• Joshua Flynn

Auto-Pan: a simple but powerful tool.


  • Ableton Live 10 Standard

  • Various audio sources

If you're starting out making sounds for the first time, you might ask: "What plug-ins should I buy? What do I need to get from Waves or Soundtoys right now to start making amazing sounds for games and film?". My answer would be none. Sure, Massive and Filter Freak should be on the top of your list for when you want to expand your horizons. However, if you're coming from a music background you may already have a great tool for audio manipulation, especially if you make Electronic Music.

Enter Ableton Live's Auto-Pan. This tool can do quite a lot given that it has a small number of tweakable parameters.

Four main tools and an inversion switch. That's all you get - so how is it so powerful. Whilst, Auto-Pan isn't the ultimate tool (simply because there isn't one), it's amazing for showing people what can be done with the basic plug ins you get and can easily inspire beginners to delve into what they already have. Let us have a look at two super simple examples.

Spaceship engine:

Where else could we really start? This one had me stumped from the get-go, how do I create easily automatable tremolos straight out the box. Easy peasy! Despite its name, Auto-Pan is also an amazing tremolo tool that offers you a variety of simple shapes and the tools to manipulate them. Spaceships sound great with a nice wobbly engine purring away, and this works great whether you're going down the serious root or the cartoonish one (just make sure you pick your sources correctly).

First off: grab any regular car or bike, (or plane, or boat, or train, or.... you get it) from your audio library. Then add the Auto-Pan plugin. Then add around 85 percent of the Amount parameter whilst making sure the sine waves are in phase, this creates the tremolo effect. Now you need to adjust the Rate accordingly, in the context of creating an engine sound this represents the speed of the vehicle.

I automated the Rate too, this gives the engine a revving phase which gets faster and faster. This is great for linear audio work. But if you are implementing this into a game engine, Wwise's blend containers do a great job at allowing you to fade through various engine sounds that can match the speed of your vehicle. I will follow this up in a future blog post.

Here are some examples using the different waves in Auto-Pan:

It's important to get used to how different shapes sound. They can be used to invoke different emotions from whatever vehicle the player is riding around in. Ramp, for example, sounds like an engine that needs a fix-up, sputtering cylinders working against the weight of gravity. The smooth undulations of the sine wave sound like a luxurious ride - perhaps a dignitary is swooping in for a "quick word". The rigidity of the Triangle wave sounds like it could be used for something akin to Dune's Ornithopters or a futurist police helicopter. Further to this, adding multiple different sources, operating at different pitches and LFO rates means you can easily create an impactful engine sound with plenty of depth.


Spells, they are next on the list right? If gamers aren't zooming around on a speeder bike or soaring in low orbit around a newly discovered planet, they're often casting spells.

It goes without saying that the sound source for this is incredibly important. Be it ice, fire, or, earth, getting the core sound of your spell is the most important part. However, if you can find a great sounding source in a sample library, or synthesize one yourself, Auto-Pan can add a very natural element to the sound by using the random LFO shape.

When added to a sound source it gives it a more random and therefore more natural effect. Think of a spellcaster gathering in the elements around her spells before unleashing them on the enemy. Using falling rubble sounds from my library for the earth spell, ice creaks and breaks for the erm... ice spell, and a roaring fire for the, you guessed it, fire spell. Here are some examples using Auto-Pan's random LFO shape.

As you can hear, it gives the spell effect a very natural feel as if the spellcaster just has enough control over what she is doing. These may not be the fully designed audio for each spell but it's a great jumping-off point for each type, ready for additional recordings or synthesized sounds. Again, automate this as you like, but just like how we can use blend containers for engine sounds, we can also use them to give the spells different levels of intensity. Exporting multiple audio files of the same source using different LFO rates and other settings means we can begin to explore how we can add variety based on player attributes like casting level or strength.

There is plenty you can use the Auto-Pan for, personally it fines its way into a lot of my own creations even if you can only just hear the slight wobble of the tremolo.

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