the film seem more classic and epic.

Normally, these types of transitions are used to lead the viewer from one location or time to another, or more specifically from one segment of a story to the next. Wipes are highly conspicuous, and as they evolve to become more elaborate, they are increasingly popular with students as a quick and dirty way to liven up their film. If a film needs livening up, then there is probably something wrong with the content or structure.

In my view, students need to understand that their choice of edit, be it a cut, fade, dissolve or wipe, should be chosen for purpose and not because it’s a gimmick. They should ask themselves, does this transition contribute to the look and pace of the film, does it enhance and clarify the visual sequence, and is it appropriate to the content of the programme? If it doesn’t earn its place, don’t use it. Cut

Video excerts from 'Book to Screen' - Dramaticmedia
  1. #1 by Mike Bird at July 6th, 2009

    I was invited in to help and advise media studies students who were creating an anti-drugs short story/advert as their exam piece. I sat down with one guy who had a nice piece telling his story in three distinct sections in different places and at different times. It had been well story boarded and thought out.

    The first section ended on a stationary shot with a couple walking across the picture on a path and out of frame to the left. The next scene was a time jump so I suggested why not wipe in the next scene from the right, the motivation being the movement of the couple out to the left, pulling the next scene in from the right. Great idea he thought!!!

    Next time I saw his piece he had replaced every single edit with a wipe!!! To my eye he’d destroyed what was actually a good video. The piece had become difficult to follow and I couldn’t help but think, why had no one stopped him???

    Every edit, whether wipe or simple cut, needs a motivation to be there.


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Many thanks for you patience.
Kind regards,
Mike - Media4ed.

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