In document An attentional theory of continuity editing (Page 48-50)

Chapter 3: Hiding a Cut

3.1 Focus on a constant

3.1.1 Dissolve

Figure 3-1: A dissolve from a shot of a painting to a shot of the sea. Camera moves towards the picture (top left) then a dissolve begins (top centre and right) to a shot of the sea (bottom left, centre) until the shot of the sea completely replaces the original shot (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Dario Argento, 1996)17.

The most obvious technique used to minimise the visual transients caused by transitioning from one shot to another is to dissolve or fade between the shots instead of cutting. A cut presents the new shot immediately after the old shot. This sudden change between visual scenes is what creates the visual transients. To remove the transients this transition needs to be more gradual. A dissolve produces this effect by gradually fading out the first shot whilst fading in the second (see Figure 3-1). A variant of a straight dissolve is a fade. This is created by placing an intermediate set of blank frames between the two shots. Typically these frames are coloured black so the fade is known as a fade-to-black but occasionally other colours are used such as a fade-to-white to imitate looking at a bright light or symbolise transcendence. A fade typically takes longer than a straight dissolve and indicates a clear juncture between the two shots. This difference in actual duration of the transition is used by editors to symbolise different degrees of temporal ellipsis between the shots. The conventionalised meaning of a dissolve is that a short period of time has passed between the shots whilst a fade through black indicates a long period of time (Lindgren, 1948).

48 A dissolve limits the attentional capture caused by the cut as the objects of the new scene do not appear suddenly. Instead the viewer’s attention would be distributed across the shot based on the content, not the transients caused by the cut. However, the absence of attentional capture does not mean that viewers are not aware of the change of shot. In fact the extended duration of the transition makes it more likely that viewers become aware of the changing visual scene.

It is interesting to note that in the earliest days of film editing (pre 1910) a straight cut from one shot to another was thought to be visually disruptive, uncomfortable for the viewer, and to be avoided at all cost (Bottomore, 1990). A lot of the earliest filmmakers employed fades or dissolves instead and maintained a preference for this practice throughout their careers (e.g. Cecil Hepworth; see Bottomore, 1990). By 1918, straight cuts had become more common but some filmmakers still believed that shot transitions “without warning and without intermediate change” meant that “the eye suffered a shock” (Croy, 1918; page 184). However, by this time editors were beginning to understand that under some viewing conditions cuts could be acceptable. This can be seen in Croy’s conditional “without warning”. By the time Croy made this statement, the basic principles of continuity editing, such as 180° Rule, reverse angle cutting, point-of-view shots, and, most significantly, matching action were well established. Whether because of these new conventions, or because viewers had become more familiar with the film medium, the cut became the accepted form of transition between shots and the belief that they resulted in a “shock” was retained only for editing discontinuities. Dissolves remained only to signify a passage of time or a symbolic connection between shots18.

18 However, if you perform a frame-by-frame analysis of a modern feature film you will still quite often find minute dissolves between shots. A couple of frames of dissolve does not appear to be enough for the audience to register (the transition looks like a cut) but editors must believe that even a slight dissolve such as this can ease the transition between shots. It might also be used as a way of hiding a discontinuity, i.e. a quick-fix.

49 The problem with using dissolves as a way to hide a change in shot is that wherever the viewer is looking eventually the visual information they are fixating will change. Dissolves are traditionally created in the photographic laboratory by exposing a single piece of film to two different shots. The degree of exposure of the shots is balanced so that gradually the second shot dominates the first. There is no optical transformation of one shot into another, just superimposition. The objects of the first shot will gradually disappear and be replaced by new objects. If we compare this visual experience to that of the inattentional blindness experiments it is clear that the absence of a visual constant across the dissolve makes it impossible for viewers to focus their attention without disruption. For example, in Simons & Chabris’ Gorilla experiment viewers were instructed to follow the basketball players dressed in white. The presentation of these players was constant during the experiment even though they would occasionally be occluded by the basketball players in black and the unexpected gorilla (Simons & Chabris, 1999). The almost constant nature of the white players meant that viewers were able to adopt a “white” attentional set and focus their attention in a continuous fashion even when the stimuli was presented as two semi-transparent superimposed films (Simons & Chabris, 1999). By comparison, in a traditional dissolve there is no visual constant that isn’t affected by the dissolve. For inattentional blindness to be observed across a dissolve (or a cut, for that matter) the part of the scene to which the viewer was focussing their attention would need to stay constant whilst the peripheral details change in a way that does not capture any remaining attention.

In document An attentional theory of continuity editing (Page 48-50)