Multilayer Dissolves

dissolves, film editing, video editing

A few posts ago I talked about paying attention when you fade to black at the end of a show, specifically when you work with more than one layer. I mentioned that if you don’t take care in how you fade, the top layer(s) will become transparent as the fade moves through the transition.

How you accomplish multilayer dissolves in the middle of a program also requires care. It can be a bit different than a fade to black—or it can be very similar. It all depends on whether one side of the transition is only a single layer, or if both sides are multilayer.

First, let’s look at multilayers on only one side of the transition. Let’s say we’re dissolving from a single layer clip to a multilayer clip.

dissolves, film editing, video editing
Cross-dissolves applied to each layer.

In this situation, put the “from” layer clip on a layer that’s above all the other layers of the incoming multilayer clip. Then extend the single layer clip from where you want to start the transition, through the length of the dissolve. Add a dissolve to the end of that clip. Then extend the layers that you’re dissolving to underneath the from layer just before the dissolve starts. This is very similar to adding black over the top that I mentioned in my earlier post.

But what do you do if you want to dissolve from a multilayer scene to another multilayer scene? Which goes on top? Neither. In this multilayer situation, collapse the layers on one side of the transition. It really doesn’t matter which side.

Collapsing layers on the timeline is called “nesting.” To do it, highlight/select all the layers you want to combine, and then select the nest function—whose location will vary depending on your software. Nesting replaces all the selected layers with a new clip that has just one layer.

dissolves, film editing, video editing
The “to” layers are nested first before a dissolve is applied.

Once the clip has been nested, move the nested clip up to a track that’s above the layers on the other side of the transition. After that, you just adjust the transition as mentioned above for multilayer on just one side of a transition.

I know this may seem like a small detail to spend time on, but it’s an easy fix. If you don’t deal with small details, they can add up and distract from the piece you’re editing.

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.