In the editing world, a dissolve refers to a smooth transition between two clips. Typically, the first clip fades out as second clip fades in, but you can also fade a clip to black (also known as a "fade-out") or "fade-in" from black. Unlike a simple cut between two shots, a dissolve overlaps them until the first shot has eventually faded to nothing. Dissolves can be a great way to show the passage of time in a scene, and they're often used in montages to make the viewer feel like the main characters have experienced a series of challenges.
A Brief History
At the beginning of the 20th century, dissolves were first used as a means of combining multiple clips together. Literally, the first shot would be filmed, and then the cameraman would rewind the negative so that the next shot would overlap with the first one. This rudimentary concept served its purpose at the time, providing the first real transition in cinema.
When to Use a Dissolve
Unlike a simple cut — which is as unintrusive as possible for viewers — dissolves tend to be more distracting. They're not the ideal transition for many situations, but if you're looking for a gradual change between shots, they can be a powerful tool. For example, if there's a change in location and you want to ensure that viewers understand time has passed, using a dissolve is a smart option. Since dissolves draw more attention to what's happening onscreen, you can also employ them to heighten an emotional moment in the storyline. For a dissolve to make sense, remember to keep these elements in mind:
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