Learning About Transitions

A transition is a an effect used to change from one clip in your edited sequence to the next. In the early days of film editing, the only transition you could immediately view was a cut. Even the simplest transition, the dissolve, had to be specially set up in an optical printer and sent back to the editor for viewing. The whole process was expensive and could take several days.

Video made this process faster and easier. By mixing two video signals together, you could watch a dissolve immediately and decide how you liked it. The more quickly you can see how an effect will look, the more quickly you can refine it to suit your needs. Film editors had to anticipate how transitions would look and how long they should last without actually being able to preview them; there was never the time or budget to try transitions during editing. It’s much easier to preview cross dissolves, fades, and other transitions in a video system, and particularly in a nonlinear editing system. In Final Cut Pro, you can continue to adjust a transition and preview it until you get it just right.

Common Types of Transitions

A cut, the most basic type of transition, is a transition with no duration; when one shot ends, another one immediately begins, without any overlap. All other transitions gradually replace one shot with another; when one shot ends, another one gradually replaces it. There are three very common video transitions used that occur over time: fades, cross dissolves, and wipes.

  • Fade-out: This begins with a shot at full intensity and reduces until it is gone. A fade-in begins with a shot at no intensity and increases until it is full. These are the common “fade to black” and “fade up (from black)” transitions.
  • Cross dissolve: This involves two shots. The first shot fades out while the second shot simultaneously fades in. During the cross dissolve, the two shots are superimposed as they fade.
  • Wipe: This is where the screen splits, moving from one side of the image to the other to gradually reveal the next shot. It is more obvious than a fade or cross dissolve.

Final Cut Pro also comes with two audio transitions: a +3 dB cross fade (the default) and a 0 dB cross fade.

  • Cross Fade (+3 dB): Performs the same operation as Cross Fade (0 dB), but applies an equal-power ramp to the volume level, rather than a linear ramp.

    Note: An equal-power ramp uses a quarter-cycle cosine fade-out curve and a quartercycle sine fade-in curve. As a result, the volume is maintained at a constant level throughout the cross fade.

  • Cross Fade (0 dB): Fades the first clip out, while simultaneously fading the second clip in. This effect applies a linear ramp to the volume level. As a result, the volume level dips in the middle of the cross fade.

Each cross fade results in a different audio level change as the transition plays. Your choice of cross fades depends on the clips you’re transitioning between. Try one, then try the other to see which sounds better.

Using Transitions in Your Sequences

Transitions, especially dissolves, generally give the viewer an impression of a change in time or location. When very long transitions are used, they become more of a special effect, useful in creating a different atmosphere in your sequence. You can use transitions to:

  • Convey the passing of time between scenes

  • Fade up at the beginning of the movie or scene

  • Create a montage of images

  • Fade out at the end of the movie or scene

  • Create motion graphic effects

  • Soften jump cuts (cuts between two different parts of the same footage)

Final Cut Pro comes with a variety of transitions you can use in your programs, but you’ll probably use dissolves and wipes more than any others. For more information, see Video Transitions That Come with Final Cut Pro.

How Transitions Appear in the Timeline

Transitions are applied between two adjacent clips in the same track of a sequence in the Timeline. In the Timeline, a transition is displayed as an object overlapping two adjacent clips. You can still see the cut point between the two clips. A dark gray slope in the transition’s icon in your sequence indicates the speed, alignment, and direction of your transition.

Figure. Timeline window showing a transition between two clips.

By default, transitions have a total duration of 1 second. To change this, see Changing the Duration of a Transition in the Timeline.

To apply a transition, both clips must have additional media (handles) that overlap past the edit point.

Having Handles at Edit Points

Clips must have handles if you want to transition between them. Handles are additional media frames before the In point and after the Out point of your clips. The first shot in a transition (the outgoing clip) needs a handle after its Out point, while the second shot in a transition (the incoming clip) needs a handle before its In point.

Figure. Diagram showing the outgoing and incoming clips and their handles.

If the In point of your incoming clip begins on the first frame of the clip’s media file, you have no handle at the beginning (or head) of your clip. Likewise, if the Out point of your outgoing clip ends on the last frame of the clip’s media file, you have no handle at the end (or tail) of your clip. If the clips don’t have enough media for the transition, Final Cut Pro attempts to make the longest transition possible with the available clip handles. In some cases, you may end up with transitions as short as one frame, which may be difficult to see in the Timeline and are generally not intended or useful.

Aligning a Transition in the Timeline

You can place a transition so that it starts on, centers on, or ends on the edit point between two clips in the Timeline. You should choose a transition alignment based on the editorial effect you want to achieve:

  • Starting on the cut: Choose this alignment if you want the last frame of the outgoing clip to be fully visible before the transition begins.
    Figure. Timeline window showing a transition starting on the cut.
  • Centered on the cut: Choose this alignment if you want the cut point between the two clips to be the midpoint in the transition.
    Figure. Timeline window showing a transition centered on the cut.
  • Ending on the cut: Use this alignment if you want the first frame of the incoming clip to be fully visible.
    Figure. Timeline window showing a transition ending on the cut.

Using Transitions in Projects to Be Exported as EDLs

Edit Decision Lists (EDLs) were developed for older tape-to-tape editing systems with limited capabilities. Therefore, they can only describe a narrow range of transitions. Typically, these transitions match standard transitions found on most broadcast video switchers, designated by codes that have been standardized by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

Although today’s nonlinear editing systems have introduced a much wider variety of transitions and effects, the EDL format continues to reflect the simplicity of older systems. As a result, not everything that you can do in a Final Cut Pro sequence will show up as expected in an exported EDL.

Keep the following in mind when creating a sequence that you may export as an EDL:

  • EDLs don’t support transitions in any tracks other than V1. If you use transitions in other tracks, they won’t appear in the EDL.

  • Anything other than a cross dissolve or simple wipe is mapped to the closest approximate SMPTE standard wipe pattern.

For more information on EDLs, see Importing and Exporting EDLs.