Hi everyone,

When you're cutting and layering multiple sounds in order to achieve a desired effect, how would you normally apply any plugin processing that's required?

At the moment, I'm working on a sound redesign for the dragon scene in Sintel (Blender Foundation), where at certain points, I'm layering maybe 8 or 9 tracks for a roar or a flame burst.

To save on dsp, track counts and automation, I have often committed changes to EQ, Compression, Harmonics, Modulation, etc via audiosuite renders. Such an element may only occur once in the whole piece. I might also occasionally print a dry processed effect (with multiple consecutive plugin inserts) to a separate audio track, and spot to timeline in the relevant fx track. Am I making life hard for myself by processing destructively, or does it make sense to commit to something in order to conserve cpu and tracks? I'll automate Levels, Reverbs and Sends, etc during the final mix process - my headache is with specific infrequent effects that require lots of processing.

I'd really appreciate it if you could share your preferred methods in this area of workflow. Thanks!


7 Answers 7


My approach is that on my main FX tracks, there's never an RTAS running at all. Stages don't take well to this stuff usually., especially when they realize a bunch of your plugins won't necessarily load or load correctly.

That said, I build in layers (where appropriate, of course) and try my best to region group parts of a sound catorgically (e.g. for a gun combat segment I might do: grab, pistol whip, gun mvt (for pistol whip), gun mvt (handling), gun cock, shot, shot wide, shell eject, etc) or by frequency (e.g. for a sting, I might do: hi, mid, lo, tonal). Laid out from a top-down approach and strategically organized toward what the mixer is probably going to want (e.g. same recurring sounds on same track, consistantly start a multi-track region group on the Odd numbered FX track, etc) That's for the final FX tracks.

I also carry many mono and stereo 'source' tracks which serve as a sandbox. Usually it's where I build my edits and comp them down, which are then pulled into the FX tracks. A great example as a vehicle engine. The engine, in one case I was working on, consisted of about 8 mic angles per take for the vehicle source itself, and they had to be weaved together to create a 'Start, double tap rev, very hard rev out' maneuver. Some angles on the car were muted depending on the segment I was using (or because some mics were not good on some parts), but overall the raw edit of this vehicle move was about 25 tracks wide (in order to carry all mic POVs that I needed and still checkerboard the edit). Then I would go through and comp down the entire maneuver into a mono' Engine' and a 'Tailpipe' POV, which means that what ends up on my final FX track is 2 mono files of this engine. That's all the stage want's and needs, especially if the Tailpipe can be provided separate from the Engine - sometimes, that's not the case with some vehicles because there is not discrete Tailpipe POV on the source, or the POV exists but blows (no pun intended), and the stage is thus better using EQ on it. Once these mono's are generated, I'll do split outs and gain-adjust for POV cuts that happen - so that way, the stage isn't committed to how the POVs are and essentially have handles on the edit tracks - so ultimately what we did here was use 'source' to create 'new source' that we edit with. I rinse and repeat for other vehicle items like tires, skids/peels, suspension, cornering, brakes, shifter - each comp'd down to mono tracks stacking under the engine in the FX tracks (and POV split from there as needed).

I use the same technique on other things too, like doors - unless it's some sort of elaborate tech door or vault door, I limit myself to 3-4 elements. If the door's any wider, I'll comp down appropriately complimenting elements to bring it down to 3-4. Again this is sort of thing in the mentality of the stage and what the mixer wants (e.g. enough, but not too much).

In these cases, I keep the region-grouped 'source' edits muted on the source tracks and always carry these tracks in my edit. In the event the stage calls because they need to dig into a sound elements deeper, then it's easy to ship off the source edits themselves. Over time and practice of using proper discrimination and confidence in your edits, this stage situation should usually never happen because you'll kept comp'd elements appropriately separated from others which you know the mixer will need discrete control over (hence, comping by frequency range or categorically). But you still never know - so I always keep these source edits.

Sometimes I have RTAS plugins in them to automate specific processes on the fly, especially when an effect is non-linear in nature (e.g. speed ramp), especially when doing design so I can create proper sonic textures and gestures to match what's happening. But even then, those get comp'd down and pulled up into the FX tracks (in this case, Design tracks sitting below my FX tracks) to serve as anew 'source' element to build into the overall design composite which gets region grouped.

Aside from all that, I usually just AS a source element with processing and commit it to the file if I even process a file (e.g. EQ, ring modulation, etc). I prefer keeping my edits layered and raw, and commit anything which actually requires processing. In my opinion, nearly no amount of processing can make up for using the wrong source elements to create a sound. The only real exception to that is when your (a) creating something conceptual like sound design (b) correcting for a problem with the source element (e.g. low end rumble or getting rid of the muddy bass, a steady tone needing to be notched out, etc). If your having to constant EQ and process everything before it hits the FX tracks (hence, running all the processing) then it may be wise to go back and make soure you're working with the right source elements and not trying to cajole bad/poor ones into getting the job done.

Hope it helps! That's my 2 cents at least.

  • @Stavrosound - thanks for such a comprehensive reply! I'm still a novice when it comes to post workflow and it helps immensely to have some insight into working examples. At the moment, I'm working on 4 separate film projects as part of my Uni Major Project. 3 of which are animated, the other is a short film. For the short film, I have production dialogue, vehicle sound and limited production hard effects. All sound for the animated pieces is being created from scratch. No existing library sounds are being used. Field recording equipment is limited....cont below...
    – Geth
    Mar 25, 2012 at 12:39
  • ....Zoom H4, Rode NTG2, Rode NT1A, AKGC300Bs(x2) - I have PT10 and Waves Gold Bundle. So, my recordings are ok - not fantastic, but definitely usable and relatively clean. I'm pretty much happy with scenarios that require either production fx or relevant sync fx sources, as these generally do not require much processing. I also employ a 'source track'/comping method, then drop them into relevant fx tracks. I suppose I'm having trouble understanding how the 'designed' sounds like sci-fi or fantasy/monsters would be achieved in relation to workflow....cont below...
    – Geth
    Mar 25, 2012 at 12:47
  • ...For example, I might use a garage door slam, a blow torch, my voice and a cat hiss for a dragon roar, all with varying amounts of processing - pitch shift, C4, Rbass, EQ, Ring Mod, etc etc - to try and achieve something believable. Is that something I should be tackling separately, then creating new source material for the main session? I should also mention that I am mixing aswell! Happy days..
    – Geth
    Mar 25, 2012 at 12:55
  • @Stavrosound When you send your project over to the stage, do you exclude all tracks but the "Engine and Tailpipe"? And just name and catalogue accordingly so that you can return to the raw materials to make changes? Mar 25, 2012 at 17:11
  • @Michael Yes. I crash down (comp) all of the tailpipe side of the vehicle edits, and repeat for the engine, so it creates to mono tracks running the entire length of the vehicle 'move' or 'gesture'. Those get POV'd and panned to match pix and shipped on the FX tracks. The edits from which these crash downs were made are region grouped, muted, and retained on general 'source' tracks below my FX tracks - those tracks never get shipped, but they live within the main edit session so I can get back to them if need be. Mar 26, 2012 at 7:39

I go nondestructive on everything until the CPU gives out, because: Clients. :-) If I need to render or bounce, I archive the previous session(s) before doing so.

  • @NoiseJockey - will you always use separate tracks for each sound requiring slightly different processing? Say you have some mono effects tracks for punches, where each instance might need differing amounts of manipulation, would you split tracks into layers (i.e. low, mid, high, woosh, etc) and automate these tracks through the scene?? Or simply use separate groups of tracks for each different type of punch? I hope I'm making sense? Appreciate your input...
    – Geth
    Mar 24, 2012 at 23:28
  • Inserts are your friend; I work "top to bottom," first laying inserts of appropriate submixes (rare), then aux groups (most likely), then specific tracks. Usually, anyway. Mar 25, 2012 at 1:12
  • I do not typically split sounds onto channels based on freq ranges unless they're LFE. Mar 25, 2012 at 1:13
  • @NoiseJockey - thanks for your help, it's really appreciated....I've elaborated in comments to Stavrosound below...
    – Geth
    Mar 25, 2012 at 12:57

I personally find audiosuite/offline processing a bit clumsy for most processing, because of how the preview sounds (looping and fast with short regions) and because it's not automatable. I occasionally use offline processing when I'm only going to do only one small fix and not multiple at the same time e.g. one eq cut.

I work nondestructively and render whenever I reach a certain "goal" with the sound. In terms of layering, I don't find it difficult to sum the layers either, as soon as they are close enough finished. I might "save as" to a new version number if I'm bouncing a lot of stuff, so in case something needs to be changed, I can go to a previos save and retrieve the original tracks.


I personally have two sets of tracks.

I have my active track lay at the top, with my FX/Atmos tracks etc. and then I have an exact copy of the same tracks underneath, but made inactive. The two mirror each other, however, the clips/regions in the bottom, inactive section, are completely un-processed in case I need to go back to the original elements and change things.

I feel that this route gives you the best of both worlds - low CPU usage, but you still have the option to go back to the individual elements if needed.



In my experience, AS seems nice and fast, easy, etc...but later on now I've discovered that I like to keep the plugins on tracks and bounce out my sounds/ record them etc and save these tracks in case I need to come back to these settings and plugins for rewworking a sound.


I keep everything non-destructive, but if I really need to save CPU power I freeze tracks (even though this happend only once).


When I'm designing sound effects, I use a lot of Audiosuite for all effects apart from compression, panning, EQ and reverb sends. This way I can keep my track layout pretty simple, and my track count as high as possible. It is easier to reuse a sound later on in a different scene of the film, if I don't have to worry too much on which tracks are using specific effects.

Also, I really like the destructive way of working when designing sounds. I like to make decisions right away, to clear my mind and keep my mind on the task right in front of me. Sure, I will most probably go back and change the effect, but mostly it can be done by mixing it differently or by adding new sounds or removing/muting annoying sounds.

I mostly do my sound design out of the box, by designing the sound in Ableton Live on my laptop, or Reaktor on my laptop, or using my modular synth or other instruments. I record what I play as I play it, and afterwards I edit it on my protools system, using the interesting parts of what I have done....

This way of working has worked fine for me so far.

  • @Morten - seems that it all depends on the work context, clients, your specific job and preferences. I'm sure if you're working within a specific role, client expectations dictate that you keep everything meticulously organised and reversible. Like yourself, I like to commit to things and move on, otherwise I'll end up going round in circles tweaking things! I suppose I've been confused by the difference between designing sounds from scratch, and routine fx workflow - by trying to adopt a standard approach for everything. So, I'll continue to AS & use inserts, depending on the task in hand.
    – Geth
    Mar 28, 2012 at 14:12

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