This may be a really stupid question, but here goes....

I'm fairly new to sound design for film. That is films that are going to be in theaters. I'm a little confused as to the relationship between the sound designer, and the re-mixer.

Does anyone design sounds in 5.1 ?? Or is it always in stereo?

I was working on a film where the camera does a transition between scenes that starts above water, dives in, crawls through a 'water maze' and comes out in a swimming pool. I created a really cool pallet of sounds where there are some different sounds in the surround speakers than the front speakers that change and so on, plus used a phasing technique / automation to give the water a real sense of movement. It sounds great, but when you smash it to stereo it doesn't come across. I asked sound designer David Sonnenschein a similar question about different sounds and techniques and he said to be open to the possibility that the mixer will do a better job than me, and to use his strengths (which I agree with).

Is it mainly about giving all the sounds on separate tracks over to the re-mixer, and have good communication with him about your ideas and how he can make them better?

Also - if some of you are making sounds in 5.1 are you printing the LFE for the re-mixer? Do you label each clip with a name, and where-ish it should be? (i.e. : front, rear, lfe, sides, etc)

Sorry for the long winded inquiry. I'm obviously a little confused and most books / articles I've read haven't touched on this part of the process. THANKS!!!

3 Answers 3


I actually often design sounds in 5 channels, in rare cases 5.1, but you must be absolutely positively certain why when doing it. Most sounds I actually do in mono, and others in stereo, always adapted to what works best for the project, both in style and, for exaple if there are to be any reverb or general processing.

How I do it depends on the sound. Say for example that I'm making a gunshot, then I might have a slap-back in the rear speakers. Here it's very important to give the mixer the possibility to affect the balance between front and rear. In another project the lead fell down a steel construct and landed in a huge pile of garbage. Here the crap and broken glass surrounded the viewers like it was the lead itself, so I didn't do a mixdown at all as to fit it perfectly in the rest of the mix. In yet another kind of setting I had to make a chase-scene with a demented rapist killer hunting a girld through the woods. Here everything is completely split up in sub-stems completely free to pan independently all over the sound-filed.

But as I said, in many cases mono is absolutely king. The more channels you use, the less control you have over it in mix (equals a pissed-off mixer), and simple acoustics and delay-effects might very well be all the width a sound needs to fit nice and well in a mix. A rule of thumb; never do ANYTHING you don't really NEED to do because there are no other ways, always keep it as simple as possible. On the other side, never chicken out on a complicated method either if it seems it's the best way to make the sound much better and you have the time. When doing things complicated, try your best to let the sound stay in separate parts, so they can be tweaked in mix. Learn to develop your judgment, and always consult the mix-technician whenever in doubt.

When it comes to LFE and labeling, different people have different approaches to this. I always label spatial channels with where they're supposed to come from. Frankly I can see no reason why not to. When it comes to LFE, you probably deliver in either AAF, OMF, or Pro Tools/Nuendo/Pyramix native format anyway, so keep the LFE separated for each effect actually using it, but keep it strictly in sync. Chances are pretty great the mixer will ditch pretty much of it anyway depending on how generous you've been with it. Bass, especially sub-bass (below 80Hz), is one of the hardest things to get absolutely right.

  • @Christian Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question! That really clarifies things. So if I absolutely want to make a sound in 5.1 for the benefit of a project, then it's best to do it in 6 mono channels and assign them. Awesome. On this project I'm only creating 1 necessary 5.1 effect. Thanks Again, Jake
    – Jake
    Jun 25, 2012 at 18:18

I agree with Christian too. As a short and direct answer, I may work in a stero or 5.1 environment, but I always cut my elements as mono or stereo and give them a virtual premix (e.g. leveling, panning). Let the stage care of the rest.

If I have to crash down my edits for certain technical reasons, I'll crash them down strategically for what's intended to be in the front or rear (in this case it doesn't matter so much where its exactly going to sit or get dynamically panned, but more or less something will either sit in a front or in the rear), and label it as such, such as:

  • Whooshes - Front
  • Whooshes - Rear
  • Booms - Front
  • Booms - Rear


Then on the region group name all add something like ** PAN TO REAR!!!! **

Usually though crashing things down doesn't happen so often in my experience with design work, as opposed to Hard FX. So in that case it's just working with mono and stereos, trying to premix them as best I can and let the stage take over to make the final call.

For LFE, I create a dedicated channel (or 2) for LFE only - If anything from hard FX or design has low end which I specifically want to be featured on the LFE channel, I'll duplicate that sound to the LFE track and drop it by 10dB (to account for the Dolby spec and not blow the stage's sub). Sometimes though will be only a FX edit dedicated to LFE, in which I don't have to duplicate and such. This is a case by case scenario depending upon whether an FX is LFE_only, or a full frequency FX has extra LFE content I want to send. That way the mixer can easily patch that entire channel in and they're ready to roll for the entire show without having to play with a bunch of sends - if they want to pepper in addition LFE content beyond the hard LFE material, they could always route additional low end content from the main FX tracks as needed.

  • @Stavrosound Wow I can't tell you how much this helps. Of course, '2 dedicated LFE channels' instead of sends. So simple, yet brilliant and easier for me and the mixer. I also realize now, that i'm not using region groups, and that would REALLY help me with organization as far as what regions are responsible for creating each sound. Thanks a million for your time and help!
    – Jake
    Jun 25, 2012 at 18:25
  • @Stavrosound I was going to ask this on a different forum, but I can tell you know what you're talking about. This is the dumbest question, but I've read books and researched and I don't understand 'dolby spec' as far as listening levels. I set the SPL of my LCR's to 85dB and my surrounds at 82db (sub around 91dB rms) and all that, but my room is sound proof and it was BLARING LOUD. I see job submissions and stuff where there requirement says your application must be set to TV or Film standard. How do I do this without blowing myself away? Right now I have 2 master faders, 1 print, 1 volume
    – Jake
    Jun 25, 2012 at 18:30

Regarding Jake's level question: it is my understanding that the film sound SPL spec of 85dB applies to large mixing stages and large theaters. It is generally understood that in smaller rooms (like small post rooms), lower monitor levels are needed--for example, the TV standard for small rooms (ATSC recommendation) is 76 dB (C weighted-slow meter response for -20 dB pink noise over two octaves centered on 1 kHz). It has to do with the psychoacoustics of human hearing in large versus small rooms.

It is not a dumb question by the way. Knowing how to properly calibrate playback levels can be a big factor in having your work translate properly to different venues. One very interesting document to peruse in this area is "A/85 – Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television" (http://www.atsc.org/cms/index.php/standards/recommended-practices/185-a85-techniques-for-establishing-and-maintaining-audio-loudness-for-digital-television) which has a section with recommendations for setting up monitoring systems.

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