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Advanced Video Editing Techniques: Using Mattes and Layers

This 13 minute video tutorial shows you how to use mattes and layers in video editing.  This tutorial shows a demonstration on Final Cut, but the concepts and process are similar no matter what software you use.

Mattes and Layers: Advanced Video Editing Techniques

Mattes allow you to cut out portions of a shot. You can then put that cut-out portion on top of another shot so that both images show on the screen at once.  That’s called layering.  Any time you see more than one image on the screen at once, like a logo on top of a product shot, that’s  layering.  You use layering for all kinds of effects, not just mattes.  Layering gets its name because on the video editing timeline, the shots are stacked in layers.  The layer on top is what the viewer will see.

Often, the shot on top has been shrunk or matted in order to let the image below show too.  Other times, the shot on top has a transparent background to allow the shot below show through.

(In case you are not already aware, in video editing, the shot on top is what shows.  If it has not been shrunk or matted, it will completely cover up what is underneath.  To allow what is underneath to show, you have to somehow eliminate some of the top shot.  The video tutorial shows this if this text description does not make total sense.)

Both layering and matting techniques are demonstrated in this tutorial.

Additionally, I show other ways to alter your shot, like sizing.  Final Cut is the software used in this demonstration, but since most video editing programs are more alike than they are different, the techniques shown will probably be similar to whatever program you’re using.

Using mattes and layers are both fairly advanced video editing techniques but they certainly are not difficult once you know how.  Layering in particular is extremely common.  If you place words on top of a shot, that’s layering.  Many of the videos I edit will have 20 or 30 layers. Not all video editing programs can handle that many layers but advanced programs can handle up to an infinite number.  I can not fathom needing to use more than 50, no matter how complex your project.  Generally speaking, I use at least 5 or 10 layers in a basic video.

Final Cut has a variety of mattes and they are accessed by selecting the correct filter.  Some mattes will give you a specific shape and others allow you to mold a shape.  Mattes are different than eliminating the background using green screen or by lowering the opacity.  (Opacity is related to transparency.  If you lower the opacity of a shot you can see through it.  If you bring the opacity down to zero, the shot will disappear.  Opacity is a form of the word opaque.)  If you want to cut an object out precisely,  you need to use green screen or have a completely transparent background.  Mattes are more like a cropping tool.

The video tutorial dissects and analyzes the timeline I created when I edited together a Mother’s Day video using still pictures of babies.  If you want to see the final video, here it is!  In this thumbnail shot, the baby was cut out via a matte and placed on top of the pink rose.

I hope this tutorial helps you learn more about video editing.  If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below.  I will answer all the questions in order to help all readers.

Thanks for reading Video Production Tips!

Lorraine Grula

Internet Video Gal

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Lorraine Grula


Lorraine Grula has enjoyed a fast-paced, multifaceted career in the television and video business, producing, shooting, writing, and editing documentary-style videos in both news and corporate settings. Later, she got to teach media and video production in two high schools, which then morphed into instructional design and corporate training. Lorraine is now dedicated to sharing her vast knowledge with others who wish to learn the art of video making, with an emphasis on storytelling and creating professional-quality videos for the internet as simply, yet creatively as possible.

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  1. You are a great narrator BTW! I Just wanted to say thanks for posting the tutorial. You have my mind turning now with ideas for matte’s… especially for chroma key stuff. I’m going to dive into using Photoshop layered files in Final Cut pretty soon. With the right skills, you can make some pretty cool stuff without even going into motion.

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