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Time-Warp Editing is seen as an easy way to go viral by some marketers and a compelling way to tell visual stories by most filmmakers. You can use it as a garnish or as a central device for your videos. But first, you need to know what time-warping is and how it works.
This resource is your guide to time-warm editing. It includes the how and the why of this editing style alongside its best practices and mistakes worth avoiding. So, let’s get started with an in-depth definition.
What Is Time-Warp
Time-warp generally refers to manipulating time, but in the context of video editing, refers to an effect that helps slow down or speed up footage without making the final result look digitally manipulated. Video editors use time-warping for stylistic and narrative effects.
On a narrative level, time-warping acts like this: you're reading a story where the first chapter covers a month's worth of events, and the next chapter covers an intense one-hour sequence. The author has warped the time to make a point.
How would this play out on video? Of course, you could shoot more events for the first episode and let the second episode cover a single event closely. That's time-warping on a director's level. For video editors, time warping is different.
Take the example of a classic wedding promo. The bride runs towards the groom. The footage is sped up ever so slightly. And as they get near each other, the footage is slowed down to emphasize the moment. That's time-warp editing.
Time warping refers to speeding up or slowing down the passage of time in any piece of media.
Time warping can happen in stories (narrative time warping).
Time warping can happen in principal photography (shooting more or less)
Time warping can happen in post-production (digitally slowing down or speeding up)
When it comes to post-production time warping (via video editing), the most important tool you can use is called the Time Warp effect in Adobe Premiere Pro.
When people ask, "What is time-warp in video?" they're usually referring to the Premiere Pro effect (made by The Foundry), which blends frames to create a smooth slow-motion effect. Time-warp editing can be done without this effect as well, but using it is highly recommended.
If your footage isn't recorded at a higher frame rate, it can't be slowed down smoothly. When you lower the footage speed, the missing frames are skipped, creating a jumpy effect that's quite jarring. With the Time Warp effect, you can get a smoother slow-mo even if your footage isn't shot at a higher framerate.
This explains the popularity of the Time Warp effect, as it helps the average video editor produce cinematic-looking edits with standard mobile footage. Time warping as a narrative technique is for everyone, but the Time Warp effect may not be necessary or useful for all editors. Look at the table below.
|Time Warp (Videography)
|Time-Warp Effect (by the Foundry)
|Speeding up or slowing down footage
|An Adobe Premiere Pro effect that makes slowed-down footage smoother
|For narrative or stylistic effect
|To make a slow-mo more convincing
|Any videographer, filmmaker, or video marketer
|Anyone using Adobe Premiere Pro
|Certain corporate video projects
|Anyone not using Premiere Pro
As you can see, time-warping as a concept is broadly useful for pretty much everyone. In contrast, the Time Warp Premiere Pro effect has limited use within the broader context of time warping. Whether you use this effect when slowing down footage or not is up to you, but you should definitely incorporate time-warping as a concept in your video editing.
Where To Use Time-Warp
Let's go over why time-warping is important and where it can help you make a point. If you randomly slow down your video in places where it doesn't have the desired effect, you'll look like an amateur. A pro editor doesn't use time-warp a lot, but when he uses it, he makes sure it has the desired effect.
You can use time-warping as a way to emphasize any part of your video. It should ideally be an action, as slowed-down dialogue doesn't make for engaging content. If your characters are running towards each other, chasing something, or even falling down, slowing down the moment can sell the impact.
Action sequences can contrast slow and fast moments to create a compelling effect. Slowing down footage just before a big jump or explosion can highlight what follows. You can also slow down reaction shots after a significant event to let its effects sink in.
Time-warping (as a concept) is embedded within flashbacks. After all, most flashbacks take liberties with time. When a character remembers something, the narrative stands still as the flashback plays out. That is a way of warping time.
But you can also use speeding up and slowing down effects to visually warp the time. If a character is recalling her first kiss, then slowing down the sequence would make sense. And if she’s trying to recall something that happened after she drank too much, speeding up the flashback with excessive motion blur would make sense.
Some videographers change the video speed during montage sequences. This practice isn't very common, though. Still, you can reserve a degree of time-warping for montages. Just remember to slow the video subtly, as montage sequences are meant to be glossed over.
How To Time-Warp Edit
Now that you understand what time-warping is and how you can time-warp portions of videos you're editing, it is time to figure out how to actually do it. In this section, you'll learn 11 ways to use time warping in your video storytelling.
Manual time-warping lays the foundation for all other kinds of time-warping. So, you need to understand this regardless of whether you're interested in stylistic or narrative warping. To time-warp edit a video manually, you must follow these steps:
Drag the clip to the project timeline - Almost all video editing programs have a project timeline.
Highlight or isolate the portion you plan to slow down (or speed up) - You can usually split each specific portion into its own clip on the timeline.
Adjust the speed - Different editing programs have different speed manipulation shortcuts.
Enable blending (if available in the editor) - If the editor has an option to blend frames, then you should enable it.
With The TimeWarp Effect
If you're an Adobe Premiere Pro user, then you have the benefit of using the TimeWarp effect, which allows you to simultaneously slow down a portion of your video and smooth out the skips that happen due to a low frame rate.
Here’s how you use the TimeWarp effect in Premiere Pro:
Download the TimeWarp node
Drag clip to the project timeline
Locate Time Warp in the Time category
Apply/Enable the effect
This sounds a lot less complicated when you watch this video tutorial.
Time-Warp With Your Script
Time-warping with your script is a storytelling tool. It doesn't require video editing mastery. You just need to control the pace of your narrative to slow down moments of depth and speed up those of thrill. You can also slow down certain scenes to build tension.
To time-warp your script, you should write different scenes in different settings. You can also spend more time writing one scene and less on another. Many authors use their plot outlines to adjust how much time they give different beats of their novels to shine.
Time-Warp With Your Voice
As a narrator or presenter, you can create a hypnotic effect by altering your pace of delivery. Try sneaking a slow sentence after a high-speed delivery. Or try speeding up your pace when describing a high-octane scene. You will draw your audience in.
So far, you've learned how to technically time-warp an edit and how to use tools like The Foundry's TimeWarp effect to smooth things out. You have also learned how to speed up and slow down the actual narrative of your story with script timing and delivery.
Now, it is time to consider hybrid-warping. Try mixing up different hybridization techniques for stylistic and narrative impact. Below are a few suggestions for hybrid time warping:
Quick-paced narration with sped-up footage
Longer sequence description with slowed-down footage
Slow motion with high-speed music
Slow music with high-speed action
You can always mix and match different time-warping tools to get the creative result you're looking for. And if you're unsure about which ones to go for, don't worry. The section below will help you.
Uses Of Time-Warp In Storytelling
Start by becoming conscious of time-warping in the media you already consume. Once you start noticing time-warping in videos you already watch, you'll start getting inspired to use the effect creatively.
Take note every time a narrator or presenter changes the pace of her delivery. Look carefully at cases where a story's pace shifts drastically between chapters. Pay extra attention to the use of slow-motion in online content.
Don't have the time to make notes? It's okay. We observed hundreds of videos and have found the following creative uses or time-warp in storytelling.
One of the most consistent uses of time-warp editing is in the flashback portions of videos. Usually, the flashback is slowed down, or the narrative is sped up. Both these choices play with time and are, therefore, examples of time-warping.
A flashforward refers to skipping to a future point in the narrative. This, like a flashback, entails warping the passage of time from a storytelling perspective. Slowing down or speeding up footage in flashforwards is not that common, but it is still an opportunity you can exploit.
You can time-warp certain scenes to make a point. Director Zack Snyder is famous for using slow motion in his videos. And in almost every instance of a Snyder slow-mo, the desired effect is illustrative. By dragging out the scene, every aspect of it gets a significant shine.
The opposite of an illustrative slow-mo is a thrilling speed-up. Pick up the pace of the footage at just the right time, and you'll heighten its thrill. Many YouTubers use fast-paced editing purely to hijack and hold their viewers' attention. Since boredom is synonymous with time moving slower, you can give people the opposite experience by making it move quicker.
Slow down the footage at any point where there's some tension, and you'll create a lot of tension. Horror films often use narrative time warping to slow down a reveal. The characters might not be moving in slow motion, but they're experiencing reality unfolding at a slower pace.
All in all, you can use slow motion, slower storytelling, or fast-paced editing at any point in your video as long as it serves a purpose.
Other Tricks To Use With Time Warping
Once you know the purpose of Time-Warp editing in your videos, you can pair it with other effects to achieve the result you’re looking for. Let’s explore some of the possibilities this video editing tactic opens up.
Black And White
Suppose you're using slow-motion to exaggerate something like a ball being launched towards someone's head. You can make the entire scene black and white except for the ball. Simply isolate the color channel of the ball and let it be the only one displayed with any saturation.
L And J Cuts
L and J cuts in video editing refer to instances where the video cuts before the audio and the audio cuts before the video, respectively. We have a blog post about lesser-known video editing tricks where we discuss these cuts.
Here's how you can use them alongside narrative time warping. You can switch from a regular-paced visual to a slower-paced one before the audio has a chance to catch up. You can also speed up the footage while cutting to a slower-paced audio.
These cuts are great for creating curious contradictions that increase audience engagement. Just make sure you don't use them too often. Excessive L and J cutting can become obvious and lose its magic, as can excessive slow motion (you hear that, Zack Snyder?).
Switching to slower music when you slow down the footage can create a very convincing illusion of time slowing down. A great example of that is this scene. It is from X-Men: Days of Future Past and shows how time moves from the perspective of Quicksilver (alternative to The Flash).
Leverage Creative Transitions
Aside from slowing down the music or speeding up the audio track, you can also play around with video transitions. Creative transitions can make rapid cuts less distracting. They can also create momentum that keeps viewers engaged as shots change.
Add Motion Blur
Motion blur is considered a band-aid solution for missing frames. When footage is slowed down, motion blur has a filling effect similar to the Time Warp node. Where the Foundry's Time Warp effect blends frames to fill the gaps, motion blur creates a lagging trail of blurred frames that hides the gaps between captured frames.
Time-Warp Editing Mistakes To Avoid
Congratulations! You understand time warping on every level and are ready to use it in video editing as well as in storytelling. You also understand that time manipulation can occur in every medium, with or without editing tools.
So you can make choices like leveraging time warp tools, shooting footage at a different frame rate, and slowing down the pace of the script. All this power comes with some responsibility. Your sole responsibility is to protect your videos' consumability, which you can mess up with the wrong use of time warping.
But don't worry. This section will help you avoid these costly mistakes so you can enjoy Time Warp's upsides only.
As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid using one type of warping effect more than once in a ten-minute window. Of course, this also depends on the context of your content. For instance, The Slow Mo Guys will definitely use copious amounts of slow-mo because that's literally what their audience wants. Overuse is defined by your audience's tolerance. And often, your audience is patient for one time-warp every ten minutes.
Not Using Time Warp
A much less egregious sin compared to overuse of time warping is not using time warping at all. It doesn't hurt your video's consumability, but it does lower its engagement potential. Basically, your video can be engaging without a time warp, but not using a time warp is a missed opportunity to make your video even more engaging.
Usage Without Purpose
Using Time-warp just to use time-warp can break audience immersion. Time-warping works best when it doesn't draw too much attention to itself. You might have noticed that before you read this post, you missed most instances of time-warping in the videos you watched. That's how it's supposed to be. Time-warping should have a purpose other than to draw attention to itself.
Artifacting And Jerky Footage
The last mistake that most people make in time-warp editing is not using tools that eliminate artifacting and jerkiness. Twixtor and The Foundry's TimeWarp node exist, so there's no reason you should not be using those or other tools to make your time-warps look smooth. And remember, even if you don't use custom plugins and effects, you can always blend frames to achieve a relatively smooth look.
Time warping refers to slowing down or speeding up the passage of time in any media. Time-warp editing is a style of video editing that helps accomplish this in visual media. At its core, you can slow down your footage or speed it up to time-warp the final cut. But because the video can be a little jerky, you need to use blending, motion blur, or other time-warp plugins to smoothen the result. The most common tools used for time-warp editing are The Foundry's Time Warp for Adobe Premiere Pro or Twixtor by Revision FX.