There are a limited number of good tools for panning in surround. At the top end of the spectrum are fancy dedicated surround panner sticks like the JL Cooper AXOS panner for $800+ each. At the bottom end is the trusty mouse. In the middle are things like Neyrinck V-Control Pro for iPad.
But these are all methods of writing pan automation in real-time, while watching action on screen. With practice you can get pretty accurate with these, but it can still be a somewhat sloppy experience.
When tracking a steady-speed moving object on screen like a vehicle pass-by, precision is key. Here’s my method for quickly and easily doing smooth and accurate pan moves in surround sound.
This method works for easily panning a constant-speed sound like a car-by or foley footsteps. Here we go.
- Bring up the Automation Enables window (command-4) and deactivate everything except pan automation, like so:
- Select the entire clip you’d like to pan. I have a habit of extending the boundaries of the selection beyond the clip itself, but that’s not necessary.
- Bring up the panner for that track, and set it to the desired starting position.
Here I’ve started the car-by back near the rear-left. I’ll be panning it to the front right.
- Now you need to apply this pan position automation to the entire selection. The key command we’re going to use is located under Edit, Automation. It is “Write to All Enabled,” or command-option-/
At this point we’ve written that pan position to the entire clip. So if we played it currently, it would stay fixed at that position. Now let’s get it smoothly panning to the front right.
- Next you need to decide the duration of time you want the smooth pan to take. Typically you select from the first frame of picture showing the object to the last frame showing it. This must be within the boundaries of the prior selection we made! If it’s not, the end position of the pan will be written on your track until the next panning automation change is hit. If there’s no more panning on that track, then the end position will stick until the end of the timeline! Obviously that’s a huge land mine, so be sure that this new selection falls within the range of the prior one.
- Once you’ve got your smaller selection, move your panner dot to the desired ending pan position of your move. Like so:
- Now you need to make use of glide automation. This is the function that smoothly adjusts automation from the previously written position to the currently chosen position.Go to the Edit Menu, Automation, and select “Glide to All Enabled.” The key command is shift-option-/
Now hit play, and you will have a nice smooth pan from your start position to your end position that takes as long as the selection you made.
It seems like a lot of little steps that can be hard to remember. So I’ve come up with a little phrase that I think of each time that helps me out: “burn the start, glide the end.” That means burn the automation of the starting position across the entire clip, then glide the automation of the change across the shorter selection.
So next time you want to easily and smoothly pan a car-by, foley footsteps, a whoosh, or anything else, remember:
Burn the start, Glide the end.