Editing is an art. To create each masterpiece, the editor/artist takes a bunch of elements from his palette (we call them video clips, audio files and transition effects) and blends them together into a sequence that, when shown on the TV screen/canvas, tells a story. But editing is more than just sequencing. The editor not only decides the order of the images, but how to connect them together.
A cut connects two shots in space and time. To the viewer, two shots shown back to back, bridged by a cut, occur at the same time and place. Dissolves signify the passing of time or a change of location. A dissolve lets the viewer know that the shots it bridges are not in the same place at the same time. Wipes, flips and tumbles break any connection between shots. These athletic transitions are not appropriate in dramatic sequences nor sequences with narration.
Fades, wipes, cuts and dissolves are always great tools for telling stories on video, but true video artists use editing techniques that cannot be selected from a pull-down menu. Anyone can drop an effect between two clips. To the editing artist, these cookie-cutter transition effects are just the beginning. The video Michelangelo has a few other tricks up his sleeve.
In this month’s Computer Editing, we’ll reveal one of those tricks: the split edit (also known as audio splits or sound bridges). We’ll tell you how to create them, examine how they can work for you, and consider the impact they can have on your audience. A split edit is not one of the tools you’ll find in the effects menu of your editing software, it is a transitional element that you must make from scratch. Read on and we’ll tell you how to create them.
What is a Split Edit?
A split edit essentially bridges two shots with sound. In most edits, the audio and video portions of a scene are cut in sync. The sound and video in Shot A are locked. They begin and end together. In a split edit, the audio track transitions at a different time than the video. The sound from the first of the two clips may continue several seconds after the visual transition has taken place, or the sound from the second clip may begin several seconds before the visual transition takes place. In either case, sound is used to bridge the two shots.
A split edit is an effective way to move your viewer from one scene to the next. They can be especially effective when you want to go forward or backward in time. They’re great for flashbacks or dream sequences. Split edits can also help get the audience into the head of your subject so that they experience or see what your subject thinks.
Split edits also create suspense. By introducing the sound of your next scene under the video of your current scene, you’re setting your audience up for what to expect. When they begin to hear shots and explosions, they’re anticipating what’s about to happen. Let’s edit the same scene twice. First, we’ll have the audio lead the video and then we’ll have the video lead the audio to see the difference between the two edits.
Edit 1: Audio Leads Video
In our scene, a Vietnam veteran opens up to a friend about the war. The scene is a two-shot of the two men. As the vet recounts what the nights were like in the jungle, the shot zooms to a closeup of his face. Sweat is visible on his brow and upper lip. As we see him talk, we begin to hear the sound of machine gun fire, mortars, people yelling and loud explosions. As we see him talk, we hear what his mind hears and slowly, the video dissolves to a war scene and we are inside his head, experiencing the terror and chaos of war.
To achieve a different effect, you can have the video lead the audio. Using the same example, let’s see how the scene changes when video leads audio.
Edit 2: Video Leads Audio
Again the two men talk about the war. We see the anguished face of the Vietnam vet as he begins to tell his story. The video slowly dissolves to a black-and-white shot of a platoon of men, including the vet himself, as they come under fire in the jungle. We see the war, but continue to hear the vet as he describes what he remembers. Guns blaze and dirt flies as mortars explode, but the sounds of the explosions and machine guns are secondary to the voice of the vet.
Choose Your Transition
If you can imagine these transitions in your mind or if you perform them for yourself, you will see that each creates a unique and subtle effect. Both make the transition from present day to 1968 smoothly. The audio lead eases us into the vet’s mind so we go back in time with him and relive those memories. The memory becomes very real. The video lead, lets us see what he experienced, but from a distance, as we hear his present-day voice recount his harrowing story. A simple cut from present day to the war scene would create an abrupt change of scenes without the psychological edge that the A/V Bridge offers. The effect is subtle, but effective.
The Final Cut
A split edit is an effective way to subtly move your viewer from one scene to the next. It adds emotional depth to your video and creates a more complex and satisfying viewing experience.
Now that we’ve gone over what split edits are and how to use them, try some for yourself. By experimenting with variations of the split edit, with audio leading video and vice versa, you will undoubtedly discover a variety of interesting ways to add interest to your productions. By adjusting the length of the transitions, you can experiment and see for yourself what works and what doesn’t. Split edits are fun to master and satisfying when you see the effect they have on a production.