SFX Power User Tips and Tricks (Part 3)
By Richard B. Ingraham

Freelance Sound Designer/Engineer/Technician

With this issue of Tips and Tricks I have decided to combine the Tip and the Trick into a single section, and deal with only one topic. This way I can spend a little more time, concentrating on a single SFX concept. Also, I couldn't really decide whether this issue's topic was a tip or a trick, so... this time it's both. You can read the Part 2 here.

Tip #3:
Multiple Cue lists

Multiple Cue Lists in SFX is a topic that comes up fairly often when I am working with students or others who are new to the SFX environment. Answering all the possible questions about when, why, and how to use multiple cue lists could easily fill several issues of Tips and Tricks. So for this article, I'm going to concentrate on a couple of programming instances where I often use multiple cue lists, to solve a problem, or even just to make the show easier to operate.

Example #1 - Creating a Master Cue List:

First, let me explain what I mean by the term Master Cue List. A Master Cue list for a show, is a standard SFX Cue List that contains nothing but Command Effect cues, that all point to other cue lists within the same SFX workspace. The other cue lists will contain all the actual .wav file playback effects, fade effects, etc. There are many reasons why creating a Master Cue List can be handy in SFX. Sometimes it is simply to create a cleaner, clearer interface for my Sound Operator, other times it allows me to accomplish some programming within SFX, that couldn't be done (or would be a lot more difficult to do) with a single cue list.

For example, here are a couple of screen shots of a SFX Cue List from a show I recently designed.

In the above example the cues labeled B and D are single .wav file playback cues. However they both contain multiple fade commands that effect the .wav file playback over a period of several seconds.

(Note that the Command labeled as "Delay" in these examples is nothing more than a Memo Effect Cue, put in as a place holder, so that there is a delay between the time the board op hits the "GO" button, and when the cue actually begins to play. The Wait effect immediately below the "Delay" Memo Cue, is where the actual delay time is set.)

In the above example the Cue F, contains three .wav file Playback effects, all linked together with several Fade effects, that change the levels and routing of the playback as the scene transition progresses.

As you can see, in the two above examples, what is a single cue in the show, contains multiple commands within SFX to properly execute. This can lead to a lot of commands on the screen that the board operator may not need and/or want to see while running the show. Obviously some simple renaming of the "Description" field for some of the .wav file playback commands could clean up the interface a bit, but even then, the cue list would still need to contain the same number of commands as is currently shown.

By creating a Master Cue List for this show, you can simplify the user interface for the board operator greatly.

A Master Cue List for this show might look like this:

This gives the board operator a much cleaner interface to use to operate the show. This particular show had so few sound cues, that the Master Cue List is short enough for all the cues to be displayed in one small window.

Lets walk through the process of creating a Master Cue List. I'll use the same show as in the examples above, for this step by step process. I'm going to assume you've already created (and know how to create) the cue list that contains that actual playback and fade commands.

1. First, create a new blank cue list.

2. A Master Cue list only contains Command Effects.
Those effects trigger Cues in other cue lists to "GO". The Command Effect is the icon in the Toolbox window that looks like the crosshairs of a gun sight.

Command Effect Icon

So now drag and drop the Command Effect Icon into the new blank cue list.

3. You should now see a new dialog box similar to this one.

Under the Command drop down box, select Play Effect. Under the Cues List drop down box select the Cue List that contains the cue you wish to trigger. Then select the appropriate cue in the Cue drop down box. As such:

4. Go to the attribute tab and enter the appropriate information.

5. Click on OK, and you should see the new Command Cue in your Master Cue List.

You would then repeat steps 2 thru 5 until you've created Command Cues for all your cues in the show.

That is all there is to creating a Master Cue list. Of course, once you have taken the time to create a Master Cue List, you'll find that it has many uses. Such as:

Example #2 - Repeating a Complex Sequence of Cues in a Show:

If you have a show in which a complex sequence of cues is repeated many times over the course of the show, and it is identical each time, then using the concept of a Master Cue List explained above, can save a lot of programming time. One way to create a sequence of cues that gets repeated many times during a performance is to create the sequence once, and copy and paste it as often as you need it for the show. However, since SFX only allows you to cut and paste one cue (or command) at a time, this method can be very time consuming for cues that might contain dozens of commands each. A much simpler method is to create a special cue list, just for this one sequence of cues, and then build multiple triggers to that same cue into your Master Cue list.

I often use this technique for ambiance/background cues that might get repeated during a show.

For example, let's say we have a long sequence of cues for some storm ambiance, that are used several times within the show.

In this above example Cue 1.00 plays Wind, Rain, and Thunder .wav files, and also contains a fairly complex series of Fade Commands. Cue 2.00 is a short series of Fade Commands, that fade out the storm sounds.

So, rather than creating the same cue several times, I would just drop Command Cues into my Master Cue List like this:

In this example above I didn't change the default Descriptions that SFX will automatically generate, just so you can see what is going on. Also note that I dropped in a few spot Thunder Claps between the cue that kicks off the storm ambiance and the cue that fades out the storm ambiance.

Not only does the Master Cue list provide a cleaner interface for a board operator in this case, but it allows the board operator to take the spot Thunder Claps at any time in the middle of that complex series of Fade Commands that make up the storm. It also allows the storm ambiance to be easily repeated, by simply creating another set of Command Cues similar to Cues A and D above. If I needed to make some small level changes to the storm ambiance, this method allows me to only have to make the volume and/or fade time adjustments once, and then every time this cue is played in the show, the levels will all be the same. If I had just copied and pasted that sequence repeatedly, I would have to make any changes necessary to each of the copies in the show, rather than once for all. So this technique can be a significant programming time saver as well.

Once you begin experimenting with using a Master Cue List and/or Command Cues, I'm sure you'll find all kinds of uses for them. After a while you begin to use them all the time, and then you'll wonder how you ever programmed a show without them.

Hope you find these Tips and Tricks useful. Until next time....