Stereo panning and automation for film

Over the last week or so my Starship Troopers project has for the most part moved on from the recording stage (minus a few pieces of foley and dialogue that we recorded tonight to fill in some gaps), and onto the mixing stage. As such I thought it would be a good time to explain some of my mixing methods for my project. In this blog I will be explaining how I created space in my extremely busy assortment of sounds in my sound replacement through the use of stereo panning. Unfortunately this won’t include 5.1 panning, which is another ball game entirely that I have not had the chance to study yet.

There are many ways in which to utilise the panning tools to free up your mix, however there are some conventions that are followed for post-production that can be seen in the clip below. In particular I utilised the method of slightly panning the dialogue so that when multiple characters speak over each other, such as Rico speaking over the top of Breckenridge, the audience could still understand both characters.


I also did a heavy amount of panning automation to get my lasers to audibly fly across the screen. Originally I had the aural location of the lasers be static like my machine gun sounds, as I wasn’t sure whether the lasers themselves should be the sound source, or whether the sound source was the weapon that was firing them (as is the case in a machine gun sound). At this point I asked my teammate Ben for a second opinion, as I wanted to make sure that the project sounded proper according to others’ rationalization and not just my own. It also got me thinking about other movies such as Star Wars: Episode IV where the Stormtroopers are firing at Luke and Leia from a raised bridge on the Death Star down at them, and remembered that it added a lot of depth to the scene by the sound of the lasers approaching them.

To make the motion of my lasers sound as “realistic” as possible (shut up, lasers firearms are real ok?!) I yet again took the opportunity to utilise different sections of a waveform as I did with my head splat design.

Here is one of the typical laser automation patterns I used in my project. As seen in the left image (panning), I panned the laser from the right to the left during the transient and body of the waveform, and let it sit to the left during the tail. On the right you can see that I automated the volume so that the laser sound would lessen in volume over the body and tail of the waveform. The combination of this automation was done for each individual laser, with different origin and end points (as well as variance in volume) depending on where the lasers were being fired from and to. There were even situations where the targets on the course hit the troopers (already doing better than Stormtroopers!) for which I had to monitor the stopping point of the laser and adjust my panning appropriately. The exception to this is when the laser was being fired from the centre of the screen at a trooper that was also at the centre of the screen, as I wanted it to be a focal point and to be more abrupt than the other lasers that were typically travelling across the majority of the screen.