When you are designing a background/ambience, do you change the layers for every camera angle? Do you ever drop all of the 'scape out if there is a shot that comes up on the screen with something that is not part of the 'scape and makes a noise?

Do you ever use spatial processing for recorded sounds that are already of ambiences or are they wide enough already?

4 Answers 4


Yes, yes and yes.

I try to make changes in backgrounds in every cut, or at least changes when you cut between close-ups and totals. There are also changes within cuts, in order to describe the surroundings. The changes can be subtle, but the should in my opinion be frequent in order to keep the scene interesting to watch. It is good to have many tracks of material to build your backgrounds from, then you can easily make subtle changes, as well as more pronounced changes.

If you want to bring full attention to a specific element, it can always be a good idea to remove something else, including backgrounds.

I use spatial processing (do you mean reverbs?) whenever necessary. If for instance I have a sound of a car driving by in the street, but I need it to be further away, I will add some reverb and delay as well as decrease its volume, in order to make it sound right.

  • I mean stereo widening
    – Chris
    Mar 10, 2011 at 22:16

There's no hard rule or answer for most of your questions. These are creative choices. Make these choices in a way that serves the story and the style of storytelling in the film.

That being said. Generally a background is used primarily to anchor the audience in an environment, establish a sense of place, and give the hard fx and foley a place to live and breathe. It is not customary to change a background on every shot in a scene, and often you'll see sound editors going with one static background through an entire scene (with perhaps some subtle layer changes to sell a cut or perspective change). It's usually pretty distracting to the audience to have dramatic changes in background every few seconds, unless of course a dramatic change will serve the storytelling.

Spatial processing can be used on backgrounds, I've certainly used an imager to spread a narrow bg before. Although most often width is just handled with simple panning. Mono backgrounds are also your friend.

Backgrounds are also often muted in a film mix, especially if there's wall to wall music going on or a ton of hard fx. They just end up cluttering the mix.


When cutting and laying out backgrounds (and pretty much all of the soundtrack), I try to put myself in the shoes of the re-recording mixer. Ask yourself, "Is my layout going to make things easy to mix?"

I only split for perspective or add/remove BG layers if I feel like the mixer will want to make a drastic change, whether it be level, EQ or something else, to enhance the story. If you split tracks or make changes too often, it's going to slow down the mixer. As Justin mentioned, backgrounds anchor the audience in the film's soundtrack - changes should inform the audience of a nuance or a new direction that the film has taken.

Of course if you're mixing the film yourself, you don't need to worry about this as much, since you'll be intimately familiar with the material. It's still


I don't change for every camera angle, unless it's to the perspective of a deaf person (hasn't happened yet). As far as dropping out the atmos for things like flashbacks, I guess it's all a matter of how long the flashback is, and what kind of movie it is -- I'd almost always drop it out for a darker film, regardless of length.

As for spacial processing, I haven't used it to make a scene wider, but I have used it to make things feel farther away, or even alien to the scene (but that also includes a bit of effects processing, too).

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