Transitions can be an incredibly effective storytelling device that filmmakers use to visually communicate to the audience. One of the earliest transitions is the wipe transition. What is a wipe transition? First used in 1901 in Robert Paul’s Scrooge, the wipe was used from the top of the frame to the bottom, emulating the visuals of a curtain dropping. Wipes continued to be used most famously in the Star Wars franchise and continued to evolve in modern filmmaking. Although the traditional wipe is less predominant in more recent films, filmmakers are taking the principles of the wipe and creatively reinventing it. Let’s dive in.

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What is a wipe transition

Defining the screen wipe transition

In the early years of cinema, the wipe transition was more expensive because the transition was actually performed physically in the lab. These days, the wipe is only a few clicks away. No matter how it is achieved, it still falls under the same wipe film definition. 


What is a wipe transition?

A wipe transition is a transition technique used in post-production editing in which one shot replaces another by moving or “wiping” from one side of the frame to another. The wipe transition can be done from any direction and in various shapes. The wipe is typically used in film to transition between different story lines or locations.

Types of Wipe Transitions in Film

  • Iris: Growing or shrinking circle wipe
  • Star: Growing or shrinking star wipe
  • Clock: Sweeps in the motion of a clock
  • Matrix: Patterned transition between two shots

What is a wipe transition

Star Wars wipe transition

One of the most famous uses of this transition technique can be found in any Star Wars movie. Star Wars films do a masterful job at juggling multiple storylines in different locations in the galaxy.

In making his epic space opera, George Lucas was inspired by classic sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon. One of the most obvious nods was using similar screen wipe transitions. Here, you'll see a multitude of wipe editing examples.

Wipe Editing Example  •  Editing Transitions in Flash Gordon

The wipe effect is one of the most common Star Wars film editing techniques used throughout the franchise. It’s used to establish that the story is jumping to a different plot line, possibly in a different part of the galaxy. Here’s a video with every example in the Star Wars franchise.

Editing Transitions in Star Wars

The Star Wars wipe transition varies in direction, but all serve the purpose of transitioning to another storyline. It works as a visual cue to the audience that the story is moving along, emulating a curtain falling after a scene in a play.

What is a wipe transition

Evolution of the wipe transition

Although this basic effect was more predominant in older films, it can be seen in a new form from modern filmmakers. What is a wipe transition used for in modern films? Edgar Wright creates an evolved and more complex application of this editing transition in Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Rather than a straight linear transition, Edgar Wright uses text graphics, camera movement, and sound design to create a complex transition from left to right. Take a look at how Nerdwriter breaks down this transition in this video.

Scott Pilgrim: Editing transitions in film

While you may not find a use for a classic wipe transition in your film, it is important to understand why it was used in the past. This may help you come up with creative transitions, such as the one in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, that work in the same way. 

What is a wipe transition

Wipe transition examples 

Let’s take a look at another wipe transition example and why the editor might have used it. In this scene transition from Pineapple Express, the wipe effect gives the film an older vintage “stoner” flick feeling that obviously goes well with the narrative. Not only does it add to the tone of the comedy, it also is functional in its ability to jump in place and time. 

Wipe transition in film  •  Pineapple Express

In this case, the transition calls attention to itself. Because of this, it is a great mechanism for comedies that lean into the playfulness and not so serious tone of Pineapple Express

When it comes to the evolved passing transition, few television shows do it better than Sherlock. Sherlock utilizes the passing, wipe effect to jump from time to time or place to place while maintaining the editors desired pace. Check out this great video essay by konradnoises that analyzes how Sherlock’s transitions contribute to its storytelling.

Types of Transitions in Film  •  Sherlock

Wiping transitions may be seen as an outdated editing transition. Hopefully these examples have proven there are still fresh and creative ways the wipe can contribute to your editing and help tell a better story. 


Match Cuts & Creative Transitions

Still searching for that right transition to use in your film? There are quite a few transitions to choose from, but one of the most creative is the match cut. Check out our article in which we dive into match cuts and the different ways you can use a match cut to communicate ideas and story to your audience. 

Up Next: Match Cuts & Creative Transitions →
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