Writing for a surround mix?
spiderman
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17th December 2012
Old 17th December 2012
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Writing for a surround mix?

I'm about 15% into a feature film. The film is going to be mixed in surround. I've noticed a few films where the music moves around the Ls and Rs ("Hunger Games" was the most recent time I noticed this).

Is it common to write for 4.0 or do you think the mixer makes that choice after receiving the stems. There are some cool possibilities that have crossed my mind but I've never written with the intention of using the surround channels.

Have you ever scored cues with music moving throughout the surrounds? (specifically synth patches seem like a logical choice)
Any thoughts or known standards on this subject?
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17th December 2012
Old 17th December 2012
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The only "standard" is that 97% of films will ONLY have static non-movement ambience or pads in the surrounds. There are of course exceptions to the rule like you've mentioned. Most producers / directors never want focus to break the story line which is almost always up front and center. There are again exceptions - like something scary coming from behind, but this is VERY rare. Also, DUBBING engineers are going to be the one's who want to make that call.

BUT, as I said there are exceptions. The most notable exception is IMAX films. At least some of them (depends on the director.) You can do some pretty wild things. I did an IMAX film awhile back where the director/producer wanted things wild and COMPLETELY surrounding the listener - like you were inside a brain.

Arpeggiators are no good, because you can't break them out to easily, but if you WRITE and manually program a sequencer style line, you can then copy it to 3 other tracks and spot erase notes, then record each mono part in 4 passes and pan in the 4 corners. You can do similar things with percussion. It makes for wild instantaneous jumps (no panning necessary) that are very effective in blowing your mind.

I also did a lot with marcato strings - making them jump around. After you write you have to deconstruct the lines, copy/paste on tracks that are assigned differently in the surround spectrum and then pan accordingly. If you're using real musicians in a room, it's more difficult, but still do-able. They are not great about playing cut up lines on paper. Best to record as a normal line, and then edit afterwards. (Unless it's simple enough for them to pull off)

Do not neglect delays. These often work best of all.

Consult with your director before going down a surround path with any discrete and percussive elements in the rears....
spiderman
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17th December 2012
Old 17th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
The only "standard" is that 97% of films will ONLY have static non-movement ambience or pads in the surrounds.
Fantastic advice on the whole. I'm quoting only a small part to highlight your insight on things that happen most frequently. Would you include a secondary music reverb in this common practice list?

I only ask b/c I've taken to watching several films through Ls and Rs only, and I notice music A LOT. For example, right now.... I'm watching "Sleepy Hollow" and the music is ever present through a secondary/surround reverb.
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17th December 2012
Old 17th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spiderman View Post
Fantastic advice on the whole. I'm quoting only a small part to highlight your insight on things that happen most frequently. Would you include a secondary music reverb in this common practice list?

I only ask b/c I've taken to watching several films through Ls and Rs only, and I notice music A LOT. For example, right now.... I'm watching "Sleepy Hollow" and the music is ever present through a secondary/surround reverb.
People who have true 5.1 verbs or 4.0 verbs will usually mix true 5.1. That ends up with a slightly "different" ambience ending up in the rear speakers and more "distance" than the ambience up front. It can be done with 2.0 verbs as well, but is more kludged.

All major feature films are delivered in mixed 5.1 stems these days. But honestly, if you break out enough stems, the dubbing engineers can create that rear for you as well from 2.0 stems, and LOTS of scores are done this way. But if you're not at the dub or you are in conflict with the remixing engineers, you are at their whim in creating your surround aura.

Bottom line......do the surrounds yourself or have the dubbing engineer do it for you. There are benefits to both approaches. Take the one you're most comfortable with. Don't forget the stress and politics on the dub stage makes national politics look tame....

Personally, I'd deliver 5.1 stems - as discrete as possible - with "safe" surround panning, and anything that might be fun back there, on a separate 2.0 or 5.1 stem by itself so it could be moved back if you can convince the powers that be....

Your biggest potential mistake is making too much out of the surrounds. Don't forget that. Often, it's better safe than sorry....

Good luck,

bp
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