I have cut several road/travel films & docs recently and I am having trouble with a few car actions.

1) Scene - Car INT (driving at highway speed) - We see cars passing slowly outside the car we are in (but at highway speed). Are you guys using an onboard EXT and creating the motion/perspective afterward? Normal car bys aren't working and creating this with processing is proving VERY time consuming.

2) Incredibly long shots of car in action. The camera starts off static of an empty parking lot. The car comes into frame, then the camera pans to follow. The car is doing a lot of maneuvering and finally settles on a parking spot. -- I have found myself going to SoundStorm cars since there are a lot of "packages" of vehicles, but I am still troubled by these crazy long shots. There simply is not enough variety and I wind up cutting either different cars or the same recordings to get through it.

I am not hearing a lot of complaints, but I know this can be improved. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated!



I've cut quite a few car sequences over the years, here's what I'd do - For your onboard sequence I assume the cars slowly cruising by are going in the same direction as your main car. I've always had good luck using exterior recordings of long slooooow carbys. They work fine even though you are theoretically traveling at freeway speeds. Don't hurt your brain on this one. You just wanna feel the cars go by, THEY ARE NOT THE FOCUS, not a lot of detail is needed. Don't be afraid to pitch 'em down even more.

Here's the secret for your other sequence - lots of editing. No way around it pal. That's why we get the big (OK maybe its medium) bucks.

If you don't have the real deal I also might use an onboard recording focusing on the tailpipe mic. If you are lucky you can find a series where a smart recordist has done an exterior parking maneuvers series. It's not that unusual, it's a series I always try to get and they are showing up more and more often. I've never had a lot of luck with the Sound Ideas sets, a friend described them as being recorded by robots on an airless planet. Great recordings if your car isn't doing anything unusual but I find them not quirky or fun enough if your car is doing strange stuff. Like that other guy I'm also not shy about reversing stuff - reversing aways for in and stops, reversing accels for slow downs. We know in real life that slow downs don't really involve the engine much. In our heightened reality movie world it really sells a slow down by having the engine wind down.

VERY VERY IMPORTANT - Don't forget your tires, suspension, brake squeak and all that little detail stuff that glues the sound to the car. Tires will absolutely sell your maneuvers, often more than the engine will.

I've always felt that's it more difficult cutting a car puttering around a parking lot than it is cutting a big car chase. Subtlety is not easy. I just did a big car chase that was nothing but fun. Big tires, crashes, roaring engines, cars whooshing by in your face (I'll give you a hint - Denzel was in the back seat). It was a joy to work on. I am now working on a film that involves a road trip with no car chases. It is an unforgiving pain in the ass. Subtle and real, no roaring, no Sturm und Drang. Car sounds that don't wave their arms in the air shouting "Here I Am!". Just reality ... damn.

Good Luck buddy

Best, Chris

  • +1 for reversing aways fro in and stops et al. Do that all the time. Feb 12 '12 at 22:05
  • Thanks Chris! Never would have thought to reverse an engine. This is definitely one of those "Bag o tricks" things that will make things easier. Can you point out any good "tire" sets I have a ton of tires, but they are all either "no engine bys" or "onboard exts" to much engine bleed. Feb 13 '12 at 13:54
  • @Chris Assells Just saw said film. That gnarly car rev by at the first T-boned intersection spin-out crash was great. That freeway bit was quite epic too, loved the variety in tire chatter and skids. Nice work! Feb 22 '12 at 0:09

To answer number 2, Soundstorm should have everything you need (and it definitely has a LOT more than the SI 5000 series give you for variety on individual cars, if the car in question is even recorded/mastered decently) - but it depends on the vehicle source since some cars are more full recording sets than others. Source is everything with cutting vehicles (both the right kind of engine, and the right amount of record varieties). having the right source can make cutting vehicles pretty straightforward, but having the wrong source can be a nightmare and detriment.

I don't know what kind of car you're cutting for, so I can't point you to an appropriate starting point, but check out the Chrysler Sebring, Saab 900, Mercedes E320, Mercedes 220SE, Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet C-30 Tow Truck, Ford Dually, Crown Vic. As I recall these are pretty complete sets (I'm sure there's other too but they don't immediately come to mind). For doing car bits like what you stated, the key is to use the onboard EXT mics for doing the car itself (usually they come split as engine block and tailpipe, and have chase driving, city driving, and maneuvers varieties - the Sebring set is a perfect example of this), and use the offboard EXT material as needed to "bridge" some maneuvers that need it (such as using an EXT washy BY to help blend between source material). And sometimes you need the stereo image of an offboard EXT accel by or aggressive maneuver to sell the motion of the car onscreen when it's close to camera and POVs are shifting. If you are working with only the offboard EXT, I agree, cutting said sequence will be pretty damn hard - but when you get the onboard EXT into the mix, it opens up a new world of cutting vehicles. Hope that helps!

Also, don't under-estimate the power of the Reverse tool. Oddly enough, engines can be reversed and they're quite forgiving in that respect. And as I heard Jay mention before on here somewhere, sometimes you have to mix car source to get the right sound (Case in point, one time I slightly pitched down the Sebring source for the INT scenes of an SUV, and on the EXT I used my Subaru Forster for a throatier, punchier sound since the Sebring would sound too small for the EXT).

  • Don't forget tires. This will also sell action and give realism. Tires also act as a bridge. Use moving stereo car effects sparingly. (Steadys OK). Some mixers dislike them because they often don't exactly match the imaging on the big screen. With a mono they can pan.
    – william3
    Feb 12 '12 at 15:52
  • My above comment was for your second question.
    – william3
    Feb 12 '12 at 15:53
  • First film was a Crappy old Station Wagon that I ended up using a Chrysler New Yorker on. Infusing rattles and knocks to sell it age. The second film is an old school bus. Feb 13 '12 at 13:56

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