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Panning Audio

One of the best ways to add dimension to your sound design is to take advantage of the fact that most audiences will be hearing your movie through multiple speakers. Surround sound enables you to spread the audio across several speakers that surround your audience; but even stereo projects enable you to choose the locations of sounds. You’d be very surprised to know how many editors simply leave all their audio mixed to the center, or worse, they leave it in the sometimes haphazard arrangement determined by the original sound recording.

Exercise restraint and subtlety when panning clips. In the real world, sound reflections and reverberations cause most sounds to come from a relatively neutral point of origin. If too much of your sound comes exclusively from a single speaker, the unnatural result might pull your viewer out of the story instead of drawing him in.

Still, appropriate panning is a great tool in your sound design arsenal, and Final Cut Pro X makes it easy to craft rich sound environments in both stereo and surround sound.

Choosing a Panning Environment

By default, all clips are imported with the audio placement information that was provided by the camera or audio recording device. Final Cut Pro examines such metadata and applies appropriate settings to your clips.

Although some devices record in full surround sound, they are extremely rare. Even stereo recording is not the norm, at least not on professional productions.

Nearly every professional camera records (at least) two channels of audio, but those channels are typically used to record two different signals, such as the signals from two separate lavaliere microphones, or a built-in camera mic and an attached shotgun microphone controlled by a boom operator.

New projects in Final Cut Pro default to surround sound, and allow you to move sounds to any of five channels (though you can also just use the left and right stereo channels and ignore the others).

If you do want to mix in surround sound, you must have a surround-monitoring environment in your editing suite, which requires third-party hardware connected via PCIe, FireWire, USB, or HDMI.

Fortunately, all Macs can monitor in stereo. If you want to mix your audio only for a stereo sound environment, you can change the project from surround to stereo.

  1. Activate the project by clicking anywhere in the Timeline pane (or by selecting the Lesson_04 project in the Project Library). Choose File > Project Properties, or press Command-J. The Project Library opens (if the Timeline was showing) and the Inspector displays the Project Properties pane.
  2. In the lower-right corner of the Inspector, click the Modify Project Properties button.
  3. In the Audio and Render Properties section, set Audio Channels to Stereo, and click OK.

Using Stereo Panning

In the Audio pane of the Inspector, you can assign which speakers will emit the sound of a clip. Panning between the left and right speakers can be done quickly and easily, and is very intuitive.

  1. In the Project Library, double-click the Sound editing project in the Lesson_04 folder to open the Timeline.
  2. In the Timeline, select Shot_01, and in the Inspector, click the Audio button to open the Audio Inspector.
  3. In the Volume and Pan settings, set Pan Mode to Stereo Left/Right.
  4. Drag the Pan Amount slider all the way to the left.
  5. Play the project and note that the sound from the first clip is heard only in the left speaker.
  6. In the Inspector, drag the Pan Amount slider all the way to the right and play the project again. Now the audio for the first clip comes out of the right speaker.

Animating Pan Effects

You can use keyframes to change pan settings while a sound plays, which can be very effective to create naturalistic sounds for moving objects within a scene.

  1. Move the playhead to the very beginning of Shot_02.
  2. In the Inspector, set Pan Mode to Stereo Left/Right, and then drag the Pan Amount slider about halfway toward the left (to about –50), and click the Keyframe button to add a keyframe.
  3. In the Timeline, move the playhead to 20:00.
  4. In the Inspector, drag the Pan Amount slider halfway to the right (to around +50). A keyframe is automatically added because you’ve changed the value on a new frame in time.
  5. Play the project and listen to the subtle audio shift from left to right.

Panning in the Timeline

You can also view and modify audio pan settings in the Timeline.

  1. Select the clip in the Timeline, and choose Clip > Show Audio Animation, or press Control-A. The Audio Animation Editor appears below the clip in the Timeline. White diamonds represent the keyframes so you can see when they occur.
  2. Drag the second keyframe to the left (to approximately 1:00:19:00), and play the project. Moving the keyframe to the left makes the panning animation happen more quickly.

    You can also change the pan value directly in the Timeline.

  3. Double-click the keyframe area, or click the disclosure button in the upper-right corner of the Audio Animation Editor. The Pan graph expands showing the keyframes’ relative values in addition to their positions in time.
  4. Drag the first keyframe all the way to the bottom of the graph.

    This sets the audio in the clip to begin exclusively in the left speaker. Dragging toward the top of the graph would pan it to the right speaker.

  5. Option-click the black line in the Pan animation graph twice to add two new keyframes.
  6. Drag the third keyframe down to create a plateau in the middle of the graph. This stops the panning action for the duration between the two keyframes.
  7. Play the project to hear the results of your work.
  8. Click the close button.

The Audio Animation Editor closes, but the keyframes and settings you modified remain applied to the clip.

Performing Surround Panning

Just as you can set stereo panning, you can make similar changes to clip audio in a surround project. To hear the surround panning, you must set your project’s audio channels to surround.

  1. Press Command-J to open Project Properties.
  2. In the lower-right corner of the Inspector, click the Modify Project Properties button.
  3. In the Audio and Render Properties section, set Audio Channels to Surround, and click OK.
  4. Double-click the project to reopen it, and select Shot_03.
  5. In the Inspector, click the Audio button to open the Audio Inspector.
  6. Set Pan Mode to Create Space, and then click the disclosure triangle to reveal the Surround Panner, if necessary. The Surround Panner graphically represents the five surround speakers (left, center, right, left surround, and right surround).
  7. Drag the center handle around the Surround Panner.

    As you drag toward each of the speakers, the colored shapes expand and contract to represent how much sound will emit from that speaker. (The bigger the shape, the more sound will come out.)

  8. Play the project and experiment with different positions to hear the result.

Keyframing Surround Sound

You can animate surround panning using one of two methods: by keyframing the Surround Panner itself, or by choosing one of the preset panning modes and keyframing the Pan Amount slider.

  1. Position the Timeline playhead to the first frame of Shot_03, and then drag the Surround Panner handle to the left-rear speaker (at around 8 o’clock).
  2. Click the Keyframe button.
  3. Move the Timeline playhead forward by two seconds (to 25:18), and drag the Surround Panner handle to the right-front speaker (at around 1 o’clock). A second keyframe is automatically assigned.
  4. Play the project across Shot_03. The audio moves from the left-rear speaker to the right-front speaker over the course of the clip.

You can add as many keyframes as you like to create complex animations of your sound in the surround audio space.

Using Preset Pan Methods

You can also employ one of the preset panning settings and keyframe the Pan Amount slider.

  1. Select Shot_04 and position the playhead at the first frame of that clip.
  2. In the Inspector, set Pan Mode to Circle, which allows you to animate your sound to move in a circle around the listener, utilizing all five speakers.
  3. Drag the Pan Amount slider from left to right and observe the movement that occurs in the Surround Panner.

    Using Pan Mode allows you to animate the Pan Amount slider to create surround sound animations based on a preset type of effect (which is arguably simpler than animating the entire Surround Panner).

  4. Drag the Pan Amount slider all the way to the left to set the sound to come out of the rear speakers only.
  5. Click the Keyframe button for the Pan Amount slider.
  6. Move the Timeline playhead forward by five seconds (to approximately 35:00).
  7. Drag the Pan Amount slider to the right.

    A keyframe is automatically added, and the sound is animated to move around the room in a circle.

  8. Play across Shot_04 to hear the results.

    Alternatively, rather than creating a circle effect, you could select one of the other pan modes.

  9. Set Pan Mode to Back to Front.
  10. Move the Timeline playhead to the beginning of Shot_04 and repeat steps 5 through 9 as you observe the difference in the movement of the sound.
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