What Is "Complexity Editing?"

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Creative Editing

Though many home digital video producers are most concerned with communicating their story clearly, as with home movies or independent film projects, some are more concerned with energetic creativity and making an artistic statement. When it comes to editing there is a school of thought that respects this ethos and is based more on emotional than intellectual logic. This is called Complexity Editing.

Complexity Editing

Complexity Editing is a way that film producers and editors take a deeper look at the images they have recorded and intensify the action and energy of the footage. This does not focus on what the footage literally shows, but instead on a host of other aspects including visual elements and socio-political interpretations. Though Complexity Editing can be used through an entire project, it is usually only employed for certain segments of a video.


One of the most common utilizations of Complexity Editing are Montage sequences. You see these in movies all the time where there are many small clips cut together against music to illustrate something happening to the characters, such as them cleaning a house or falling in love. The idea here is that you put several separate images together that each mean something different, but when paired together end up with an entirely new meaning. This means that there is an entirely new effect that is created simply by adding all of these video clips together. This is a classic visual concept called the “Gestalt principle,” which states that human perception will “create a whole from the sum of the parts.”

Rhythmic Editing

There are a variety of standard types of Complexity Editing that are commonly used to achieve certain goals. One is called “Rhythmic Editing” and is based on using the length of clips to maintain the energy of a sequence. If you cut from a very short clip to a longer one the pace can disappear, so instead of focusing on story continuity you cut together clips of equal length to maintain the feel that you are establishing.

Idea Associative Editing

Another style is “Idea-Associative Editing,” which is where two contrasting clips are cut together as a way of getting a new meaning. There are two main ways that this is done, and they are Comparison and Collision. Idea-Associative Comparison puts two images together to show how they may be similar, like showing an image of a stock broker on the phone paired up to an image of a lion stalking his prey. Idea-Associative Collision wants to focus on showing the contrast between two things, like a wealthy businessman driving a Lexus against a homeless individual riding public transportation. Both of these are meant to illicit a response from the audience, but are not necessarily designed to move the story forward.

Try It Out

Complexity Editing is a great way to interject a new way of viewing images and can be used as a method of separating a small section of your video project from the whole. This can be done by adding a Montage, using Rhythmic Editing, and by employing one of the Idea-Associative techniques. These are just some of the many ways to utilize this editing perspective, and now you too can try and come up with your own style of Complexity Editing!

This post is part of the series: Video Editing

Different articles that address video editing.

  1. Avoiding Editing Catastrophes Pt. 1 of 2
  2. Creating the Perfect Editing Space
  3. Things to Avoid in Your Editing Computer
  4. The Importance of Digital Video Editing
  5. How To Use “Continuity Editing” To Tell Your Story
  6. What Is “Complexity Editing?”
  7. The Basics of Non-Linear Video Editing
  8. Components of a Non-Linear Video Editing Program
  9. Maintaining Your Computer for Digital Video Editing
  10. Knowing What to “Cut-Out” When Editing
  11. Editing Techniques: The Rule of Six
  12. Things to Do Before Installing New Video Editing Software
  13. Things to Avoid When Digital Video Editing
  14. The Editing Order in Video Production
  15. Using Visual Vectors When Editing
  16. Video Transitions for Editing Digital Video