I'm straying a bit from strict sound design, but I really admire everyone's expansive knowledge of all things audio and would love to hear people's experiences with how their sounds end up in the mix. I'm starting a mix in 5.1 surround that is very effects heavy. Jets, explosions, crashes, beeps, buzzes, servos, and more, as well as foley and backgrounds. Having only mixed in stereo, I'm curious as to what people like in their surround mixes.

So far I've concluded I'm not a big fan of surround for surround's sake, or rather, I would like to avoid using it as a gimmick. As far as ideas go, for sounds that "appear" in the front, perhaps bleeding some reverb to the rear? What else would work well?

3 Answers 3


Great question. One thing I've found effective in 5.1 film mixes is moving sounds away from the center channel to make room for whatever the showcase event happens to be at the time. For example, you have a helicopter in the center of the screen with gunmen on board firing automatic weapons (also in the center) with bullets hitting a vehicle (in the center) causing an explosion (in the center). One way to approach this might be:

• Helicopter gets panned mostly in the surrounds • Gunfire in the center • Riccos off to the left or right, favoring into the center of the room (ie. pulling back to the rear speakers a bit) • Explo in all speakers

Your mileage may vary -- the key is to experiment and see what works best for your project!

  • I like the idea of spreading sounds based on relevance or a hierarchy. I could definitely find some cool ways to distribute the different sonic characters. Thanks. Commented Apr 28, 2010 at 8:16

Most panning & spot localisation of sound in film 5.1 is driven by the images ie where the sound generating objects are on screen, and if/when they move offscreen where are they moving to... If an object pans off L, then it could be continued L to surrL, or if the object is coming from deep within the screen and moves past the camera then it could go entirely LCR -> surrLR

  • Reverbs & slap delays can be spread into surround

  • pulling some sounds 'off the screen' can help a lot in dense complex moments, this doesn't mean panning them entirely to the rear, but even 10% offscreen or 20% can help

  • Use point of view as a motive for panning eg i've done scenes with guns where within the scene the point of view cut between the gun being onscreen, offscreen left and offscreen surround. In each case the location of the gun fire, the bullet whizzes & the bullet impacts all were specificly located... So eg if the gun is in surround, the bullets whizzes were panned from surrLR-> LCR, the bullet impacts were LCR and the source of the gun was surrLR (the only issue with this was that there is no sub in surrLR) Within the same scene at times the gun was C (&sub) bullets whizzes went from C-> surrL or R, and bullet impacts were surr L or R...

  • sometimes it is easier & better to cut surround panning, than to use pan automation. Fast movement like bullet whizzes are a good example; you can simply cut a bullet whizz at the peak of the passby, play the first half from say L and the second half from surr R - then you have a bullet whizz that passes thru the audience from onscreen L-> surr R (again this depends on onscreen action for logic) - printing Waves or GRM Doppler moves & then cutting them this way can also be a useful technique...

Note: you have to be constantly aware of issues regarding the fact that the audience is distributed in the theatre, so if you have a loud helicopter in the surrounds for very long, it may mask important dialogue for people sitting at the back ie near the surround speakers... This is why heavy use of surround is often momentary & not sustained

  • That's wicked. I never would have thought of snapping the pan like that before. I can see how that would make things pop out a little more. I also went to look up some info on doppler plugins and I quickly came across your Vimeo demos. Great stuff, Tim. For those who would like to check 'em out, you can start here: vimeo.com/1542646 Commented Apr 28, 2010 at 8:36

Not quite an answer, but I hope to see some action in these respones. As a Sound Editor workings mostly on Walkie-Talkies, 90% of times Surround is used only for Amb and some reverbs. That's how we work here, too much Surr distracts audience form the story, one may say...

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