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Supercharging your edits with automation

Wouldn’t it be great if you could take some of the most powerful editing techniques in your favorite Sony Creative Software applications and operate with them on a completely different level? How about if you could make things happen automatically in your edit? That’s exactly what the automation tools do for you. If you’re not already using automation techniques in your projects, you’re missing out on an important dimension in your editing work.

You could say I started this discussion of automation last month when I talked about automating the parameters of certain audio effects. In this article, we’ll expand that automation discussion and dig into some of the tools that you might not utilize as effectively as you could, even if you already know how to create automation. If you’re completely new to automation, you might want to go back to last month’s article, Discovering the Power of the Sound Forge™ Pro plug-In Chainer, and read the basic automation discussion toward the end of that article.

Assuming you’re all now familiar with the basics of automation and how Sony Creative Software products use envelopes to create that automation, let’s dig a little deeper and really explore the tools. Since Automation works basically the same way in all of our applications that support it, and since Vegas™ Pro features the most robust automation toolset, I’ll use Vegas Pro in this discussion.

Whether you’re working with event-level automation—like Velocity envelopes that enable you to create slow and fast motion on events—or track-level automation—like Volume envelopes that you use to change the volume of a track over time—the techniques for using automation are the same. Figure 1 shows a project that I’m currently working on that has both event- and track-level automation envelopes already applied. I’ll assume that you’re working on a similar project as we move through this discussion.

Figure 1

Figure 1: This project has event-level automation on the video track and track-level automation on one of the audio tracks.

Let’s use a track-level volume envelope for the rest of this discussion. Just keep in mind that all of the techniques we discuss with a volume envelope work the same way with other envelopes. You can use a volume envelope to control your volume automatically at different times in your project. As a basic example, think of a project that contains music on one track and a narration on another. Where there is no narration, you’ll want the music to play nice and loud, but when the narrator begins to speak, you’ll want to lower the volume of the music so that it doesn’t overpower the narration. You can use an automation envelope to temporarily turn the music down and then bring it back up when the narrator finishes. You’ll hear this referred to as a duck in the music, or ducking the music.

The first tool you should know about enables you to create such ducks very quickly. In Figure 2, I’ve added a volume envelope to the bottom audio track, which is my music. Now let’s duck the music out of the way during the narration which you see in the event on the top audio track.

Figure 2

Figure 2: We’ll use the volume envelope on the bottom track to duck the music out of the way during the narration on the top track.

To quickly create the duck, first double-click the event on the top track. This selects both the event and—more importantly for our task here—the time the event occupies. When you make a time selection like this and then adjust an envelope that exists within that time selection, the software automatically creates four points on the envelope line. These four points enable you to create the duck without affecting the envelope line outside of the time selection. This is a great time-saving technique for creating a duck (or the opposite—a bump) in an envelope because you don’t have to manually add the four points needed for the operation. Figure 3 shows my project after I’ve made my time selection and adjusted the envelope.

Figure 3

Figure 3: I’ve just created a duck in the bottom track. Note the time selection can be seen above the video track. The time selection enables you to quickly create a duck.

As you can see in Figure 3, the curves between the first and second, as well as the third and fourth points on the line are quite abrupt. Typically you want your duck to happen a bit more gradually so that you ease the listener into and out of the volume change in the music. You can adjust the location of these points to accomplish this. However, you often find that when you’re trying to adjust a point in just one axis (in this case, the horizontal axis because you want to move just left or right) it’s very difficult to move the point along one axis without also moving it along the other. In this case, we want to change the timing of the point, but not the volume setting, so we need to constrain the movement of the point to a horizontal movement only.

To do this, first click away from the time selection to remove it. The time selection may impede your ability to move the points right or left since you can’t move a point that’s inside the time selection to outside of it. Now, click the point you want to move and hold the mouse button down without moving the mouse. Hold the Altkey down and now drag the point to a new location. Notice you cannot move the point up and down. The Alt key constrains the movement to horizontal only. When you have the point where you want, release the mouse button and Alt key. Although we don’t need to do so here, we can also constrain the point’s movement to the vertical axis—up and down. To do this hold the Ctrl key instead of the Alt key.

If you find that this time-selection method always creates points that are too close together for your liking and you’re getting tired of manually changing them after you create the duck, you can adjust the default time between them. Choose Options | Preferences and click the Editing tab. The Time selection envelope fades setting determines how much time will exist between the first and second as well as the third and forth envelope points when you use this time-selection method to create a duck (or bump). Change the setting to something that works better for you. You can also change the alignment of the points that are created. The default setting, Centered, dictates that the edge of the time selection will be centered between the first and second and also the third and forth envelope points. In other words, one point from each pair will fall outside of the time selection and the other will fall inside the selection. Click the Alignment drop-down and notice you can set it so that both points fall inside the time selection or so they both fall outside the selection. Experiment to find which setting works the best for you. When you’re done, click OK to dismiss the Preferences dialog box.

Another great time-saving shortcut that many people miss (this one is available in both the Vegas and ACID™ line of products) enables you to adjust your envelopes freehand. To do this, hold the Shift key and point to the envelope. Your mouse icon changes to an envelope-and-pencil combination. When you have that icon, click your mouse button and your mouse become a freehand envelope drawing tool. Draw whatever shape you want for your envelope, but don’t release the mouse button just yet.

Notice before you release the mouse button, the envelope has dozens of points that make up the curves you’ve drawn. Now release the mouse button. The software automatically simplifies the curve by eliminating all but the points that are essential to creating the curve shape you want. If this automatic point thinning alters your envelope too much and you want to keep it exactly as you draw it, choose Options | Preferences and click the External Control & Automation tab.

Here you have many options that are related to automation. We’ll come back to some of these, but for now, deselect the Smooth and thin automation data after recording or drawing checkbox and click OK. Now draw another envelope shape. Notice now when you release the mouse button, all of the points remain and your envelope shape stays as close as possible to what you drew. Return to the Preferences dialog box and reselect that checkbox to turn thinning back on.
When you create curves between envelope points, you can choose what shape you want to use for those curves. To see this, right-click the first envelope point of the new audio duck you created a few moments ago.  In the pop-up menu, you have several options for modifying the point. For instance, you can choose from a few presets or choose to type in an exact value for the point, you can delete the point, and you can Flip, Thin, and Reset all points. But what we’re interested here is the shape of the curve that will exist between this point and the next one.  For volume envelopes, the curve type defaults to Smooth. To change the default curve type, return to the External Control & Automation tab in the Preferences dialog box. The list of options at the bottom give you control over the default fade types.  For instance, if you want to default to a linear fade curve between audio points, selectLinear from the New Audio envelopes drop-down list. Note this will apply to any new envelopes you add from here on out. Click OK when you’ve made your choices.
Another tool that comes in handy more often than you might think it would is also one that’s often overlooked. Sony Creative Software applications typically have more than one edit tool. In Vegas Pro, for example, although users probably use the Normal Edit Tool close to 100% of the time they’re editing in the application, the Zoom Edit Tool, the Selection Edit Tool, and the Envelope Edit Tool all serve specialized functions. Most power users probably rarely switch to the Zoom Edit and Selection Edit tools because there are effective shortcuts to doing the same thing while remaining on the Normal Edit Tool. But if you’re ignoring the Envelope Edit Tool, you may be missing out on a powerful technique that can make your life easier.
With the Envelope Edit Tool, you can move multiple envelope points at one time. This is invaluable for times when you need to move an entire automation sequence—like the duck we created earlier—while maintaining the original relationship between all of the points in that sequence.
Click the Envelope Edit Tool button. Now, in the timeline, make a time selection that includes all four of the envelope points that go into making up the duck in the music. Notice each of the points you include in the time selection lights up, indicating that it has been selected, as in Figure 4. With the points selected like this, move any one of them to a new location in the timeline. The other selected points move along with it and your duck is perfectly preserved, although now in a different position.

Figure 4

Figure 4: All points within the time selection are highlighted when you use the Envelope Edit Tool and you can move them all as a unit.

When you’re done moving your automation sequence, click the Normal Edit Toolbutton to return to the familiar editing tool.
Another useful tool locks track envelope points to the events that they fall within. To see this, drag the event that holds your music to a new location on the same track. Notice that the duck you created in the music comes along with the event, even though the duck is on a track-level volume envelope.
Now, create a new automation sequence that sits outside of the music event and move the event again. The original duck moves because it is fully contained within the time of the event, but the new sequence does not move since it sits outside of the time of the event.
Sometimes however, you want to move the event, but you don’t want the automation sequence to move with it. To accomplish this, click the Lock Envelopes To Events button to deactivate that feature. Now move the event and notice that no envelope points move along with it. Click the Lock Envelopes To Events button again to reengage the feature.  Note that this feature has no effect on event-level envelopes. By definition, automation on event-level envelopes always moves with the event.
Finally, you can use the powerful automation recording tools to create automation in your project on the fly. For instance, you could play your project and listen to the audio mix. As you listen, you can raise or lower the volume of a track manually when you feel it is necessary. The software will record the adjustments you make so that when you play the project back, those adjustments are remembered and happen automatically. These tools are available in both Vegas Pro and ACID Pro.
Right-click the track header for the narration track and choose Insert/Remove Envelopes from the menu and Volume from the cascading menu. This removes the existing volume envelope from the track.  Now, to record new automation on the track, click that track’s Automation Settings button. This activates automation record mode set to the default behavior of Touch which we’ll discuss in a moment. First though, notice in Figure 5 the Volume slider, the Pan slider, and the Mute button have different icons. These icons indicate that these controls are now automation record controls as opposed to their normal functions.

Figure 5

Figure 5: This figure shows my narration track in automation record mode.

When you’re ready to record your automation, play the project. Adjust the Volumeslider to raise and lower the volume. As you do, notice a new volume envelope appears and records the changes you make. Turn the volume all the way down and release your mouse button. The fader returns to the default setting of 0.0 dBand you now have an automation sequence in place. Pause playback.
Click the Automation Settings drop-down arrow and choose Latch from the menu. Play the project again and make further adjustments to the Volume slider to create more automation. Turn the volume all the way down and release the mouse button. In Latch mode, the volume does not rise back up to its default value, but stays where you left it. Stop playback.  You can experiment with the Pan and Mute automation controls to see how they work as well.
Click the Automation Settings drop-down arrow again. Notice you can turn automation off or you can set it to Read mode. In read mode, the automation that you’ve already created stays intact, but the automation controls are disabled so you can inadvertently change them. Set the tool back to Touch mode and click theAutomation Settings button to switch back to the normal tools.
It’s worth noting that with Vegas Pro and ACID Pro, you can use an external MIDI surface control device, such as a Mackie Control, to adjust many of the operations in the application. That is really a discussion for another article, but if you are already using such a device, you can set it up to record automation as we just did with the internal application controls. You can set your external surface control device up in the External Control & Automation tab in the Preferences dialog box.
As you can see, there are many powerful tools that you can use to create automation in your projects. Hopefully this article has shown you a couple that you might not have known about, or at least reminded you to give another look to ones you may be underutilizing right now.
Before I end, I should mention that there are other types of automation inside Vegas Pro that we haven’t talked about here. The ProType Titler uses similar automation techniques, but they are different in some important ways. Likewise, you can set up keyframe automation in several tools such as the Pan/Crop, Track Motion, Effects, Media Generators, and other tools. These automation topics could fill more than one additional article, so we’ll save them for another time!
For more training resources, visit the training section of our website
Gary RebholzGary Rebholz, is the training manager for Sony Creative Software. Gary produces the popular Seminar Series training packages for Vegas Pro, ACID Pro, and Sound Forge software. He is also co-author of the book Digital Video and Audio Production. Gary has conducted countless hands-on classes in the Sony Creative Software training center, as well as at tradeshows such as the National Association of Broadcasters show.

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