Udta Punjab is based on a story that revolves around drug abuse in the affluent north Indian State of Punjab and how the youth there have been influenced by it. Abhishek Chaubey who has done critically acclaimed films like Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya directs it.
As with Bombay Velvet, Kunal Sharma did the sound design and Anil Radhakrishnan was the the location recordist. The dialogues and effects were mixed by Justin Jose and I mixed the music. The songs were written by Amit Trivedi and the score was written by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor, both stereo mixed by Shadab Rayeen. Everything was recorded at 96kHz and we mixed the movie in Dolby Atmos.
The music was mixed on an Avid S6 M40 at Futureworks Sound City. This time, I will be talking about some of the ways we used the S6 to achieve what I think is a very organic score. But before that I will mention some of the techniques we did in the mix.
One of the things that Abhishek and Kunal were very clear about was that they wanted to have the screen as the focus for the audience and for them not be distracted by the surround speakers. Because of this, it became very crucial to select what we were going to place in the surrounds and how we would do it. So, rather than panning music elements into it, I used these methods.
- Avid Pro Multiband Frequency-Split Pan
- Nugen Halo Upmix
- Split Reverbs
- Cargo Cult Slapper and Spanner
- Infinite Surround Delays
The Frequency Split Pan
The Frequency split pan was a technique I figured once I saw the Avid Multiband Splitter in action. The Multiband Splitter, like the Multiband Dynamics plug-in, can split the signal out to Auxiliary Output Stems (AOS). What this means is that the Multiband Splitter can provide the four bands it splits as an input to Audio Tracks or Aux Inputs. So, we have the low, low-mid, mid and high frequency bands. These 4 bands are routed onto four different Aux Inputs in Pro Tools. What I can then do is add reverb to the low-mid frequencies or a delay to the high frequencies. In addition, I can also pan these elements separately in the space. This allows me to spread the instrument in the surround format in a way that is very different from a regular pan or an upmix. I used this technique on pads, strings and effects. As an added benefit it means that the pans and position will then be based on the pitch of the instrument thereby giving it movement in the space without touching a single fader! You need to make sure that you set the output of the main track to a dummy output. The reason is you don’t want the sound to double up from the main as well as the split stems.
In the above figure, you will see how the low-mid frequencies have a Phoenix Verb on it and a Soundtoys Crystallizer on the high frequencies. But you can also see how they are panned in the surround space. You can also insert another Multiband Splitter and have the second one feed a separate set of four Aux Inputs and process and pan them directly opposing the first four dry sets. This can build a very ethereal space and was one of the things we used in one of the scenes where a character slips into a trance after taking an intoxicant. Slight movements were then given to the pan to make the whole instrument “swim” in the given space. In addition to this, the other way I created movements was by changing the crossover frequencies on the plug-in. This would mean that the Aux Inputs would then receive different parts of the instrument and the pans and process would move based on the pan positions. I absolutely love the way this works!
The Nugen Halo Upmix
When I first got to play with the Halo Upmix, I was taken by surprise by the way that it generates the upmix. It creates so much space and spread also gives you a lot of control over each element. It can also mix down to the exact source in stereo. One of the reasons we used this was because there were Piano and Clarinet parts that were processed by Naren and Benedict to sound completely different in timbre and harmonics. When upmixed to 7.1, it gave the instruments a completely new space and spread.
This was a technique I used for quite some time now, but haven’t written much about it. The idea is to have two reverbs that are fed by the the same bus , but one reverb has a high pass filter before it and the other has a low pass filter. What this lets me do is to have the lower frequency reverb separate from the higher frequency, which can be panned and levelled differently to reduce the clutter in the mix. But what it also gives me is the ability to make small movements on the two faders to create motion between the reverbs. This can quickly clean up the mixes and create spaces as fillers between instruments. Changes of even 10 percent between the reverbs create an organic effect that makes it easier to blend the instruments together.
Cargo Cult Slapper and Spanner
These plugins are very unique AAX plugins that serve a very specific purpose. Slapper is a very versatile Surround Delay whilst Spanner is a unique plug-in that serves to manipulate the spatial position of a mix element by manipulating the channels it can address. One of the ways I used Slapper was to create sends to a Slapper channel and automate the mutes on this channel. This was done in order to send single beats or words to be processed or delayed into the surrounds. Spanner has two amazing functions called Spin and Rotate. Spin will take your mix and spin it round. The speed of the spin is based on how much the knob on the control surface is turned. Rotate allows you to take your mix and rotate or position it to enable you to move ambiences, for example, based on how the camera pans. These functions are only available on knobs on a control surface. There is also a way to convert the spanner movements into Dolby Atmos Objects and you can see that in this blog article I wrote.
Infinite Surround Delays
This is one of the new techniques I made for this film. The method is an inspiration from the original method for creating a ping pong delay and also partly inspired by a layering technique that the famous producer and engineer Greg Wells uses.
The idea behind this is not new and has been used many times before the Ping Pong Delay plugin. The way this works is:
- Send from the channel via a bus to a mono Aux Input panned to the left. On this, insert a delay plugin with the feedback set to 0 and mix to full wet.
- From the Aux Input, send a signal at 0 dB to another Aux Input panned to the right with the same delay inserted with the feedback set to 0 and mix to full wet.
- From the second Aux Input, send a signal back to the Left, again with level at 0.
So, when the signal hits the left channel, it is sent to the left side after the delay on the plugin and also sent to the right. The Right will do its delay and send it back to the left. This will go on until there is a drop in the signal level. In the stereo world, this is how it looks:
The same principle was adapted for the surround version. What I did was to have the signal sent from the main channel to the Left, Left to Center, Center to Right, Right to Right Surround, Right Surround to Right Rear Surround, Right Rear Surround to Left Rear Surround, Left Rear Surround to Left Surround and finally Left Surround to Left. This gives me a delay that will circle clockwise in the mix room for a very long time or until the signal drops. Now, here is where I took the technique to the next level. I made additional sends that were routed randomly. This gave me additional movements of the delay across the space and I had around 10 combinations for this. All of the Aux Inputs were grouped and the send mute was also part of that group. This allowed me to select the movement by simply unmuting the send I wanted. You can also extend this to have the sends routed to objects or have filters on the delays to give you even more possibiilites. If you combine this technique with the split pans and have a single frequency band sent to this, the nature of delay will be extremely different. All of this shows that you have no limits to the creativity you can achieve using Pro Tools.
The Mix on Avid S6
One of the things I did to prep for the mix was to color code my tracks and create VCA Masters for the tracks. In this way, I was able to have just the required VCA Masters on the S6 in a Layout and spill the components I needed. I also had a VCA Master to control all of the other VCA Masters in the session so that I can also have control of the overall levels. I often do this to start the song very low in the mix (depending on the nature of the score) and then build that or ride it very subtly. This gives the song a very organic movement and it won’t feel static.
There were some features that I used and loved on the S6.
Flip knobs to faders
I like to have subtle movements of the faders and parameters throughout the score. One thing I learnt after seeing Robb Allan mixing was to flip the pans to the faders and do the subtle movements using faders. This made making small movements in relation to the visuals far easier., especially doing it on multiple channels at the same time. I also sometimes do this with EQs for very fine variations and also with sends for reverbs or delays
I love the way we can use Layouts to configure the console. After all, mixing is about getting the decision-making to execution in the shortest time in order to keep the creativity flowing. In that respect, being able to quickly access tracks and individual parameters really helps this process. Also, having the separate Spill Zones on the surface can allow us to show selected track types without losing the Layout. So if for example on the 16 fader M40, the last 8 faders are my VCA masters, I can have the first 4 faders as my Left Spill Zone. I can then quickly display just my Auxes on it, make minor changes and come back.
Track Type Display
While mixing so many tracks, sometimes I quickly want to change reverb parameters or overall levels. So, rather than banking through or recalling a Layout, I simply push the Type button on the Master module and select the Aux Inputs from the buttons on the Softkey in order to quickly can see all my Aux Input faders on the surface. I can then expand or adjust the required parameter or fader and get back to doing what I was doing. Quick!
This is a feature that made a big impact to the way I listen for the mix. Once my mix is done, I turn on the screening mode on the S6. This puts the Surface in a mode where all the displays are off. (You can come out of this by touching the Touch screen) This helped me a lot so that I can then listen to my mix without looking at the tracks or the faders. This is very important to me as a mixer as I want to be able to detach myself from the physical look and I don’t’ want to be influenced by the values that I see. If it distorts or clips and I hear it, I make a change. If not, for me it isn’t broken yet! Plus it also allows me to see how well the score or song sits with the visual on the screen. I’m not distracted with worrying about the pan position or level and if I am then it shows that wasn’t right in the first place.
This is another feature that I use a lot. An Expand Zone is a knob module that you can assign to display parameters from the attentioned track such as EQ or Dynamics or other plug-ins. I use it to show what is onon insert aso that if I wanted to work on reverbs quickly, I can simply attention that reverb return and get the reverb parameters spilled out.
I created a bunch of macros for myself on the S6 that help me with a lot of automation and tasks for Dolby Atmos. It is very similar to the one I have here. This helps me to stay within my creative space and not lose focus of what I want to achieve in the time I have. Unfortunately, I have a very short tone memory so I become impatient when I want to get to my outputs and hence have all of these customized so that I don’t lose time thinking of the technicalities.
The thing I love most about the Avid S6 is that I don’t have to necessarily learn the way the surface works. I can have the surface adapt to the way I work. In the end, it’s my workflow, speed and talent that the producer pays for. The more I can deliver without compromises, the better it will be for both. This was how the mix of the Score of Udta Punjab was done. I hope it was a useful read and some of the techniques here can be put to a lot of creative use irrespective of whether you are mixing for cinema or music.