Understanding Transition Types in Final Cut Pro

A transition is the visual magic that takes your eyes (and then your mind) to the next clip in a movie. Leonard Bernstein once defined music as "one note after another." When you get down to it, a movie is like that, too: one frame, one clip after another. The difference between a good movie and one that's hard to watch often depends on which clip comes next and how the editor made it appear.

Most of the video we see on TV and in the movies is edited by people with an enormous array of expensive tools to make transitions from one clip to another. You may have watched with awe and envy at how they did it — until now. With Final Cut Pro in your hot little hands, you can go from clip to clip like a pro, minus the studio full of expensive equipment.

Transitions are as much about the creative process as anything else in Final Cut. Learning how to use them involves thinking about your movie's theme, texture, and look. Try to avoid just looking at the details: Keep the "big picture" — the look and feel of your movie — in mind.

Here are some of the important transition types provided in Final Cut and what they do:

  • 3D Simulations: As the name implies, these six transitions imitate an action in three dimensions. You can use them to zoom in and out and create spins, cube spins, and swings. They have an action, high-tech feel and are often used in commercials and news shorts.
    The transitions under the 3D simulations are Cross Zoom, Cube Spin, Spin 3D, Spinback 3D, Swing, and Zoom.
  • Dissolves: A dissolve, the most common transition, is an equal fade out of a clip, over an equal fade in of another. These transitions morph the image into something else by gradually erasing what was there previously.
    The dissolves available to you are Additive dissolve, Cross dissolve, Dither dissolve, Fade In, Fade Out, Non-Additive dissolve, and Ripple dissolve.
  • Iris: Like looking through a telescope, an iris puts the focus on the center of the frame, and the edges change toward that center. You can manipulate an iris transition in dozens of ways.
    Iris transitions include Cross, Diamond, Oval, Point, Rectangle, and Star.
  • Map: By selecting or inverting specific channels, dramatic solarizing effects can be created during the transition. Solarizing appears to burn out the edges of images and reminds one of psychedelic effects from the 1960s.
    The Map transitions are Channel map and Luminance map.
  • Page Peel: The first clip peels away to reveal the second. You can make lots of adjustments to this effect. Add some extra frame handles on this one because they are particularly important. Also, think about the relationship between the two images as one is peeled away. If you peel slowly top to bottom while talking heads are on each screen, you may find your audience laughing at what looks like Mr. Potatohead.
  • QuickTime: QuickTime has its own category in the Effects menu of Final Cut's transitions. You can find the QuickTime transitions (like all the other transitions) under the Video Transitions folder on the Effects tab of your Browser. This array of transitions includes some that are similar to transitions already in Final Cut as well as interesting ones, such as Radial, where the first clip swings out in an arch like the hands of a clock to reveal the second.
    The 13 QuickTime transitions are Alpha Compositor, Chroma Key, Cross Fade, Explode, Gradient wipe, Implode, Iris, Matrix wipe, Push, Radial, Slide, Wipe, and Zoom.
  • Slide: Your uncle's old slide projector could never push slides out of the way like this collection. Top, bottom, split — you name it, frames can be made to do just about anything.
    The Slide transitions in Final Cut are Band slide, Box slide, Center Split slide, Multi-Spin slide, Push slide, Spin slide, Split slide, and Swap slide.
  • Stretch (and Squeeze): The clips are distorted in ways that makes objects look like they visited with Stretch Armstrong. Be careful: You can make people look weird with this tool.
    This set of transitions includes Cross Stretch, Squeeze, Squeeze and Stretch, and just Stretch, for those mellow days!
  • Wipe: Wipes differ from dissolves in that they don't blend. They move one thing out of the way with another, but wipes give you more options than slides. Wipes are fun. It's a great way to amuse your friends when showing that fishing trip.
    The 14 wipes available to you are Band wipe, Center wipe, Checker wipe, Checkerboard wipe, Clock wipe, Edge wipe, Gradient wipe, Inset wipe, Jaws wipe, Random Edge wipe, V wipe, Venetian Blind wipe, Wrap wipe, and Zigzag wipe.
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