Custom transitions using adjustment layers


Sometimes you just want to use a unique transition effect, however, you might not own a package of third party plug-ins with custom transitions. If you are an FCP X / Motion user, then you can create a custom transition as a Motion  template. But, maybe that’s too much trouble when you are in the thick of things. There is actually a very simple technique that After Effects artists have used for years. That’s using an adjustment layer above a cut or dissolve between two shots and applying filters within the adjustment layer.

This works in FCP X, Premiere Pro CC and Media Composer. The first two actually have adjustment layer effects, though in FCP X, it’s based on a blank title generator. In Media Composer, you can add edits into empty video tracks and apply effects to any section of a blank track, which effectively makes this process the same as using an adjustment layer. The Media Composer approach was described nicely by Shane Ross in his Vimeo tutorial, which got me thinking about this technique more broadly. Generally, it works the same in all three of these NLEs.

The examples and description are based on Premiere Pro CC, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out on your particular software of choice. To start, create a new adjustment layer and add a marker to the middle of it. This helps to center the layer over the cut between two shots. Place the adjustment layer effect over a cut between shots, making sure that the marker lines up with the edit point. If the transition is to be a one-second effect, then trim the front and back of the adjustment layer so that one-half second is before the marker and one-half second is after the marker. Depending on the effect, you may or may not also want a short dissolve between the two shots on the base video track. For example, an effect that flashes the screen full frame at the midpoint will work with a cut. A blur effect will work best in conjunction with a dissolve, otherwise you’ll see the cut inside the blur.

The beauty of this technique is that you can apply numerous filters to an adjustment layer and get a unique combination of effects that isn’t otherwise available. For example, a blur+glow+flare transition. At this point, it’s important to realize that not all effects plug-ins work the same way and you will have varying results. Boris filters tends not to work when you stack them in the same adjustment layer and start to change keyframes. In Avid’s architecture, the BCC filters have a specific pipeline and you have to define which filter is the first and which is the last effect. I didn’t find any such controls in the Premiere version. A similar thing happened with the Red Giant Universe filters. On the other hand, most of the native Premiere Pro filters operated correctly in this fashion.

The basic principle is that you want the filters to start and end at a neutral value so that the transition starts and ends without a visible effect. The midpoint of the transition (over the cut) should be at full value of whatever it is you are trying to achieve. If it’s a lens flare, then the middle of the transition should be the midpoint of the lens flare’s travel and also its brightest moment. If you are using a glow, then the intensity is at its maximum in the middle. Typically this means three keyframe points – beginning, middle and end. The values you adjust will differ with the plug-in. It could be opacity, strength, intensity or anything else. Sometimes you will adjust multiple parameters at these three points. This will be true of a lens flare that travels across the screen during the transition.

The point is that you will have to experiment a bit to get the right feel. The benefit is that once you’ve done this, the adjustment layer clip – complete with filters and keyframes – can be copied-and-pasted to other sections of the timeline for a consistent effect.

Here are some examples of custom transition effects in Premiere Pro CC, using this adjustment layer technique. (Click the image for an enlarged view.)


This is a combination of a Basic 3D horizontal spin and Ripples. The trick is to get the B-side image to not be horizontally flipped, since it’s the backside of the rotating image. To do this, I added an extra Transform filter with a middle keyframe that reverses the scale width to -100.


This transition combines a Directional Blur with a Chromatic Glow and requires a dissolve on the base video track.


This is a lens flare transition where the flare travels and changes intensity. The brightest part is the midpoint over the shot change. This could work as a cut or dissolve, since the flare’s brightness “wipes” the screen. In addition, I have the flare center traveling from the upper left to the lower right of the frame.


Here, I’ve applied the BCC Pencil Sketch filter, bringing it in and out during the length of the transition, with a dissolve on the base layer. This gives us a momentary cartoon look as part of the shot transition.


Custom UI filters like Magic Bullet Looks also work. This effect combines Looks using the “blockbuster” preset with a Glow Highlights filter. First set the appearance in Looks and then use the strength slider for your three keyframes.


This transition is based on the Dust & Scratches filter in Premiere Pro. I’m not sure why it produced this blotchy artistic look other than the large radius value. Quite possibly this is a function of its behavior in an adjustment layer. Nevertheless, it’s a cool, impressionistic style.


This transition takes advantage of the BCC Water Color filter. Like my Pencil Sketch example, the transition briefly turns into a watercolor during the length of the transition.


Like the previous two BCC example, this is a similar approach using the Universe ToonIt Paint filter.


This transition combines several of the built-in Premiere Pro effects, including Transform and Radial Blur. The image scales up and back down through the midpoint, along with the blur values ramping and an added skew value change.


In this last example, I’ve used Magic Bullet Looks. The Looks style uses a Tilt-Shift preset to which I’ve added lens distortion within Looks. The three keyframe points are set by adjusting the strength slider.

©2014 Oliver Peters