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What is an Iris-Out?

Early cinematography techniques were far less advanced than the techniques that are available in today’s filmmaking. But early filmmakers used the techniques that were available at the time to make the best of what they had to work with. Some of the earliest means of transitioning from one scene to the next was through irising. Either with an Iris-in or an iris-out technique. But what is irising? And what is an iris-out exactly? 

What is Irising?

Irising represents the cinematic technique that blacks out a portion of an image to transition from one scene to the next. Using an expanding or diminishing circle.

If you think of an iris, the black center of an eyeball. This cinematic technique resembles the expanding of an iris. Or the diminishing of an iris in which the scene transitions from one to another in a fade effect.

The iris starts out a black screen that opens up and out, similar to that of a human iris, and in doing so an image is revealed. Similarly, the same effect can be used in an alternate motion.

Such that the black area closes in, to a keyhole view of a particular element. Just before blacking out the entire screen. 

What is Iris Out?

The iris-out shot represents the irising effect being used at the end of a scene. So that the very last bit of the scene is captured and then the black screen closes in.

From the outside corners and edges into a circle that gradually decreases in size. Until just a keyhole view is seen before the entire screen goes black.

The use of the iris out effect can place emphasis on a specific character or element of the scene. By drawing the eyes to that particular area just before the scene fades to completely black, signaling an end. 

How is the Iris-Out Effect Used?

The iris-out is an effect which is used most frequently for transition purposes but may also be used to break the fourth wall or to zoom, although this is very rare.

You might recall incredibly famous instances of the iris out effect being used, particularly in Disney Cartoons. Most Walt Disney Cartoons iris-in after the title card to begin the show and then they iris-out for the end.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

The iris shot may also be used to break the fourth wall in film. Typically the use of the iris shot for this purpose is to provide characters an opportunity to briefly interact with the audience.

You might recall this technique from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, during segments that included the Trolley. When the Trolley would go through the tunnel, an iris out shot is used to take the audience out of the Castle and back to Mister Rogers’ house.

A Hidden Eye

Rarely, iris out shots are used to bring the audience into the iris of the character within a film, providing insight into the characters’ thoughts or to otherwise zoom into a particular element such as a hidden camera’s eye.

In cases like this, the iris-out is not a transition but rather a shot that may help the audience feel as if they are in the film.

Now that you know the answer to your initial question, “What is an Iris-out?” How will you apply the rising effect to your filmmaking process?

To really get the idea down, here are some fun examples