I started using Nuendo after years working on Pro Tools. I found it extremely flexible and very friendly, and at the same time it gave me all the tools that are needed in complex, commercial post-production sound work. When I tried to get my head around the Nuendo automation panel I couldn’t find any deep explanation online about it. Even the manual was poorly phrased and difficult to understand. Therefore, I’ve decided to create this all-in-one guide that will allow sound designers to spend a few hours understanding the automation panel, and save time later while working on new projects.
Who is this article for: anyone who uses Cubase or Nuendo. This article is written from a post production point of view, but every musician and producer who creates music with Cubase should read it as well. This will save you a ton of time and energy trying to create your sound.
For those of you who want to jump into a deep learning of all the automation modes that Cubase or Nuendo have to offer, I recommend you to open a new project, insert a track that you love, open the automation panel (F6), and try for yourself every mode, option and setting that will be discussed.
The Automation Panel
The Automation Panel is a wonderful tool that allows you to have maximum flexibility and possibilities regarding automation writing. As every sound designer/editor who’s already involved in the post production industry knows, the options that are given regarding automation, have a huge impact on speed and ease of workflow.
I’ll start with the modes and settings that that are in both Cubase and Nuendo. Then, I’ll move on to the Nuendo only options. First of all, let’s define a few terms.
- Punch in - Start writing - You punch in when you are in Write mode and you start moving faders (by clicking on the virtual mixer or by touching a controller), knobs, plugins’ buttons and anything that can be automated.
- Punch out - Stop writing - releasing the controllers/virtual mixer fader, stopping the playback.
- Fader - In this article I will be talking about touching, moving, changing or releasing “the fader” - but I really mean any button/knob/parameter, real or virtual, that can be automated.
- Automation Pass - An automation pass is created when you write automation data, from the moment you start writing till the moment you stop, ether by stopping the playback or simply by releasing the mouse or controller.
Cubase & Nuendo Automation Modes
1. Fill - The modes in this column are all about filling an entire area with a fixed value.
i) To Punch - In this mode you punch-in when you touch the fader, and you punch out when you release it. It allows you to search for the right value without saving the values written while moving the fader. Ones you found the right value, it is set from the point of punch-in, to where you punched out. The curve that was written in this area will be deleted.
ii) To Start - When you activate ‘To Start’, it will apply the last value written before stopping the playback, from the punch-out point to the start of the project.
iii) To End - Same as ‘to start’, only that the last value that was written will be applied from the point of ‘punch out’ - to the end of the project.
iv) Loop - This mode is very handy! I use it all the time. It affects the area between the two locators. You first need to set the locators where you want the automation change to happen. Then, you can start changing the fader till you find the right value, and when you release the fader, the last value that was changed is now set to the entire area between the two locators. TIP - when using Loop Mode, make sure to be in Cycle Mode as well (‘/’ key).
v) Gaps - This mode is relevant when ‘Use virgin territory’ is enabled (in the settings). We will elaborate on this later in this article, but basically when ‘Use virgin territory’ is enabled, there will be areas in the automation lane that won’t have any curve whatsoever, unless we actually write one. When you activate Gaps, it fills these empty areas with the first next value that exists after the gap.
Let's continue defining what the columns relate to.
b) Suspend Read - when you activate one of these boxes, the program will ignore all the equivalent automation channels on all tracks, and will play them with their current values, relative to the position of the cursor. It means that you can tell the program to stop reading specific automations and, if necessary, change these automations ‘temporarily’ without the need to change the current written values.
c) Suspend write - Same as Suspend Read, but will ignore Write enable.
d) Show - Very handy! When you click on one of the boxes under the Show column, the equivalent automation channel will appear under all the tracks. If you want to see only automations that have actually been changed, you can click on ‘used only’, and then click again on the boxes with the automations that you want to see.
TIP - You can search for “Show used automations (selected track)” and “Hide automation” in the ‘Key Commands’ window (File >> Key Commands) and assign them to shortcuts of your choice. That way you can just type your shortcut and all the written automations will appear (for the selected track). Once you’re done editing, you just type the second shortcut and the automations are hidden.
2. In the Upper area you have :
a) R R W W - ‘Activate \ Deactivate read and write for all tracks’ - it basically speaks for itself. My recommendation is to NEVER use them. Why is that? If you have 50 tracks, and some of them are read enable and others aren’t, by clicking on one of the ‘R’ buttons, it will make all of them read enable or not read enable, and then you will have no way of undoing it, besides going to every one of the tracks and changing it manually.
Cntrl/command Z won’t reverse this. The only one of those options that can come in handy is the last one - “Deactivate write for all tracks” - that way, even if you’re just done writing, you just click ‘W’ and you can be sure to not write something by accident later.
Now we’ll talk about the automation modes. They basically determine what happens while writing.
i) Touch - In this mode, automation data is written for as long as you hold the fader. It will punch-out as soon as you release it.
ii) Auto Latch - When you release the control, it will continue to write the last value till you stop the playback.
iii) Crossover - This one is a little tricky. Its purpose is to write over an already written section, while being able to come back to the original curve after you are finished writing (like the Touch mode) but without the necessity of holding the fader down in order to keep writing (like in Latch mode). Punch-in starts when you touch the fader for first time. Punch-out happens after you touch it for the second time AND cross over an existing automation curve. That way, the program know you're done editing a specific part. I myself never use it, and I recommend you work in touch or latch mode.
c) Trim - It is similar to a VCA fader, but for automation curves. If you have written an automation pass, and you find out that the whole part is too low relative to the other channels, then you can use Trim to change all the values together. This way you will not affect the relative changes inside this specific automation curve. The colored area represents the summed value that will be read while playback is running.
3. Settings: If you click on the little gear sign (bottom left), the settings window pops up. There are two settings that are for Nuendo only. We will discuss them later in this article. For now let’s talk only about the options that are in both programs:
a) Show data on tracks - If you enable it, you will be able to see the waveforms on the automation tracks. It can make the work more precise, but it also makes the project much more loaded visually, and it also consumes more resources from your computer. In my opinion it’s a little too much.
b) Use virgin territory - When you enable it, as default, no automation curve is displayed on the automation track, and you find automation data only where you have actually written an automation pass. The empty spaces are called ‘Gaps’ and you can fill them by clicking the ‘Fill gaps on selected track’ function (under Function menu), or with the ‘Gaps’ mode we discussed about earlier, in the Fill column.
c) Continue Writing - If you’re in cycle mode and you are in the middle of writing an automation pass, this setting will determine what happens once the cursor reaches the end of the range (the right locator) and comes back to the beginning of the cycle (right locator). If it’s activated, you will be able to keep writing as long as you don’t release the mouse/controller. If it’s deactivated, you won’t be able to continue writing once the cursor reaches the cycle end, and you’ll have to release the mouse button and click it again. It works in the same way for when the arranger tool is activated and edited in a way that makes the cursor jumps between different areas throughout the project.
d) Reveal Parameter on Write - This one is very useful. As soon as you start writing automation, the relevant automation track will appear automatically.
e) Return time - Determines how fast the fader will return to its original value after you release it. If you’re in Touch mode and you’ve just released the fader after writing an automation pass, you’ll see the curve slides back to the original value. The ‘Return Time’ determines the length of the slope:
f) Reduction level - If you find that there are too many breaking points in your automation writing (like in the previous picture for example), you can click on “Reduce automation events’ in the function menu (click on the Function button in the upper right corner). The number next to the ‘Reduction Level’ setting represents how many points will be removed, in percentage.
g) Spike detection range - Sometimes when you write automation, spikes will be created along the curve. That’s a big no-no for us sound addicts because it might cause clicks and crackles. Therefore, Steinberg has created a function that you can access in the Function menu - ‘Delete automation spikes’. The number in the ‘Spike detection range’ box determines what is considered a spike. What do I mean by that? A spike is actually a triangle with 2 base points on the automation line:
The number next to ‘Spike detection range’ represents, in milliseconds, the length between the two base points of the spike. That way the program knows how pointed the triangle has to be in order to recognize it as a spike, and remove the top point - eliminating the spike.
h) Freeze trim -This applies to the Trim mode. Ones you have activated Trim and made your changes, it is possible to “commit” to these changes, and apply them to the original automation curve. This is called the ‘Freeze’ action. By doing that, the Trim line will go back to zero. You have 3 ways of freezing Trim mode:
- i) ‘Manually’, which means you have to go to the Function menu and choose ‘Freeze all trim automation in project’ or ‘....in selected track’.
- ii) ‘On pass end’, meaning that when you are writing in Trim mode, the freeze action will happen automatically ones you punch-out.
- iii) ‘On leaving trim mode’ - when you deactivate the Trim mode (by clicking on it again), it will freeze.
Nuendo exclusive automation modes and options
Still here? Great! That probably means that you took it to the next level and purchased Nuendo to have a much easier, professional post-production workflow. From now on all the options and function that we are going to discuss will be for Nuendo users only.
4. Join: The Join column exists to help us continue writing the same values after punch-out (works in Auto-Latch or Cross-Over mode only):
- a) Join Now - Allows you to resume the last automation values that have been changed before you punched-out. If you just finished writing an automation pass, and you want to continue with the same values elsewhere, just click it while the playback is running anywhere you want on the timeline, and the values will change accordingly.
- b) Auto join - when clicked, it will automatically continue writing the last automations that were changed, from the point you punched-out. Why do you need that? Well, let’s say that you started changing automations manually, and for some reason you stopped the playback. Now you want to continue from the point you stopped, with the same values. You can do that by clicking on the ‘Auto Join’ button. Then, position the cursor before the point you stopped (the timecode ‘Auto Join Time’ tells you where that is) and the values will continue to write automatically from the same exact point. Now you can just keep changing the values as you see fit.
- c) ‘Auto Join Time’ - This timecode indicates the last point on the timeline where you punched-out. It is handy if you want to know exactly at which position the ‘Auto join’ will take effect. It also tells you the point where the last values were saved for the ‘Join Now’ mode.
5. Preview - Let’s move on and talk about the preview mode. For me, this is the most important part of the automation panel in regards to post production. With the Preview, ‘Suspend’ and ‘Punch’ actions, you’ll be able to change the automations as much as you need, without writing anything, until you are fully satisfied with the result.
- a) Preview - Lets you change automations and hear the changes without committing to it. It is actually a test mode, where you can change the automations without writing them.
- b) Suspend - Allow you to make AB Testing between the existing automations, and the ones that you changed in preview mode.
- c) Punch - After you are satisfied with the changes you made in Preview mode, and you want to write them, you just click Punch, and the automations in the Preview mode will be applied. You can activate different modes in the Fill column to apply these changes to different areas in the project. TIP - ‘Loop’ mode the most useful mode to work with the Preview mode. If you want to make changes in a given area, you can set the locators to it, and activate Loop mode in the automation panel. Click the Preview mode, and start changing the automations till you reach the result you want. At this point, you can A-B test by clicking on Suspend, to hear the difference between the old automations values and the new ones. Finally, you click Punch, and the changes will be applied to the entire area between the locators. I use this option all the time, and I even created a macro control for that.
- d) Punch on play - Applies the changes made in the Preview mode from the moment you start the playback to the moment you stop it.
- e) Auto Punch - In this mode, Nuendo will write automatically what’s in preview mode, between the locators, while playback in running. To use it, you would have to make changes in preview mode, and and set the locators where you want the changes to happen. Then, put the cursor before the left locator and start the playback . Once the cursor crosses the left locator it will punch-in automatically, and when it crosses the right locator it will punch-out.
- f) Touch Assist - This one is very useful when you need to copy entire groups of plugin automation from one scene to another. When Preview mode is activated, any parameter you touch and change is stored temporarily and can be copied to another area using the Punch button. Touch Assist allows you to catch whole groups of parameters in Preview mode, in one touch. Those groups are: Inserts, EQ parameters and Sends. Let’s say that you finished working on the dialog of a scene that happened in a specific room. You changed the EQ, added a Denoiser and some compression. Later in the video, the same character find himself speaking again in that same room. Now you have to achieve the same sound that you did before. Without the Touch Assist mode, you would have to activate the Preview mode, and touch each and every EQ settings, and every parameter that has been changed in every insert in the first scene, before going to the new scene and punch it there in order to copy it.
With Touch Assist, you can touch only one control in each group (Inserts, EQ, Sends), and it will store all of the parameters that have been changed in that group. If you want to catch the entire EQ settings, just touch one of the settings. All of them will be stored in the Preview mode, and will be ready to be punched, and therefore copied, to the new scene. To catch all the insert settings, just touch one of the parameters in one of the plugins. Once everything is caught in the preview mode, go to the other area, and punch it there. Don’t forget that Preview mode has to be activated in order to do that.
The Punch Log column contains the history of the punches you’ve made throughout the project. Let’s say you have changed an automation punch-in. This change will be saved as a new box in the Punch Log column. Now you can to apply the same automations to another part of the project. Just set the locators to the area you want to change, click loop to make sure that the automations are punched to the entire area between the locators. Now click on the punch log you need and load it. You will see the automation change accordingly (in Preview mode).
Now you can punch it anywhere you want. You can also add previous punch logs, if needed, and even load punch logs and punch them one after another in the same area.
6. Automation Settings (Nuendo Only):
- a) Use undo branches - Enables automation branches (see section 15 for the full explanation.)
- b) Max. punch logs - Determines how many punch logs are saved.
- a) The passes contains the history of the automations you’ve made. To use it, you’ll need to enable ‘use undo branches’ in the settings, and activate the power button, left to the ‘Passes’ button at the top right corner. If you click on the ‘Passes’ button, the automation passes window pops up:
Each line represents an action, and you can undo and redo your actions by clicking under and above the lines, or just by pressing Command/Ctrl+Z. Now for the interesting part: the numbered boxes in the right side are the steps you’ve made in each branch. When you first activate Passes there won't be any boxes yet, but once you start writing, you’ll see that the boxes appear after each punch. If you undo, and write another automation instead, the last box will turn grey, and a new branch will be created instead. Then you’ll be able to switch between different punches, undo and write other automations, without losing any data.