Hi, I'm about to start mix on a feature film, where I'm planning to pan the dialog throughout the film.

A couple of years ago I did a film which was shot entirely as a POV. It was a very rough film, and I ended up panning all of the dialog all the way around the listener (as well as all other sounds). It worked out pretty well.

This time the film has been shot normally, not as a POV. During sound editing we've already found out that panning dialog to the surrounds is problematic, but we're going to try tracking the dialog across the screen in LCR.

My question is if anybody knows any good films for reference, with dialog panning consitently throughout the film?

6 Answers 6


I'm pretty sure that The Hurt Locker did a lot of DIA panning into the LR and even surround channels. That film was shot with a documentary style, so it might not equate to your feature, but it's probably worth checking out anyway as a good example of mixing.


Very few films use dialogue panning for anything that is key to the story. As Iain mentioned there are clarity issue that can arise in larger viewing spaces, but there's also a Gestalt issue of "good continuation." Our brain is wired to perceive sudden shifts in audio as a new sound; that makes us focus on it to synthesize it into the perception of our environment. If a line begins in the right channel and jumps to the left midsentence, our brain takes a split second to re-acquire the logical flow of the idea(s) being presented. In short, it's utterly distracting.

This isn't to say it can't be done. Felipe's example of District 9 is an excellent one. But in that particular scene, our attention isn't focused on the voices outside, but on the characters. The voices outside the shed become a design element to heighten the emotional arc on screen, but they aren't carrying the primary narrative elements.

Another film you might want to add to your list for reference/inspiration is Children of Men. Specifically that long shot with the car. It's a great example of visual and sound design working together in a very complex sequence.

  • In that case, also check out Saving Private Ryan's beach scene. Great panning of soldier's yells and shouts of commands.
    – Utopia
    Jan 9, 2011 at 22:34
  • @Utopia - good call. been a while since i pulled that dvd off of the shelf. lol Jan 9, 2011 at 23:10
  • Children of Men, thats a great one! I'll bring that to the mixing stage tomorrow... Jan 9, 2011 at 23:37

"The Social Network" is possibly the best movie I have ever seen for dialogue editing/mixing and I forget if there was much panning but the dialogue was absolutely fantastic and wall-to-wall - there must have been thousands of lines in that movie.

But, as Ian hinted, if you go too far it starts to detract. But, using panning and the surrounds for a key element or sound effect is extremely effective sometimes: like in Lord of the Rings when the hobbits are first starting their journey in the forest and on the screen is a shot from behind Frodo and he reacts to an ugly bird call from behind him which was placed in the right surround speaker - very well done use of the surrounds.

+1 for Hurt Locker.


On district 9 on the scene when Christopher is trying to hide from the MNU guys with his kid you can hear the dialog ouside the shack letting you know exactly where they are, i thought it worked reeeally well in the theater!


If this is for a major release it might be a problem in large theaters, as the there are clarity issues for the audience on the far left and right if you use hard panning.

I would suggest a more gentle approach, or at least a test with the director.

  • I don't think we'll be panning 100% left or right, more like 90% at the max. The sound seems to much like coming from a speaker when panned completely left or right, rather being a part of the story. There will always be reverb from the dialogue spilling out into all speakers, helping the audience in the other side of the theatre, but still giving a strong sense of direction. The director likes the idea, we'll see how it works out in the mix... Jan 9, 2011 at 19:46
  • It is incredibly effective, especially with off screen characters. It is more that we all have a habit of designing for perfect auditoria and there are very few perfect theatres. There are more seats in theatres that have poor sound than have perfect sound, but we always work in the perfect seats.
    – user80
    Jan 10, 2011 at 11:22

The film is now mixed, and here is what we did:

On the first day in the mix, while we were copying files, we checked out a couple of dvd's, Children of Men, Cloverfield and Irreversible. Children of Men and Cloverfield for the panning, and Irreversible for the LFE action in the start of the movie.

Children of Men rarely uses dialogue panning in interior dialogue scenes, but uses 360 degrees panning in the exterior scenes and in scenes with crowds and action. It is a really great effect.

Cloverfield uses very gentle panning in the interior scenes, and a little more in the exterior scenes. It doesn't seem to have any dialogue in the surrounds. -We only saw a couple of minutes of this film, because file copying was almost over... :-)

We ended up panning the dialogue across the screen in all scenes, sending it to the front, but not to the surrounds. We narrowed the panning a bit, if it was too distracting, but generally it followed the position of the actors on screen. We used ReVibe in 5.1 for reverbs for everything. The dialogue panning translated well into LtRt, because we kept it up front.

Thank you for the advice and for the recommended reference films.

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