Cut It Out: A Guide to Shot Transitions
This week #TanamiTowers has welcomed TV and film student Sam on a work experience placement. Alongside his studies, Sam is also a camera operator and editor for York Student Television, so with that in mind, we asked Sam to share his knowledge of some of the best shot transitions for budding editors. Here are his top five ways of getting creative with transitions.
No. 1: Whip Pan & Tracking
This is when the camera moves either from one subject to another in a singular scene, or when there is a change in scene altogether. It may be used for many reasons, often as a stylistic choice. It looks flash, keeps up the pace, and helps the viewer dive straight into the action.
The whip pan is done by starting off with one subject and then quickly moving the camera in a particular direction. The cut is made in the middle of the blur and starts in the middle of the second shot’s blur, before moving to the desired subject. Alternatively, by doing a tracking shot into darkness and then another one out of darkness, a seamless cut can be made, to change shot.
Paul Thomas Anderson is known to be a user of the whip pan, often transitioning within the scene from one character to another at two ends of the scene’s geographical scale. Edgar Wright is also well known for using this technique to create comedy, change scenes or to form montages, often employing close-ups to show multiple character actions over a short space of time. It’s what makes his films visually fascinating; the below video explains the concept well.
No. 2: Sound
Sound can often be considered as a motivating factor in a cut. For example the beat of the music can help make a video flow if the cuts are in sync. This can work for action, chase, intense and tranquil scenes and can help to create a cohesive piece with a desired mood that the makers can get across.
If you go down the whip-pan trail, Wright often uses an appropriate sound effect to enhance it, such as a whooshing sound, as if the camera is flying through the air. In what is called ‘editing to action’, where cuts are made to what the audience want to see, the same can be said for sound. It can act as a cue, that once heard, we can then cut to what is making that attention-grabbing sound. Premium Beat have an article on using sounds which is useful if you want to find out more.
No. 3: Motion Tracking
There have been some rather intriguing uses of having singular objects overlapping into the next shot. To make this clearer, imagine you’re focussing on the protagonist in their kitchen, reading a bank statement. Then someone, whose face is unseen, walks sideways, in front of the camera. From behind them, the next shot of the protagonist in a phone booth appears. It’s like a wipe, but with a subject instead of a transparent line.
This can really make for some dynamic shots; the ever-helpful Premium Beat also have an article with some great further examples.
No. 4: Match Cut
A match-cut is a cut between two shots that look visually similar. This transition works with both dissolves and straight cuts creating deep and intense moments or even just simple unity between shots.
This below video demonstrates the use of the match cut, and makes clear that some applications work better than others.
No. 5: The Long Take
Yes, it’s not technically a ‘transition’ but it is a stylistic lack of. A shot that is static or often moving, long takes, quite naturally, last considerably longer than the standard shot. Normally, the camera will be moving through a space, perhaps to another location. These work best with lots of action happening around or with the subject either naturally or stylistically. The BFI have compiled a comprehensive list which includes some of the most iconic uses of the long take in film history.
This is only a tip-toe in the waters of creative video transitions and there are many other types of transitions that you could try out. Perhaps it has been remiss of us not to mention Star Wars, its array of wipes and use of the iris effect. Editing software often includes various stock effects, however it is fair to say that the star/diamond/cube wipes, barn doors and 3D Cube spins are best kept for the holiday showreels.