Computer Editing: Watch Your Language!

The producers of The Simpsons, that irreverent, animated FOX TV family, regularly poke fun at people and things. In one episode they even took aim at video enthusiasts. Look for yourself in the following example. Are you more like Lisa or Homer?

Lisa: OK, I finished editing the gardening sequence. . .

Homer: OK, from here we star wipe to a glamour shot of Flanders paying his bills, then we star wipe to Flanders brushing his teeth. . .

Lisa: Dad, there are other wipes besides star wipes. . .

Homer: Why eat hamburger when you can have steak?

Lisa: I’m taking my name off this thing.

They say there is a little bit of truth behind every good joke. The truth, in this case, is that amateur videographers have a reputation for going overboard with flashy effects. Even the producers at The Simpsons know it. This article will help you make better decisions when you edit so you can have the last laugh.

Lisa is the smart one in the Simpson family. She knows a bad transition when she sees one. And so will your audience. The effects you use in your video to move from shot to shot can give your viewer just as much impact as the actual raw images. When your transitions work, the video flows seamlessly. When they don’t, like Homer’s, they can become distracting and your whole video will suffer.

Before you can you use them correctly, you need to know the language of transitions. Each type cuts, dissolves, wipes and DVEs (digital video effects) has an implied meaning. Learning the message behind each transition will help you know when to use them appropriately.

Using Restraint

One of the most tempting things to do when you first start editing is to play with all the different transition effects. Your editing software may have more than 75 different transitions. It’s easy to tell the video edited by a novice: it’s the one with all the crazy transitions that don’t seem to make any sense.

The first thing to remember is that the best transition is the one that is least noticeable. When people watch your completed project, you don’t want to hear "Wow, what great transitions!" That’s just like saying, "It was a horrible movie, but the special effects looked cool." Not exactly high praise.

It’s hard to ignore all those neat-looking effects, but for the most part, you’re better off with the simple cut. The cut is the single, most common transition you will ever use. The cut is straightforward. You simply change shots. There is no pretense, and it happens so fast that most people don’t even notice it. It is the eye-blink edit. To the viewer, shots bridged by a cut are in the same place at the same time. The cut connects them even if they are separated by miles.

Imagine videotaping a group of your friends playing cards. You’ve got several different angles of the tables and the players. If you simply cut between the shots, the video would move smoothly from one angle to the other. Try using a circle wipe between the shots and the whole sequence becomes disjointed because your viewers have been conditioned to believe that wipes indicate drastic changes in time or place. You’ve confused and distracted the viewer from the subject – the card game.

Passing Time

Dissolves are the second most common video transition. Like cuts, they are simple and clean. But to the viewer they send a very different message. Traditionally, a dissolve implies a passage of time, and the longer the dissolve, the more time has passed.

For example, imagine you’re putting together a video of your grandmother’s memories when she first arrived in America. You’ve got a great interview that you want to mix with some photographs of the memories she is describing. This is a perfect place for a dissolve. As you dissolve between the interview and the pictures, you convey to the viewer the passage of time.

Once we know the rules, we also need to know when to break them. Not all dissolves need to imply passage of time. Let’s go back to our card game. If we use dissolves between the different angles instead of cuts, it wouldn’t send the same message. The image created is softer, less linear, and would feel more emotional.

The implication behind the transition is not to focus on what is happening linearly, the mechanics of a card game, but to focus instead on the moment, a close-knit relationship between friends.. In this case, your choice of transition would depend upon the message you’re trying to communicate. Try both transitions and see which one fits better.

Shaking Things Up

Cuts and dissolves are nice, but there are times when your video simply needs a little more energy. That’s when wipes and DVEs (digital video effects, including wipes, tumbles, twirls and the like) can help out. These types of transitions serve as eye candy to your viewer; they are very dynamic and add energy to your project. If you want to pep up your video project, a few well-placed DVEs can add a lot.

DVE transitions can do almost anything, but it is still important to try to keep a common theme running throughout your project. If you’re using a series of soft-edge wipes as transitions in a sequence of landscapes, don’t throw in a hard edge wipe it will break the flow and distract the viewer. Make sure the transitions you use throughout your video are consistent with each other as well as the overall program.

But there are exceptions to every rule. You’ve videotaped your child all through his school years and he’s about to head to college. As a graduation present, you’ve edited together all the clips you’ve shot over the years into a music video. Now is the time to play with those 75 different transitions. Get wild. Have fun. Your child is a teenager after all. The whole point in this case is to make the video look cool. Transitions add a dynamic subtext that cuts or dissolves wouldn’t communicate.

Go with the Flow

When it comes to choosing your transition effects, let the theme of the video be your guide. If you’re shooting a wedding video, for example, expect to do a lot of soft dissolves. If you’re editing the highlights of your daughter’s soccer season, throw in a few of those star wipes. Just ensure that the piece flows together well.

The moral of the story? Transitions, when used correctly, help articulate the underlying message your video is trying to communicate. Like a good harmony, all the parts must blend together well. When they don’t, your message gets noisy and confusing. As Lisa Simpson figured out, sometimes it is better to have hamburger after all.

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