What is a lap dissolve?

A lap dissolve, or dissolve is a video editing technique that allows a gradual transition from one scene to another. This is different from straight cuts, where one image replaces the previous directly and rapidly. Dissolves were traditionally created by superimposing images with an optical printer. Now they can be easily done with the help of video editing software!

Read more about how you can make a dissolve and more with Masterclass.

When are dissolves used?

Dissolves are a great visual technique to imply a connection between the shots in the sequence, making them a great tool to ensure continuity. That's why they are often used to indicate the passing of time, a change of location or time, or the beginning of a flashback or a dream.

Short dissolves may also be used to soften hard cuts or jump cuts. Fade-ins and fade-outs are specific types of dissolves, where one of the images transitioned to or from are blank.

How long are lap dissolves?

The length of a lap dissolve depends almost entirely on the preference and style of the production, although it’s usually around 1-2 seconds. It can affect both the mood and the pacing of a sequence. An unusually slow lap dissolve, for example, can create a sense of gloom or romance, while a quick dissolve invokes energy and speed.

Should I use dissolves?

Lap dissolves used to be a staple of classic cinematography, but now are becoming less popular, mainly due to the French New Wave influence. Regardless, they are still a useful tool in the visual storyteller’s toolkit, as they can have a great effect on continuity and pacing while making an emotional impact.

If as a filmmaker you feel like a lap dissolve is right for you, it probably is! Trust your gut and experiment with different tools to discover your unique style and tell your stories the way you want to.

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