Demystifying Vidding

We can’t really tell you how to pick the perfect scene, because 95% of scene selection is intuition.
~ fanvidbasics

This is a post from my tumblr that people seem to find pretty useful, so I’ve dragged it out again and expanded it a bit. OK back to the text:

Sorry to be a bit sort of disagreeing with this fanvidbasics blog but I always think it’s a shame when people say things like “95% of scene selection is intuition” because it mystifies art and makes people believe they can’t learn how to do it. But they can!

And there’s so much out there to help.

Vidding, just like painting or drawing or writing or any art, has teachable and learnable methods and you don’t have to intuit it all yourself. Because it’s a subset of video editing, there are huge amounts of professional resources out there, not just for VFX and technical approaches, but also artistic approaches. Flow, rhythm, and cutting patterns are discussed in depth in the pro editing community. Look at the latest two issues of Assembly Magazine –there’s a really interesting observation by Dr Ran Carmi I’ve been thinking about a lot. The Tao of Color discusses emotion, colour, and underlying processes regularly, including specifically how you might get the effect you want. Understanding the 5 Cs of Cinematography will help you analyse the footage you’re working with and the choices the source editor has made. And if you can afford to take a course (alas too dear for me) then those are available online too.

Vidding has its own unique techniques obviously because it’s a whole and distinct artform, and you’re right to notice that flow is key to many successful vids. Flow is one of the core challenges of vidding (that is at all concerned with musicality) because you’re integrating scenes from across possibly years of a tv show or even multiple, completely different shows, into one percept or gestalt. The question of how to do this has, frankly, obsessed me for years! :D My advice is this:

No clip is just itself.

Vids are like music: each clip acts in relationship to the one before and after, or else it’s just noise.

Try thinking of each clip as actually three clips: IN LAND OUT. Your land* is your story clip. Put that down on your lyric (or leading up to your lyric or wherever you are placing it). Now put down your next story clip (or LAND). Now you need to connect them up. There are numerous methods. Here are three basic ones:

1 Cutting on action or motion match.

I laboriously intuited this a long time ago, and described it in 10TiK like this:

To smooth transitions: Cut like to like. (Someone walks across the camera: cut on the most amount of black to another almost completely black frame.)

For smooth motion: Match subjects’ velocity.

It took me years to work this out but it turns out it’s basic continuity editing, and it’s really useful for linking sequences. An example of smooth motion matching is here at 00:57:

2 Raccord or graphic match cut

Once you’ve got your IN LAND OUT sorted you can build out those sequences to do more interesting things or go for longer. You can cut very quickly with similar shapes. Try varying the size and lightness of the shapes to achieve pulsing or beat expression. Try scaling up and moving around to blend flow and motion.

Again in Expo at 2:14 I cut this 13 clip sequence in 5 seconds with 2 real lands. Here’s 9 clips in a row (screenshotting one frame from each) of pure raccord so you can see how simple shape and object matching can build up:

3 Light building

That sequence from Expo also demonstrates a common technique in vidding that is less common elsewhere, which is light building, where you pulse and shimmer light sources for expressive effect. TV and film editing uses this a little - in bloom and solar transitions, in white flash cuts, and in blowouts, but not really to the extent and depth of fanvidding.

The opposite is also heavily heavily used in fanvidding (the youtube fadebop), where fades to black are used to hit beats or blend scenes.

…And then I wanted more

OK so lemme expand a sec on matching.

So right now Fool For Love is playing in the other room; let’s break that down briefly. The scene is Spike telling Buffy about killing his last slayer and it’s a good example because it’s two fights cut together, into one, explicitly, so it’s easier to really see the matches. They are showing you the matches. The scenes are stitched together through these motion matches until they occupy the same space. By the eyeline match, they can have 70s Spike addressing 2000s Buffy and it’s perfectly coherent.

Consider that these two scenes are really four scenes - that all fight scenes are really shot as (at least two) separate scenes cut together because the actors and the stunt doubles both act out the scenes and then their motions are matched and cut together to form one percept.

Now realise ALL continuity editing does this - even in the same scene with the same actors. You can connect any clip to any other clip, from anything, so long as there’s some continuity of form: in shape, colour, motion, eyeline…

Which reminds me, in Pteryx’s interview she talks about the Buffy titles, which have to be acknowledged as massively influential on vidding*.

Just spend some time watching these credits and look for motion matches, graphic matches. This is like that, this is like that. Once you start seeing them you’ll notice this all over.

  • See the graphic match on Spike's hand

  • Dawn's eyebrow takes up the motion line. The motion builds a tangible space by bouncing itself against "walls".
  • Watch it again with another eyebrow follow-through. Dawn is the key. :P
  • See how the motion moves one way and then resolves back: the conceptual "room" must have some limits, some rigid bodies and colliders.
  • Swing the pendulum. Trace the arc

*As well as the Friends titles; I mean, the Friends titles basically slowly teach you how to edit (very simply) to music- they start off with the characters literally dancing to the music and then gradually over the years replace each dance move with a clip from the show that dances in a similar way. There’s a reason making Friends Style Credits is a gateway drug.

Once you’ve got your head round these three basic techniques, it’s easy to start noticing others, if you look. The next thing to look for is when people disrupt continuity, when they break the flow, and start to think about why you might do that. And then you get obsessed with montage theory. :P

There are so many ways to create flow. I’ve focused here on some specific basic techniques, but there’s also flow and continuity of meaning and narrative to be considered. Anyone want to weigh in on this (or on cutting of course)? Go for it!

*Sometimes people feel overwhelmed by that black space on their timeline in between their lands/money shots but I say, don’t be overwhelmed! Those black spaces are your fun places, your grace notes, your triple axel toe loops! Money shots are islands in a vast black sea and the happiness of vidding is building beautiful, satisfying bridges between them. :D