Dissolves: A Fade Worse Than Death

dissolves, fades

I came up with my groan-inducing editing pun, “That’s a fade worse than death,” years ago, after a particularly long and frustrating edit session. I was working on a fairly simple 30-second television spot in a room with an edit committee. Account people, copywriters, art directors and a creative director all filled every available space in the room. That, in itself, wasn’t a problem; what they were fighting about was—the fade to black at the end of the spot.

We looked at 30 frame fades, 15 frame fades, a soft cut and a hard cut. This went on for over a half an hour. Now, I’m perfectly willing to argue and experiment the intricacies of any edit, for hours even, if that edit makes a difference.

But, in this case, it was an ordinary static product shot with the client logo. There was no complicated storyline or an extraordinary sound design or some sort of overarching concept. It was just a spot that sold product.

A 15-frame fade won the day. The spot aired, the viewers watched, and the product sold. And I was stuck with this bad pun.

But I’m reminded of it on a somewhat frequent basis when I see a common mistake some editors do—not finessing the fade to black.

When finishing a piece that ends with multiple layers, let’s say a product shot with a second layer containing a logo, how you do the fade matters. The common technique is simply to add a fade (or dissolve, depending on software) to each layer and you’re done.

dissolves, fades
A dissolve transition applied to both layers creates unwanted transparency on the top layer.

The issue with using two fades like that is that the top layer will fade away showing the background image, through itself. Unless you really want that look, really, you want to have the whole composite fade away.

Now, you could nest the two layers and fade the nested clip, but that makes it a little less flexible to adjust the composite. You have to open the nested clip to reposition the logo, for example.

A simple way of getting the whole composite to fade away is to add a short clip of black to a layer that’s on top of your other layers. Start this clip right when you want to start your fade and add a dissolve at the start of this clip.

dissolves, fades
Adding a clip of black and dissolving it “on” creates a black without the opacity issues.

This technique will take your composite to black as a complete piece rather than just fading off each layer. It’s truly a fade to black.

Michael Guncheon is an accomplished editor who has cut a wide range of projects, including music videos for Prince, a documentary on Genesis, and numerous commercials and corporate pieces. A partner at HDMG, a Minneapolis video production and post-production company, Guncheon has written several books on DSLRs and is the author of the Kodak Digital Photo Guide. He has presented his talk on shooting with HDSLRs at Twin Cities Public Television, WGBH in Boston, PBS in New York, the Hollywood Post Alliance and at the annual SMPTE conference in Hollywood.