What are transition effects?
Adobe Premiere Pro offers several special effects and preset animations to help you bridge neighboring clips in a sequence. These transitions—such as dissolves, page wipes, dips to color, and so on—provide a way to ease viewers from one scene to the next. As well as smoothing the join between two clips, transitions can be used to focus attention on a major jump in the story.
Adding transitions to your project is an art. Applying them is simple enough: Drag the transition you want from the Effects panel onto the edit between two clips in a sequence.
The skill comes in their placement, length, and settings, such as direction, motion, and start/end positions.
You can adjust some transition settings in the Timeline panel, but it’s usually easier to make precise adjustments in the Effect Controls panel. To view the settings for a transition effect in the Effect Controls panel, select it in a sequence.
In addition to the unique options for each transition, the Effect Controls panel features a helpful A/B timeline display (more on this later).
This makes it easy to change the timing of transitions relative to an edit point, change the transition duration, and apply transitions to clips that don’t have enough head or tail frames—that is, additional content to provide an overlap at the beginning (head) or end (tail) of a clip.
Knowing when to use transitions
Transitions are a standard storytelling tool in video editing and the rules for their use are similar to the rules of screenwriting. They’re effective when they help the viewer understand the story.
For example, you may switch from indoors to outdoors in a video, or you may jump forward in time. An animated transition, a fade to black, or a dissolve can help the viewer understand that the location has changed, that time has passed, or that a character’s perspective has changed.
A fade to black at the end of a scene is a clear indication that the scene has finished. The trick with transitions is to be intentional—and this often means using restraint—unless, of course, a total lack of restraint is the creative result you want!
As long as it looks like you intended to include a particular effect, your audience will tend to trust your decision (whether or not they agree with your creative choice). It takes practice and experience to develop sensitivity for the right time, and the wrong time, to use effects such as transitions. If in doubt, less is usually best.
There is an established visual language that modern audiences recognize and respond to. For example, if a character falls asleep and the picture goes soft-focus, with everything in the frame glowing and bright, your audience will immediately know that we are witnessing that character’s dream. Studying this kind of visual language can help you make creative choices.
Following best practices with transitions
You may be tempted to use a transition on every cut. Don’t! Or at least, get them out of your system with your first project.
Most TV shows and feature films use cuts-only edits. You’ll rarely see any transition visual effects. Why is this? An effect should be used only if it gives an additional benefit; transition effects can sometimes be a distraction from the video, reminding viewers they are watching a story and preventing them from connecting with it emotionally.
If a news editor uses a transition effect, it’s for a purpose. The most frequent use in newsroom editing is to transform what would have been a jarring or abrupt edit into a more comfortable experience.
A jump cut is a good example of a scenario where a transition effect can help. A jump cut is a cut between two similar shots. Rather than looking like a continuation of the story, they look a little like a piece of the video is unintentionally missing. By adding a transition effect between the two shots, you can make a jump cut look intentional and less distracting.
Dramatic transition effects do have their place in storytelling. Consider the Star Wars movies with their highly stylized transition effects, such as obvious, slow wipes. Each of those transitions has a purpose. In this case, it’s to create a look reminiscent of old serialized movies and TV shows. The transition effects send a clear message: “Pay attention now. We’re transitioning across space and time.”