A lot of work and many tools and techniques go into the making of a good film or video. And if you’re a new or aspiring YouTuber, or even someone just thinking about it, you probably have in mind an idea of how good videos are made. One major tool in a videographer’s arsenal is the video transition. The transition is an editing technique that, if used correctly, helps YouTubers and other videographers move from one shot to another without any hitches. Some transitions are smooth, others intentionally glitchy and stylized.
We’re going to discuss why you will want to incorporate transitions into your videography process and list a number of the most useful ones. More than likely, at some point, you will use a variety of them. This quick guide will help you to start thinking about transitions and, ideally, begin practicing them.
The origins of transitions go back to the early years of cinema. Silent filmmakers quickly realized that if they wanted to stitch their movies together in a way that wasn’t confusing, they would need to create transitions from one scene or shot to another.
Like chapters and line breaks in literature, or scene changes in theater, the early film transitions helped create a seamless quality to the overall production. They also helped set a sense of continuity in time, so that shots and scenes weren’t out of sequence. We take transitions for granted now, so they often go unnoticed. But early filmmakers pioneered the techniques through trial and error and experimentation.
One of the most basic and essential transitions was the “Cut”, which was also one of the earliest. In fact, it’s hard to imagine moving pictures without them. At its most basic level, a cut is any transition from one shot or scene to another. If you want to move from a wide shot of your gaming setup to a close-up detail on the screen, that will involve a cut. In this case, a digital slice that joins the two shots into a larger whole.
(Fun Fact: In cinema, the cut was an actual physical slicing of two different shots, which were then joined together by tape. Voila!)
While the most fundamental transition can join two differently framed shots of the same scene together, others exist that allow filmmakers and YouTubers to do things like set the mood and scenic atmosphere. Other transitions help indicate a passage of time, either in the present or into the past or future.
Music tutorialist Andrew Huang, a wildly popular YouTuber, stuffs his videos with stylish and cheeky transitions. He often cuts to video and audio clips that clearly illustrate the type of sound he is describing at any given moment. While it’s a hyperactive style of editing, these transitions work for him and many other YouTubers.
Types of Transitions
There are dozens of transitions available to filmmakers and videographers. As hinted above, several transitions used by YouTubers are both trendy and practical. And then, of course, there are many others used more often in film and television.
Some transitions require post-production editing tools. Others can be achieved with in-camera techniques.
Some of the following transitions will appeal to you, and others won’t. In fact, you may never even use some of these transitions, but it’s useful to know the names of them and what they can do. Who knows, maybe one day you will want to put a rare transition into your latest YouTube video.
If you’ve seen a Wes Anderson film, you’ve seen a whip pan. Anderson loves his whip pans. A type of panning shot (left to right movement and vice versa), the whip pan involves quickly panning the camera (whipping) from one frame to another. You can whip pan from one character’s face to another, or one part of a building interior to another.
Another example of a whip pan is our Friend-to-Friend commercial, where the camera shifts from the editor to the fashion blogger.
You can also use whip pans in two completely separate shots to create the illusion that objects are in one single shot. For instance, you could shoot a static close-up shot of a person that ends in a whip pan right. Your next shot could begin with a near-identical whip pan right, which ends in a static shot of the same person. When you edit the whip pans together, it will make it seem like the person has a double in the same shot.
A trendy transition amongst YouTubers, and often found in commercials, is the Zoom-In/Zoom-Out Transition. As you may have guessed by the name, it’s a hybrid transition created by the fusion of zooming and cutting.
A zoom transition involves a little trickery in After Effects or Final Cut, although plugins do exist to do the work for you. For it to work well, it helps to have some camera movement (ideally forward or backward), which will create a smoother zoom transition from one shot to the next.
Frame Blocking & Masking
Frame Blocking is a way of joining two shots together with in-camera objects. As its name suggests, it involves blocking out the entire camera frame with something like a wall, a character’s body, or other objects.
To create a good frame-block transition with your camera, it helps to have some movement. This movement could be either a camera pan or dolly left/right, or a tilt up/down.
To pull off the frame blocking in editing software, it will be helpful to use a mask transition tool. This allows YouTubers to combine two frame-blocked shots into one cohesive whole.
This second shot could be something like titles. Equally, the mask could reveal a second shot that is of a completely different object or location. A well-known mask transition is an interior shot of a character opening the door to reveal an impossible location, like a beach or a mountain top vista.
Like masking, another often-used digital editing transition is Rotation. You will find it on almost every piece of editing software, from iMovie to Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut.
As its name suggests, a rotation transitions one scene to another by rotating the footage clockwise or counterclockwise. While very basic, and not typically seen in film or TV, a rotation transition is an effective means of moving from one shot to another in YouTube videos.
A major transition effect is the Glitch transition. This type of cut allows you to move from one shot to another with error-ridden video artifacts.
One type of glitch transition is an RGB stutter, which reveals a digital recording’s component colors (RGB) to create a ghostly stutter effect. Another glitch is a stutter zoom. It applies the transition to make a shot look like it’s zooming in or out with an error-ridden stutter.
Software like Adobe After Effects has all sorts of factory glitch transitions. And if you don’t find what you like, plenty of developers offer downloadable glitch effects for editing.
Other types of transitions include fade-ins and -outs, wipes, match cuts, and dissolves. George Lucas used wipes a lot in Star Wars, where one scene wipes in from frame left or right to replace the current scene.
A match cut was famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the first chapter of the film, a home sapiens ancestor throws a bone into the air, which Kubrick matched in the very next shot with a spaceship. Both objects were in nearly the same orientation in space.
These are just a few other transitions. Many more exist. Learn and explore them!
For the more basic of the transitions discussed above, YouTubers can use basic editing software. iMovie and Movavi Video Editor Plus can both do fades, dissolves, even glitch, and so on.
For more advanced transitions, YouTubers will need to look to software like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, and Avid Media Composer.
Remember, transitions are tools for moving from one shot or scene (or part of a scene) to another. As we discussed, there is an assortment of transition techniques.
Familiarize yourself with transitions and see which ones work best for your style of videography. And one final note: it’s probably best not to overload YouTube videos and films with transitions. In video editing, you can have too much of a good thing.
DJ Pangburn is a New York-based journalist, videographer, and fiction writer, with bylines at Vice, Fast Company, Dazed and Confused, and other publications. DJ records ambient techno and IDM under the name Holoscene.