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Once you get all of your surround routing and calibration taken care of, it's time to put all this hard work towards creating a captivating surround mix. In this movie, we will talk about how to approach to panning on your tracks out of the surround speakers with some examples. To open a surround panner, click on the small fader icon next to the Output Selector. Here is a mono source track panning into surround surround panner. Notice that Pro Tools defaults to have the panner pan to the center speaker. The center speaker for surround mixing is really important.
You can ground your mix and make all dialogue or any sound come from the center of the screen. You could even argue that in 5.1 mixing, the addition of the center speaker is even more useful than the surround left and right channels. One drawback to stereo style mixing for film or video mixes are that the sounds you want to put in the center of the mix have to arrive there through a phantom center. In a home stereo system, if you sit between your left and right speakers, the central components of the mix seem as though they come from the middle. You can try it with music and you will notice that the lead vocals sound like they come from between the speakers.
This is actually a phantom center since there is no center speaker in that scenario. The sound is coming from the left and right speakers equally and it sounds like it's in the middle. In a theater, sound emanating from a left and a right speaker would strike different audience members differently. In other words, there is no guarantee that all audience members are in the sweet spot of the theater and they're not going to get the benefits of a phantom center necessarily. So the center channel avoids all of that problem by anchoring the important dialogue or effects to the center of the screen and it's really effective. That's why in this session, we chose to bus all of our dialogue tracks strictly to just the center channel of our surround mix.
So what about when we do want to pan things to the surrounds like sound effects? Remember, we bussed all of our sound effects here through the bus to the full 5.1 bus path. So I am going to again open the surround panner for a mono track. Pro Tools panner allows us to pan the sound via this dot in the interface to any speaker. We can go to the left, center, right, left surround or right surround or anywhere in between where we combine the speakers. If I was to pan this sound directly hard panned all the way to the left surround speaker, remember that some audience members might not experience it the same way.
Like if there was an audience member in the right-front of the theater, they might not hear this the same way as someone in the rear-left of the theater. So to counteract this kind of negative effect that might happen, we have a control called Divergence. Divergence actually spreads the sound if you're hard panning in this case two adjacent speakers. So in this case, if I was to take the rear Divergence at a value of 100, where it defaults to, it means that the sound is discretely going out the left surround speaker. Now, if I wanted to spread this over to the adjacent speakers, I would turn this Divergence down to a lower value.
Let me demonstrate this with the center speaker. For example if I had this pan right directly in the center speaker here in the front and I hit Play, let me show the master fader here, and I am going to make it nice and large so we can see what's going on. Now watch these meters. When I hit Play on this track--let me go find some audio for this track here and loop some of this Fireplace sound. Now, if I hit Play, I am hard-panned to the center speaker on our surround panner.
Notice that the sound is only going to Channel 2 which is our surround center channel. Now as I decrease the Divergence, watch what happens. The sound will get spread to the 1 and 3 channels. See, now I've got a divergence of all the way to 0 and it's pretty evenly spread across our left, center, and right speakers. An interesting thing here in Pro Tools is that the graphics are kind of counterintuitive. You would think that when the triangle is pointing towards the center speaker, it would be coming discretely through that speaker and as I move more towards 100, it looks like it spreads out. But it's actually the opposite of what you think.
So don't let that mess you up as you're using your Divergence settings. Other controls we have here on the surround panner are the LFE fader. So if I wanted to, for example, send a bit of this sound through the 0.1 channel, the LFE channel, which is in this case coming up on channel 6 of our meter, I could increase that fader and watch. You'll see that a little bit of the sound is going into that last channel in our meter. Another control we have here is the central %.
So this actually lets us decrease the volume of the center channel as we mix. So if I had this divergence for the front, going to all three speakers here, I could actually decrease the center channel and notice how the speaker is kind of fading out a little bit there. I'd say that that control, however, is used more in music surround mixing than it is film because remember, as we talked about, the center channel is really an important part of mixing for film and video. So how do we decide where to pan our sounds? There are so many theories and styles and choices that you can develop on your own as you mix.
Some mixers are really conservative and they only use the surrounds for special moments. Others create a whole sense of space with them throughout a film. It really depends on the type of film and how you wish to engage your audience. For this motorcycle race, one place we can start is with the ambiences. So I want to kind of make the audience feel kind of immersed in this space. Let me just take a listen to this ambience track. I will just solo it up here for a second. (Background noise) Remember it's kind of an outdoor sound that's going on. So one place we can start is by making the audience feel like they're immersed in this outdoor space during the race.
So let's open the surround panner for a stereo track. Click on the little fader. So here's our surround panner for a stereo source track. It's similar to the one you'd find on a mono track except you have separate controls for the left side of the source and the right side of the source file. Now, by default, the panners for the left and the right are completely independent. So I can move this panner around to the left side of the file anywhere I want and the right panner I can move anywhere I want as well. So if I put them both all the way over to the left, I can actually link them as well. I go up to the top here and I click the Link button, this is called Absolute Link.
So here, the left and the right side are linked together in an absolute fashion anywhere I go. You can also invert this link. So if I put it back to hard left and hard right and I click the Link button and I click Front Inverse, so just the front side will have an inverse relationship. And I can do the same with the rear. So if I take these down to the rear left and the rear right, I can invert them in the rear speakers. So remember, you'd want to do this.
If your source file is stereo, there is going to be an inherent spatial relationship between the left and the right. So even if you're putting a sound in the left and right surrounds, you might want to maintain that relationship even when you're panning in the surround speakers. You can also invert the front and rear. So that would look something like this, front and rear inverse. So just the front and back are going back and forth. Let's return back to a left and right relationship here.
So for this sound, we have an ambience sound. So how are we going to decide how to approach panning in surround? One place to start is in this case with ambience. This is just one idea. we have some ambience during this motorcycle race and if you listen to this track. Let's just take a listen for a second. (Background noise) So we're hearing this just in left-right stereo currently. So it might be cool in this race to have this sound coming from all surround speakers so that when the race is happening, you feel like you're really immersed in this sonic environment.
Now here is one common misconception that people have with surround panning is they think that to put this sound in all the speakers at once, you just simply take the panner for a stereo source file like this and actually place it right in the middle like this. Now this will effectively make the sound come from all the speakers at once, but it won't actually give you the effect you think it would. Because the sound coming out of the speakers will be completely correlated, it will kind of just sound like it's not coming from any specific location and it won't sound like it's sounding all around.
So the way to actually make sound come from all speakers and sound very spatial like you're in the middle of a sound is to de-correlate the sound at all the speakers. And there is actually a nice plug-in from Waves that does this kind of de-correlation. So I want to show you that. So let me go back to having these sounds actually panned just hard left and hard right and I am going to close the surround panner for a second. On this track, I am going to open up multichannel plug-in > Sound Field > S360 Imager (stereo/5.1).
So the function of this plug-in is to actually create the kind of imaging I am referring to, which is a de-correlated image coming from all the speakers which would really make us feel as the audience like we're in the middle of this ambience sound. So I will load up, there's a preset in here under the Waves preset called Stereo to Surround. So that's what it's doing. It's taking a stereo file which we have as our source file and pumping it out to the surround speakers but de- correlating it so that it sounds like it's coming from all around. And you can see it does its little settings here.
And if I close this track, now I am going to go ahead and play a section of this. And let's take a look at it. You can see in the track, it is coming from all speakers and you can see that the levels are kind of varying and it's actually has de-correlated the signal. So this would give us a much better feel like we're immersed in the sound during the race than just panning it to the center with the Pro Tools surround panner. So what else can we do with our surround panning? Now here is a couple of other ideas. For the crash section of this sequence remember we have a very dramatic motorcycle crash. I will play it for a second here.
(Crash! Crowd gasps) So let's take a couple of these sounds and put them in surrounds. One way we can approach this using our surrounds speakers is to keep the dry sound in the front speakers and use a reverb send to send the reverb to the rear speaker. So we're keeping the dry sound in the front speakers and the reverb just in the surrounds. So let's go over here to one of these tracks. This car crash sound is a good sound we can do that with. So let's take a listen to this. I will solo up the track. (Crash!) Okay, so we're going to take the unreverb part of the sound and put it in the front speaker.
So let's open up the surround panner for this track and you can see I've already panned it that way. What I am doing here is I put it in the center speaker; however, I use a bit of divergence on the front divergence to spread it to all three left center and right speakers. If I scroll down to our master meters here, I will play the sound once more and we'll see that the sound is coming from the front three speakers. (Crash!) Okay, so now like I said I want to send the reverb of this sound to the surround.
So the reverb only is going to be going to the left surround and the right surround. So to do this, let me close this panner and I am going to go the Mix window and here as you see on this track I have a surround send setup. So let me open the Send panner for the surround and here I have kind of the opposite of that. For the send, I have got a pan to the back of the panner and I've got the divergence spread for the rear divergence. So this sound for just the send should be spreading equally between the left and the right surround speakers.
So I've got that Surround Send already set up. Let me go back to the Edit window and the last thing I need to do is just actually automate the send to occur during the car crash. Go into my automation playlist, under send, and choose send level and here I just want to use the Trimmer tool to turn up the send level during that section. So actually I'll use my Grabber tool to just dry out in the automation move and remember I want it to go a little longer than the actual sound because it's a reverb tail and we want it to tail off a little bit.
So we'll do something like that. So now let's take a listen to this track and as we do this, we'll scroll down and we'll look at the master meters so that we can see that the dry sound will be going across the front three and the wet or reverb sound should be appearing in the surround channels. Let's take a listen. (Crash!) There they are. You can see there is a long tail in that reverb. So it's pumping out a little bit after the sound of the crash. So that would be a great way to dramatize this crash a little more by pumping some reverb just in the surrounds, just to make the audience feel it emotionally.
So one other thing we can do with our 5.1 mixing is also during the crash scene, we could use the LFE, the low frequency, to really emphasize the low rumble and impact of that crash. So we're going to do that on another track here and we have this sound effect called Boxcar Crash. And if we listen to this, solo it up, we hear that it has some nice low end in there. (Crash!) Okay, so we're going to use the LFE. So I am going to open up the surround panner again and here I am going to automate the LFE level to turn up just during the section.
So I am going to go over to my playlists here and turn on the LFE playlist and again I am just going to use the Trimmer tool and automate that out just for that section so I'm pumping it out pretty loud there. Now, again, let's go down to our master meters here and you should see the very last channel on this meter is our LFE channel. So you should see on the sound I have it using the divergence going through LCR, left, center, right, and we should see it pumping through the LFE. Let's take a listen. (Crash!) So there it is.
it's coming in all of those channels now. So these are just a few ideas to get you going with surround mixing. Ultimately, it's really up to your personal taste and the narrative content in the film that you should consult to make decisions about how you're going to approach your own surround panning.
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