The basic editing tools are sometimes the most difficult to understand… here’s a look at four of the most powerful techniques in your editing software’s toolkit.
Walter Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three of those small, naked, golden men for both sound and picture editing. He wrote in his short but excellent book, In the Blink of an Eye, that we perform a cut every time we blink while turning (panning) our head. He claims we are editing our life’s film’ in our cranium.
This blink or cut’ is the most basic and most efficient transition in motion-picture storytelling and one of the first skills we acquire when learning to edit. But there is more than one way to manipulate this most simple of transitions on the timeline: introducing the Ripple Tool, Roll Tool, Slip Tool and Slide Tool.
Here’s a hint while you’re using these tools: notice how each tool affects not only the clip or pair of clips you are working on but also, at times, the entire duration of all clips on the timeline.
You can use the Ripple Tool to shorten or lengthen an in- or out-point of a single piece of media, while moving all the media to the right of that clip up or down the timeline, to adjust for the new size of the altered clip. For example, imagine you have three 30-second clips on the timeline, equaling one and a half minutes of audio and video. Select the Ripple Tool, and hover it over the end of the first clip, or at about 29 seconds on the timeline. With the Ripple Tool just to the left of the edit point joining clip one to clip two, you will see the tool pointing’ to the left, indicating that the clip to the left will be affected. Click and drag the end point ten seconds to the left. Notice that a window pops up near your edit, indicating the exact number of frames and seconds you are changing. Also notice that this edit not only shortens clip one from thirty seconds to twenty seconds, but also ripples’ or moves the two clips to the right of the edit along with it. You are altering the total duration of the entire media on the timeline, from one minute, thirty seconds to one minute, twenty seconds. Get it?
You could have accomplished this manually,’ but it would have taken a few more clicks of the mouse. You could have simply moved the same end-point to the left ten seconds, then selected the two clips to the right and dragged them down the timeline to close the gap. That would be at least three clicks, compared to just one with the Ripple Tool. Plus, if there were many more pieces of media to the right of the cut, it would be much more difficult to select them all. Even a right-click (or control-click on a Mac) to close gap’ would require more clicks than the Ripple method. And don’t forget that most, if not all, editing programs have a keyboard shortcut to call up the Ripple Tool or any of these other tools, making the workflow even faster.
The Roll Tool, unlike the Ripple Tool, leaves the total running time of the group of clips unchanged. This is good to know if you need to make a subtle change between two clips but don’t want to change the duration of the complete piece. The Roll Tool also differs from the Ripple in that it changes both the out-point of the clip to the left and the in-point of its neighboring clip to the right.
Imagine you are editing a music video comprised of mostly B roll, peppered with footage of the band playing their instruments. You lay down a rough edit, with the final shot of the band as they finish the song. You time the final shot perfectly with the end of the music, but several clips in the body of the work are slightly out of sync with the rhythm of the music: a perfect job for the Roll Tool. With the Roll Tool selected, click the edit point between any two clips (where the out-point of the left clip meets the in-point of the right clip), and roll’ that edit to the right or left. Again, a window pops up, indicating the change in position of the edit right down to the frame.
One issue to note with this procedure, as with most of these tools, is the need for handles.’ You need excess audio/video at the edit in order for the edit point to be moved. If you are trying to roll an edit point to the left, and the clip to the right is at its first frame (without excess media before the in-point), then there are no clips to pull from. Be conscious of your handles; if you find yourself without handles, this next tool may help you.
Let’s say you are in the middle of the music video example from above, and you want to roll an edit point, but the second clip is at its first frame, without a handle. The Slip Tool can help. This tool moves the in-point and out-point of a single clip without altering the duration of the clip or the entire piece. Say you need a full second or thirty frames of handle at the beginning of your clip to make this rolling edit. Select the Slip Tool, hover over the middle of the clip you are affecting, click and drag to the left. Watch the time window, so you know you have moved exactly 30 frames (one second).
As you slip the clip thirty frames or one second to the left, also keep an eye on your Canvas window (also known as the Program window, the window which shows video from the timeline). That’s where you will now see a split screen showing both your in-point frame and out-point frame. This split screen will help you make sure no unwanted frames slip into the piece. Very efficient.
The Slide Tool is kind of the opposite of the Slip Tool. As with the Slip Tool, the duration of the entire piece remains constant, as well as the duration of the individual clip you are altering. What changes is the out-point of the clip to the left and the in-point of the clip to the right. From our example above, say you have a five-second piece of B roll between two pieces of video of the band playing. That five seconds of B roll works well with the overall rhythm, but there is too little footage of the band playing before this roll and too much after the five-second clip. To quickly solve this problem, select the Slide Tool and click and drag on the five-second clip, moving it to the right. The band clip to the left gets longer, the band clip to the right becomes smaller, the five-second piece of B roll stays the same and the entire length of the clip remains unchanged.
Get Started with Ripplin’-n-Rollin’, Slippin’-n-Slidin’
Using these four tools will take some getting used to. You’ll need to engage the cerebral cortex at first, but, with practice, they will soon become second nature. Your editing workflow will be more efficient, leaving you time to work on your Academy Award acceptance speech for Best Editing.
Contributing editor Morgan Paar is a nomadic producer, shooter and editor, making documentaries worldwide.