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How do you do orchestral mixing for trailers, film, tv and games ?

dman007

Active Member
How do you do orchestral mixing (and mock-ups) for trailers, film, tv and games ?

So, I've done this in different ways. But which way do you prefer? Where do you place different sections of the orchestra in the stereo field? Do you put bass string parts central or to the right? Where do you pan what? What reverbs do you like for different instruments/sections?

I've read books on this and taken a course, but there are a lot of differences (of opinion). But is there a right way and a wrong way to do orchestral mixes for trailers, films, tv and games?
 

jneebz

Senior Member
IMO, a lot of what your'e asking has more to do with the "art" of mixing, and not a "right" or "wrong" concept. Listen to a lot of mixes, learn the general "rules" then learn how to break them in creative ways that still serve the project well. At the end of the day, it's what sounds good to YOU, or a lot of the time, the CLIENT (which may not always be in line with your sensibilities and/or ear).
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Trailers are an entirely separate discussion from film/tv/games IMO.

For film/tv/games, it strongly depends on whether your in-the-box music will be the entire score or whether it will be augmented, perhaps even replaced, by live recordings.

If there will be live recordings, it's good to build your software sound conservatively, putting it in the "rear" of the mix so that the musicianship of the real human players shines through. Ideally you already have some scratch recordings of what the musicians will sound like and can build the template around that. One of the keys for your template will be to find spatialization and reverb settings that correctly place your virtual instruments in the same shape and size of hall as the live music.

If the software sound is going to be the final mix, then a lot more care has to go into the template. IMO a good approach for this is to pick a (live) soundtrack that the producers/director loves, or that is close to what you are aiming for, and mock up a SHORT cue that has a large variety of dynamics and orchestrations. The idea is to mix it as close as possible to the original soundtrack. @Grim_Universe and I have done projects like that here and here. @ashtongleckman also has a number of YouTube videos where he remakes cues from recent movies. The amount of work invested in the mockup can be a lot, but it saves you from spending a lot of time adjusting the mix during the composing process.

Note, that the goal is not just to plagiarize another soundtrack's mix. After you have matched your template to the soundtrack, then you can start tweaking it to create your unique sound. For example you may want a more/less dry sound, or you may want a brighter or darker sound on the master.

But when you add or remove reverb or EQ, you'll know that the instruments are already spatialized and balanced in a way that accurately replicates a real orchestra recording session. All the more so if you have picked a cue by John Williams or anybody else who is doing great orchestration these days like Henry Jackman, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino (or any other composer whose work you admire).

Any changes you make FROM that point will be your creative decisions made with creative intent. All of the above advice could be summed up by saying "orchestration is the first step in mixing." A great number of classic film scores were recorded right into Decca trees with minimal changes. Star Wars in concert sounds pretty much like Star Wars on the CD. The same is absolutely not true for something like Zimmer's Inception or even Pirates. Having a template that accurately replicates a real recording session, IF that's what you want, will naturally steer you towards writing orchestrations that are achievable in real life, while having a template based on a "larger than life" score will show you how Zimmer & his proteges create that sound.

The reason trailers are a separate discussion is because each trailer should be its own sound world, but for film/tv, you want to establish a template and stick to it for the entire show or film. Trailers are A LOT more work.
 
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