How to develop an idea from an Msc project to a company - the “loud sound” of Krotos

Orfeas.jpg

Author: Flavia Scialpi Edited by: Inês Barreiros

How many of us can say they’re proud of their MSc project? Probably most of us. And how many can say that its quality was astonishing? Or widely acknowledged? And more importantly, how many believed in it enough to gamble and build their professional career on it? Probably a lot less!

Very early in his professional career, Orfeas Boteas (CEO and founder of Krotos, based in Edinburgh, Scotland) was interested in doing sound design for films and games. He already had some experience in the sound industry but he wanted to refine his skills. Finding out that the University of Edinburgh offers an MSc course in sound design, he decided to enrol. Dehumaniser, a vocal processing tool, was developed as his MSc project. Humble enough, he didn’t think that the project could have a lot of commercial potential.

Initially, Dehumaniser was made available for free download, with the intention (mostly) to get some feedback and exposure. Orfeas was quite surprised about the turnout, a request of donation was added, first £5, then £7, until he quickly realised he had something valuable in his hands so he decided to invest time and money into developing a professional version. He put together some intellectual and practical resources and got an internship at the University of Edinburgh through the Launch.ed program. Orfeas is very grateful to Launch.ed for all the help and support he received, including legal and business advice provided by Mr Paul Devlin (now at Mercia Fund Management).

The first commercial version of Dehumaniser was released in late 2013. After his internship, Orfeas was awarded with a Royal Society of Edinburgh fellowship, which allowed him to develop his start-up further as well as attending several conferences. Fuelled by quite a drive, he decided to push even further and successfully applied for a Scottish Enterprise grant to found his start-up Krotos (“loud sound” in Greek).

Mr Boteas explains what his first piece of software does, and how it came to be, in clear and simple terms. By the end of our conversation I feel I have (surprisingly) a good grasp on it. In a few words, Dehumaniser is a sound design software that allows you to make monster, creature and robot sounds in real time using your voice. For those (like me) who are not familiar with the process of creating for example, a monster sound, the value of this tool might be difficult to understand at first. But Orfeas explains to me that this process is a very tedious and time-consuming procedure, requiring the implementation of several techniques on a pre-existing sound. First your audio must be recorded and then synced with a moving image such as a character in a video game, in a movie or in a live performance. It might sound like an obvious and easy thing to do but it required identifying the key features of each type of sound so it could be created, and implementing the techniques that need to be used in order to transform an input into a creature sound. Moreover, using your voice as input makes Dehumaniser able to create unlimited sounds, given that the human voice has unique features blended together to express a wide palette of emotions.

This software makes the whole procedure a lot quicker and efficient (and if you are into sound design, fun too). It filled a void in the sound industry from the software point of view and it largely owes its success to this.

Since its creation, Dehumaniser has been widely used in several high budget production projects such as video games and films (including The Avengers and The Jungle Book, Warhammer and Evolve – you can browse them here. In less than 4 years, the company grew from 3 to 15 employees and its steep growth curve culminated at the beginning of 2017 with a big investment by the Scottish video game producer Leslie Benzies (former president of Rockstar North). Almost as to prove that there are many more new ideas from where Dehumaniser came from, Krotos just recently launched its second product “Reformer”, which is a tool allowing the user to transform any audio input into a sound of choice in real time – i.e., to quote the Krotos website, “the engine revs of a street racer can be re-formed into ferocious black panther snarls“.

Originally from Greece, Mr Boteas comes across quite driven, enthusiastic and focused. His quite brilliant career is also sporting the Young Edge award and Edge Higgs award. I am not a computer scientist and I don’t code, and I am constantly amazed by how, nowadays you can turn an idea into something that hasn’t been done yet in the vast realm of software. But Mr Boteas has “plenty of ideas, never enough resources to develop them all”, and his plans for the future include expanding to new markets outside sound. He comes across as energetic and passionate; during our conversation, he weighed the pros and the cons of running his own company but his enthusiasm seems to overcome the stress and the pressure he is under on a daily basis. He is fond of Edinburgh, and he largely recognises the support he has been given by Scotland in terms of professional advice and investments. Probably grinning if reminded that Edinburgh is the Athens of the North, he praises Edinburgh as a stimulating environment for creativity, spanning from arts to enterprises.

 

To find out more about the opportunities Mr Boteas took advantage of:

https://www.scottish-enterprise.com/

https://www.rse.org.uk/

http://www.launch.ed.ac.uk/

To find out more about Krotos:

https://www.krotosaudio.com/about/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-38983246

http://www.research-innovation.ed.ac.uk/News/Latest-News/edinburgh-entrepreneurs-smart-success-leads-to-job-creation-76