Simple effects techniques

Many editors have come to rely on one-button filter presets to create their effects, but a lot can be done if you understand the tools that come with every NLE. Like early versions of Photoshop before layer effects were added, the building blocks are there – you just have to learn how to use them. Here are a few simple techniques you can use to spruce up your editing timelines.

Blur/dissolve transition. This is a common plug-in effect, but you can create a more subtle effect manually. Place the outgoing shot on V2 and the incoming shot on V1. Overlap them by the length of the transition. Split the clip (razor blade or “add edit”) on V2 at the start of the transition. Add a Gaussian blur filter to this clip with a beginning and ending keyframe. The first keyframe should have a 0 value and then crank up the blur on the second/last keyframe. Next change the opacity, so the V2 clip fades out over the length of the transition. The end result should be an outgoing clip that blurs out and fades out to reveal the incoming clip.

Glow layer. Duplicate a V1 clip and copy it to V2. Add a glow filter to V2. Now experiment with different composite/blend modes on V2. Adjust the V2 opacity and add color correction to taste. Depending on your settings, you’ll end up with something as simple as subtle highlight glows – or as extreme as stylized action shots common in sports promos.

Skip bleach effect in FCP (or other color correction styles). This is similar to the “glow layer” composite I just mentioned. It’s a trick borrowed from After Effects designers. Place a clip on V1 and a duplicate of that clip onto V2. Change the blend/composite mode of the clip on V2 (such as to screen or overlay). Apply a color correction filter onto the V2 clip and adjust to taste. The classic “skip bleach” effect is high-contrast and reduced saturation.

Bi-packs. This goes back to optical film printing. Essentially the effect is a dissolve on top of another dissolve, so that you get a point with three images momentarily superimposed. Dissolve between clips on V1. Place a third shot on V2 and dissolve to the shot from the blank space on V2. Start the transition so that it occurs on top of the dissolve on V1. Experiment with placement and dissolve durations for the right visual effect.

Insert video into titles. Different NLEs process titles in different ways, but generally it’s a combination of nested alpha information and full color “fill”. You can replace the fill with moving video. Media Composer nests the effect, so step into the effect and replace the fill layer with video. The matte layer (the title letter shapes) cuts the hole through which you will see the video. In Final Cut Pro, build the effect on three layers – V1 background, V2 title, V3 new fill video that is to appear inside the title. Now change the composite mode for the V3 clip to Travel Matte-Alpha or Travel Matte-Luma, depending on whether the title has an alpha channel or not.

Keynote for titles. There are plenty of video titling effects and applications, but if you own Apple Keynote (part of iWork), you have a very powerful and user-friendly animation tool at your disposal. Simply set the project to a video size (i.e. 1920×1080) and create the text pages with the desired animation effects and page transitions. Next, export it as a QuickTime movie. Keynote defaults to a high-quality H.264, so convert the file to ProRes for easier editing, using Compressor or another application. These won’t have an embedded alphas, so full screen text is best or pages that can be luma-keyed or choma-keyed. Avoid gradient backgrounds. These will show banding once turned into video due to the H.264 codec.


One more trick, similar to the glow layer and skip bleach trick mentioned above, is the ability in FCP (or other NLEs) to use layers for tone-mapping and even pseudo HDR (high-dynamic range) looks. A common technique is to create two radically different color grades on the same image and then combine these two through keying or blend modes. In this example, there are three copies of the same clip on three video tracks. I’ve made the highlights (V3) very golden, but the base layer normal (V1). In between on V2, I have used filters to turn the image into a high-contrast black-and-white, which I can use as the source of a key. By changing the blend/composite mode on V3 to Travel Matte–Luma, the V3 clip (the golden image) is using V2 as a key signal to composite the golden highlights onto the normal image of V1.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

©2011 Oliver Peters