In this article from his blog Film Mixing And Sound Design, Sreejesh Nair unpacks some of the techniques used in Pro Tools in the mix of the film Udta Punjab, directed by Abhishek Chaubey. Over to you Sreejesh....
The film has received rave reviews on the storytelling technique and the look and sound. The score and song were mixed on an Avid S6 M40 and Pro Tools 12.5. Unlike Bombay Velvet, this time, I took care of the Music and Background mix along with the Crowds, while Justin took care of the FX, Dialog and the Mix. As before and like most of Kunal’s Projects, this too was at 96kHz in Dolby Atmos, and we have some interesting techniques we used. The Songs were done by Amit Trivedi and Score by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor.
The Surrounds Should Tell The Story
The philosophy we adapted for the mix was that the surrounds should tell the story. The challenging part with the film was that the screen was so arresting that we had to be extremely careful about what we put into the surrounds so as to not have the exit sign effect. But, to do this, one technique we did use was the oldest trick in the book. The Blind Spot.
The Blind Spot Technique
The blind spot technique is a one that relates very closely to masking. What it does is to trick your mind into accepting something that exists to be ignored. For example, if you are at home and you hear the rumble of traffic, your mind begins to filter it out until there is a break in pattern like a tyre screech or so. Now, the Exit Sign effect usually does not occur at the start of the movie. It is mostly used at around half hour or so into it. The movie starts subtly until the first song is introduced. Here, I had an element placed exactly on the exit sign position speakers using Snap mode on the Dolby Atmos Plugin. What this does, is subtly draw your attention to that sign, and at the same time force you to ignore it because of the blind spot. The difficulty was to get that element to blend in the mix, which was ultimately achieved with some EQ and Levels. Once I got this, I was able to assure that the audience won't be attracted to that as over a period, the mind would kind of ignore it. (This is probably why a few friends told me it was an engaging mix:) Not too sure. The movie was really good!) This also helped me to utilise the surrounds in a way that the screen would not be distracted at all.
The Frequency Pan Technique
For a long time, this was not possible for me to consider because probably such a plugin never existed. What I used here was based on the Avid Multiband Splitter which is part of the Avid Multiband Dynamics. This plugin has a feature referred to as Auxiliary Output Stems or AOS. What that means is if you have a track on which you have inserted the Multiband Splitter, you can then create 4 auxes and call the low, low mid, mid and high frequency on 4 different auxes. This enables me to have different pans based on the different frequencies. But beyond this, it gives me much more control and flexibility such as:
- Add reverbs or delays to extend certain frequency bandwidths.
- Have the pan or position vary based on the performance of the instrument.
- Automate and move the bands to achieve spatial positions of an instrument that was nearly impossible before. So rather than panning the instrument, I can automate the crossover to achieve positioning.
This gives a much more organic mix over the conventional way of panning for certain instruments. If you look at the screenshot below, you will see that the main track on which the Splitter is inserted is sent to a dummy output. The reason is that we don't want that outputs going from the main as well as the auxiliaries. The other advantage is that the crossovers are Linkwitz-Riley 8th order filters. This means there is no phasing issues at the crossovers, but we can’t use this as a parallel processing.
Nugen Audio Halo Upmix
This was another plugin that was a huge addition to the way the score worked. I created 3 tracks on which I would place certain instruments like strings, clarinet, or the piano. This would then upmix it to 9.1. The reason I did this was because the recorded piano or clarinet by Naren and Benedict had a lot of additional harmonic processing. With that, the way the upmix then handles the instrument becomes something that is unique compared to a conventional upmix / pan.
Cargo Cult Slapper And Spanner
Yet another pair of plugins without which my world would be very different. Slapper and Spanner were used to create most of the challenging score changes and song changes like blooming the score from the center to the surrounds based on the scene and performance, going from a surround mix to a quick headphone version, changing the spacial position of the song by following the character on screen etc would have been extremely difficult without Spanner. Slapper on the other hand is a beautiful surround delay. I don't know of any other delay that does what Slapper can do. I used this on the songs more than the score. Especially the song Chitta Ve. The way I used it was to have sends on tracks to Slapper aux and automated the mutes. On the S6, it was such a joy to be able to automate these mutes like a DJ based on the tempo and feel. This actually added to the songs as a performance of a mix automation as well as the character on screen. Achieving this was a load of fun as well as results.
Infinite Delay Technique
This was inspired from the original way of doing ping pong delay and also an adaptation of Greg Wells’ layering technique. You can read more about my method in this post.
Avid Pro Subharmonic For The LFE
This was another one of my favourite plugins and by now is in my default arsenal of weapons. The way this creates the added Subharmonics is simply beautiful. Moreover, it overcomes a lot of challenges usually faced with the LFE.
The underlying techniques were all subtle so as to lead the audience into the movie with the songs as well as score. There were very specific mix changes in each song. For example, Chitta Ve has 3 different mixes within the same song as the characters are introduced. This helped the context of the song sit better with the visual that was shown. From a live show to a club to being a storyteller. The changes were made so as to coincide with the transition. Similarly for Da da dasse, the rap vocals were separately processed on certain words with pitch shifted delays, Slapper, reverse reverbs, and gated reverbs. The beauty was this would highlight those particular words that were very crucial to the backdrop of the story without any change in level and these subtle highlights serve that purpose well. Ikk Kudi was my favourite as I devised a transition from a real room reverb on the dry voice to a dreamy reverb (using the beautiful Bricasti M7 IR from Samplicity for Altiverb) from as the characters on screen get into the song and realise the change. At this point, Kunal smartly removed the effects to get the audience to be very personal to the song and the lyrics and character. The track Vadiya was completely achievable thanks to Spanner where a group of instruments could be rotated around the theater at a particular instance by increasing in speed yet on tempo based on the character’s agitation on screen and then slowing it down. I wouldn’t think this would be possible any other way!
For most of the songs, I had the tempo and my compression attack and release done to tempo. Having tempo also made it easier to pan as effects as I could split the clip at grid and then pan them to the bar or 1/16th of a bar or do tweaks to levels at this levels.
These were some of the mix techniques used on the music and songs. I do hope that they are useful to you and help you out in your mixes. Do let me know your thoughts, till then, happy Mixing and watch Udta Punjab in theaters.
Directed By: Abhishek Chaubey
Sound Design: Kunal Sharma
Location Recording: Anil Radhakrishnan
ReRecording Mix: Justin Jose
Surround Music Mix: Sreejesh Nair
Associate Mixers: Sarath Mohan, Shijil P. Nair