Pro Tools Automation Part 2:

In the last installment of the Pro Tools corner, I walked you through some basic automation techniques in Pro Tools. Picking up where we left off, this week I will show you a few more ways you can manipulate automation in Pro Tools, including graphic editing and the automation of plug-in parameters. If you missed the first part of this article, you might want to check it out here before you proceed.

Graphic Manipulation of Automation

In the last article I showed you how to view your automation data directly against the track’s waveform and hinted at the fact that the automation points, called “breakpoint” can be manipulated with the edit tools. Some people like to call this “graphic automation” and it is a great alternative or supplement to the real-time automation we learned last week, especially if you don’t own a control surface.

Remember you can switch a track’s view to show any automation graph by simply clicking on a track’s view selector.

Editing Automation with the Grabber Tool:

  • Use the grabber tool to create new breakpoints by simply clicking on the automation graph (the black line).

  • You can move existing breakpoints with the grabber tool by clicking and dragging. Hold down Command (Mac) or Control (PC) to move the breakpoints in finer increments.

  • Delete break points by Option-Clicking (Mac) or Alt-Clicking (PC) on an existing breakpoint.

Editing Automation with the Pencil Tool:

  • Use the freehand pencil tool to click-drag and draw automation curves in a track’s automation graph.

  • Click and hold on the pencil tool to show a list of pencil tool options. Use the line tool to easily create straight lines.

  • The triangle, square, and random pencil tool options will create shapes based on your grid settings. These are great for tempo synced automation effects. Try setting your grid to a 1/32nd note and use the square pencil tool to draw in mute automation data for a cool gate effect. Or try using the triangle pencil tool on the pan graph with a grid setting of a ½ note or 1 bar for a cool auto-pan effect, no fancy plug-in necessary.

  • Unfortunately the parabolic and s-curve pencil tools do not work with automation breakpoints, only the tempo editor.

  • Some graphs, like mute or many plug-in parameters, are stepped. In other words they are either one value or another, lacking the ability to glide smoothly between two states (like a volume or pan graph can). Therefore, trying to draw in sweeping curves with your pencil tool wont have much effect on these types of graphs.

  • Just like the grabber, Option-Click (Mac) or Alt-Click (PC) to delete a breakpoint

Editing Automation with the Trim Tool:

The trim tool is used to scale existing breakpoints up or down, or make “delta” changes in an already existing automation graph. The trim tool works best by first selecting a range of breakpoint with the selector tool and then trimming them up or down. Notice the “tooltip” in the top left-hand corner of the graph that shows you the current parameter value as well as the “delta” amount or relative change. The trim tool is great for selecting a short passage, say a phrase or word of a vocal, and easily trimming it up or down by a few dBs. Like the grabber, you can hold down the Command key (Mac) or Control key (PC) while you trim for finer trim increments.

Other Editing Tips:

  • You can cut/copy/paste/duplicate automation much like region data. To copy and paste from one automation type to another (say from volume to pan) use the special paste command under Edit > Paste Special > To Current Automation Type.

  • You can delete multiple breakpoints by selecting them with the selector tool and pressing delete. To delete all automation (across all graphs in a track) in one pass, hold down Control (mac) or Start (pc) while you hit delete, or use the Edit > Clear Special menu.
  • By default, automation breakpoints follow region edits. If you move a region that contains automation behind it, the automation will move too. You can disable this by un-checking Options > Automation Follows Edit.
  • When you copy and send or a plug-in from one track to another (by option (mac) or alt (PC) dragging) all automation graphs pertaining to that send or plug-in are copied also.

Automating Plug-Ins

Automating plug-ins is pretty much identical to automating volume or pan in the mixer, but there is just one extra step before you start. Because complex plug-ins can have hundreds of automate-able parameters, it would be inefficient to have all these show up under a tracks automation view when most of the time you are only interested in automating a few specific parameters. Because of this, Pro Tools requires you to enable the specific plug-in parameter you wish to automate before adding automation.

To enable a Plug-ins parameter for automation:

  1. Control+Option+Command-Click (mac) or Control+Start+Alt-Click (PC) directly on the plug-in parameter you wish to automate.
  2. Choose “Enable Automation for ****.”
  3. Once a control is enabled for automation it will show up as a graph in the track view list and can be automated by any of the methods covered in these articles.

Alternatively you can look at the plug-ins entire list of automate-able controls by clicking on the plug-ins automation button, located underneath bypass. This list contains a left hand side of potentially automate-able parameters and a right hand side of parameters currently enabled for automation. Double click a parameter to move it from the left list to the right list. Pro Tools can by default set all plug-in parameters to be enabled for automation as soon as the plug-in is inserted. The preference “Plug-In controls default to auto-enabled” can be found under the Mixing tab of Setup > Preferences.