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Weekly Video Tip: Essential Basic Editing Technique – Cross-Dissolves

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By Stephen Schweickart

So you still want more newbie editing tips, eh? Alright, we’ll give you another one. This one focuses on the art of the transition, but also involves an actual effect! So finally you get to dip into the candy jar of built-in effects, but you don’t get to pick the sweetest most exciting one. Just the most useful, effective, and common—the cross-dissolve.

Cross-dissolves are easy. Even easier than monkeying around with an L-cut.  All you have to do is stick your clips up against one another, then either right-click on the edit point—the point where the two clips meet—and select cross-dissolve, or find the effect in your effects bin and drag it over onto your cut, then BOOM you’ve got yourself cross-dissolve. But don’t stop there. You can control the length of the dissolve by dragging the handles on either side of it, or in some programs you can double-click on the effect and type in the exact amount of time you want the dissolve to last.

Cross-dissolves can be really useful, but it’s insanely easy to overuse them and to use them in the wrong scenario, (especially if you don’t want it to look like a wedding video) so here are a few dos and don’ts. Don’t use it between every single shot in your piece. A conversation between two people using two over the shoulder shots does NOT need a cross-dissolve over each cut. That would look silly. However, transitioning out of that conversation and into a brand new scene may benefit from a dissolve, granted the timing is right on the effect. A dissolve’s main purpose in a narrative is to show passage of time. So from our example conversation, if you dissolved to a new scene in a new locations that involved either or both of our characters, the audience would get that time had passed and you wouldn’t need to fill the time between with useless crap or a timelapse shot of some clouds. They’d get it and that would be that.

Lastly, be careful about what you’re seeing and hearing from the fading clips. When you add a cross-dissolve, you are essentially adding time to the end of one clip and the beginning of the other so there is footage to fade in and out. So what happens if you dissolve over the very beginning of a take? You may see your actors settling into their positions and you may hear other sounds from the scene. So make sure the footage leading in and out of your dissolve is right, otherwise you may wind up with some garbage in your scene you never wanted there in the first place. With the audio, simply mute it on the out or the in of each scene to make sure it’s not overlapping.

So like we said, cross-dissolves are pretty cool, but you don’t want to overuse them or you might unintentionally OD your video with fades and then you’re stuck with a dead video and nowhere to hide the body.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic, visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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