September 21, 2013

Low-Budget Editing Techniques for Action Sequences

If you're a no or low-budget filmmaker, making an action flick oftentimes means having to forego top dollar visual and special effects for more affordable options. If your lack of high-octane explosions and car chases finds you feeling like your film is falling flat, talented filmmaker and editor Vashi Nedomansky has shared three no/low-budget editing tips that will give your action sequences and dramatic moments the (believable) big impact you're looking for.

According to Nedomansky, these techniques aren't just used on low-budget films, but big-budget ones as well. Films like Star Wars, Avatar, James Bond films and martial arts films employ them to make their VFX and SFX look more convincing and amped up. In fact, you may have used these techniques before to find great results (if done well.) Check out Nedomansky's low-budget editing tips below:

Cutting Frames

If you want your fight sequences to be both believable and high energy, Nedomansky suggests cutting out the last two frames before the action, be it a punch, collision, gun draw, whatever. This adds to the aesthetic energy (because it's faster,) as well as hides the effect (because it's faster.)

Digital Snap Zoom

We see this all the time in action TV shows, your CSI and NCIS. If you're looking at your raw footage and think that it's a little on the dull side, Nedomansky's second tip is to do a snap zoom with whichever editing software you're using. A bigger image on screen means more energy. Be forewarned, though, many have abandoned the zoom either in camera or in editing, except for maybe ironic or super-stylized reasons. So, it might be better to use a zoom like this in a chaotic situation to add excitement.

Shoot At 22 Frames Per Second

Shooting at 22fps gives footage a faster, more dynamic look, which could help even if there's already a lot of good action in your sequence. Nedomansky explains it best:

This technique of under-cranking the camera to get faster motion is a staple of action movies. For believable results -- shooting at 22 frames per second is a great starting point. For car chases, actors running and fight sequences, 22 frames per second retains a natural and authentic look, but adds a palpable boost of energy. Once you get to 20 frames per second or less you risk a comical or unnatural look to action.

To get a feel for what these techniques look like, Nedomansky demonstrates them in the video below:

A big thanks to Vashi for sharing these great low-budget editing tips! Check out his article for more in-depth explanations of each technique.

What do you think? Have you used these techniques with your action sequences before? What other techniques have you found work well?

Link: 3 Low Budget Editing Tips for Action Movies -- Vashi Visuals

Your Comment

26 Comments

September 21, 2013 at 9:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ninja masuku

Good stuff, but the last one isn't really an edit technique.

September 21, 2013 at 9:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gareth

In the full article on my blog, I mention that every NLE can speed up shots (108.5% for 24fps to 22fps) if you don't have access to a camera with variable frame rates. That should make 3 for 3 edit tips.

September 22, 2013 at 12:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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That's why I suggested heading on over to Vashi's article for further explanation. I probably could've explained the editing technique better, though.

September 22, 2013 at 3:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

While speeding up footage is somewhat possible. Doing it only slightly like 108% you should be aware that the NLE will have to fudge around the existing frames to meet your wishes on the speed. Either it will stick to normal frames and just throw away some. Resulting in playback that might not be exactly smooth. Or it will opt to do frame-blending which will give smoother results but not as clean frames and introduces some ghosting. Thirdly is to generate new frames in-between to make the movement smooth without frame-blending. That is computationally intensive and sometimes has issues of its own.

Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible to sell the effect. Just know that speeding up slightly is harder to do well for the NLE than throwing away every other frame for a 200% speed-change. So, if possible, a variable-speed camera is preferrable.

September 24, 2013 at 3:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I don't like action flims. I do like zoom.

September 21, 2013 at 10:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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maghoxfr

This Bikers video was created by riding at 20 mph but with pictures of 1 sec shutter speed to show high speed + video ..what do you think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD3VRoOuBdk

September 21, 2013 at 11:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Cool effect...Realtime slowmo...Like it. Nice one! :-)

September 22, 2013 at 10:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Darren Wolff

Its ugly, good for photography but not for cinematography

September 23, 2013 at 9:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nazdar

Snap zoom is too cheesy though, overused lately. Just look at Man of Steel for example, Jesus Christ...

September 22, 2013 at 12:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

I agree it can be used so overtly that it becomes cheesy or blatant (MOS)...but utilized sparingly and at the right moment, it is an effective no budget technique that is nice to have in the bag of tricks.

September 22, 2013 at 12:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Yep. Agree. Everything in it's place. Thanks for the tips Vashi! Will be definitely using them. Nice one. Cheers.

September 22, 2013 at 11:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Darren Wolff

Solid tips and great little video. I especially appreciated the multiple replays of the 2-frame removal - otherwise I'd have had to drag the slider back and re-streamed. Nice one, Vashi. :) Some of my fave edit techniques:

1. The fast-to-slow motion edit for an impact (really just a variation on the 2-frame removal and yes, Zach Snyder pretty well ruined it for everyone with gratuitous overuse in 300, but you can't deny it works. Thor's hammer hit on Hulk in Avengers was a nice use of it).

2. Used judiciously, the multiple-angle impact (showing the same impact from two or three different angles in quick succession) can be fun. See the old anime adaptation Guyver: Dark Hero. They do it a fair bit and while it's probably too showboaty for most productions, it does add a lot of energy when done right.

3. Not an editing technique but nothing works for action like shooting at a high shutter speed. Used really well in Taken and in an Australian movie called The Horseman. Vashi, do you know of any software that can remove motion blur without introducing an unacceptable level of artifacts? That would be a hell of a thing for low-light shots.

September 22, 2013 at 2:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Excellent tips!

September 22, 2013 at 3:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

The snap zoom is a horrible technique - you see it all the time in CG heavy stuff like Attack Of The Clones.
It's not a shot you would ever choose to do when shooting naturally, it's one of those things like overly shaky footage that people think sells CG better.

September 22, 2013 at 6:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

Nah, I disagree. As Vashi says above, it's about selecting the moment and avoiding overuse. I think the snap zoom cops flak because it's one of those techniques that calls attention to itself and that stuff tends not to go down well. Speaking personally, I've deployed the snap-zoom in-camera before (back in my Panasonic HVX-200 days). Admittedly it was for a short that was very tongue-in-cheek, but again, used judiciously, I think it's something that can absolutely add a little pizzazz to a shot even in a serious project - think, for instance, about a character looking up in surprise or revelation. A quick push in to 110 or 120% gives a nice little oomph. But all according to taste, of course.

September 22, 2013 at 9:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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My god, was that HVX ring ever ready for snap-zooms.

September 22, 2013 at 4:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
Writer
Freelancer

Haha, begging for it. Absolutely begging for it.

September 22, 2013 at 4:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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You see it all the time in mumblecore.

September 22, 2013 at 4:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ian

I've seen it used well and poorly. It's very common. As you say, adding a little shake and zooming help CGI footage look less artificial. Avatar and BSG used it all over the place.

September 26, 2013 at 5:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Keith

Nice Amila! :-)

September 22, 2013 at 11:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Darren Wolff

Nice tips! I'm glad you gave a demo of the 2 frames. I thought you meant "cut away two frames early". I couldn't figure how that would help. That demo looked good, I'll try it with some old footage tonight.

September 26, 2013 at 4:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Keith

I guess I just don't get it, but WHY do you have a TWEET frame glued to the left hand side of your story ? Blocking your article ?

September 27, 2013 at 8:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dheep'

when used from the riders perspective this looked good. Don't know if i'd use it anywhere else though.

July 14, 2014 at 4:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lewis

Low budget tip: Get an expansive camera that can shot 22 fps

July 12, 2015 at 12:10AM

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Johan Salberg
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor
262

Nice

October 30, 2016 at 10:31PM, Edited October 30, 10:33PM

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Ryan Duke
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