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Twenty-two

Orfeas Boteas - Krotos

Sound investment pays off for Krotos…

Orfeas Boteas - Krotos

Sound investment pays off for Krotos

When he was a sound engineer, Orfeas Boteas got frustrated with the poor choice of software for creating special sound effects, including animal voices, so he decided to develop a solution of his own. His first product, called Dehumaniser, quickly got the entertainment industry talking, and now his company has branched out into other sound solutions for consumers and professionals in countries all over the world, backed by some of Scotland's best-known investors...

One night after coming home late from the office, Orfeas Boteas sits down to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and as the programme starts, he notices that one of his company's audio tools has been used to create one of the sound effects – making Viserion the Ice Dragon come to life on the screen in the season finale.

For Boteas, the CEO of Edinburgh-based Krotos, it is not unusual to notice his sound-effects software in use without knowing about it until he himself sees the final result – whether it's a popular TV show, a blockbuster movie or a computer game. The simple fact is that his software is now being so widely used in the entertainment industry, he has lost count of the number of times it is called into action. In the science-fiction horror series Stranger Things 2, for example, Emmy-award-winning sound wizards Brad North and Craig Henighan have used Dehumaniser for their weird creations, Pollywogs and Demodogs. Other recent hit productions that have used the Krotos software include The Avengers, Jungle Book and Sleepy Hollow, as well
as games including Doom and Far Cry 4.

Nowadays, whenever you hear a scary monster voice in a film or a computer game, there's a good chance that Dehumaniser software has been used to create it. And last year, as Krotos continued to make lots of noise in the industry, making sales to major studios including Warner Brothers and Disney, it secured a six-figure investment from “one of the most influential figures in gaming,” the award-winning video game producer and designer, Leslie Benzies, in a major deal co-funded by Old College Capital, the venture investment arm of the University of Edinburgh, where Boteas recently studied.

As part of the deal, Benzies (former President of games creator Rockstar North) joined the board at Krotos, which already included Matthew Smith (the former Audio Director of Rockstar North), IT entrepreneur Ian Ritchie and “financial expert” Colin Grant. “Orfeas understands the potential of bringing technology and creativity together, and his vision for the future of audio tools resonated with me. I look forward to working with such a talented and driven team,” said Benzies, one of the team who created the best-selling computer game, Grand Theft Auto.

According to Boteas, this latest investment “enabled the company to double its headcount and accelerate development of its professional audio software.” And this explosion of interest comes only a few years since Boteas first came to Scotland, never thinking for a moment that his future was to set up a software development business and make waves in the entertainment industry in countries all over the world...

Legendary origins

Born in Athens, Orfeas Boteas is lucky to have one of the most “classical” names in the audio industry – his first name is the modern form of Orpheus, the legendary figure who could charm all living things with his music. While still at school, the young man loved to mess around with music and computers, so it made sense to go on to study Music Technology and Acoustics at the Technological Educational Institute of Crete in 2004.

After a spell as a sound engineer, doing post-production for TV shows, commercials and documentaries in Greece, Boteas moved to Scotland to do an MSc in sound design at the University of Edinburgh (UoE), followed by an “enternship” as part of the Santander Breakthrough Programme, including business funding and support. From 2013 to 2014, he was an RSE Enterprise Fellow, learning more about business as he set up his company, Krotos, in September 2013. Boteas has also received funding from the Higgs EDGE Award and Scottish Enterprise's SMART: Scotland Award.

As well as being interested in sound design and music, Boteas had tried a lot of different digital solutions to create special sonic effects, using his own voice and various plug-ins, and thought he could develop something better – for example, to simulate animal voices. In the past, this kind of special effect was usually created during post-production, but he wanted to do it in real time and make it technically simpler.

Boteas began developing Dehumaniser in 2012 as part of his MSc project, and after lots of hard work, he released the software free to download on the Internet, supported by a website to showcase his portfolio, including a demo of the prototype product in action. Like many other software developers trying to market the fruits of their labour, he gave it away, but as so often happens, this built awareness – and created demand.

So many individual sound designers and established companies downloaded this early version and provided such positive feedback that Boteas was able to develop a professional version, and add new features, with some help from Nick Konstantakopoulos, a programmer friend based in Greece. One of Boteas's business advisors at UoE, Paul Devlin, then suggested asking users for donations, and Boteas began to make some money from his product, which he used to fund work on an upgrade.

Soon afterwards, a big production studio bought the professional version, and several industry veterans started sending him suggestions – some of them with 25 years of experience working in special effects. And as the software evolved, Boteas was able to monetise the product and gradually expand his staff, recruiting a high-level programming team to improve the original standalone solution, including plug-in versions.

During his time as an RSE Enterprise Fellow, Boteas discovered he was feeling the same growing pains as most other people enrolled in the programme, but unlike most of them, he was already earning money from his business, and very quickly had a team of ten developers to manage, plus a sales and marketing department and a board of non-executive directors to deal with. But when investors started knocking on his door, Boteas was not concerned about losing control: “The investors do not micro-manage,” he says. “They also understand the industry and see its potential.”

Legendary future?

Boteas has overseen the company’s organic growth, and sees his strength as knowing what the industry wants. He loves technology and also understands how his own business works, because he’s been involved in every aspect of operations, including sales and marketing, building the website and basic development work. “I am passionate about the company and passionate about innovation,” he says, “and I want to make everyone else involved share that excitement.”

Boteas’s long-term ambition is to be an innovator in the audio industry, which he sees as having enormous potential, in terms of total revenues and innovation. And to be successful, he believes the company has to continue to grow – it has already changed his life but there is much more to come. Dealing with the biggest games studios in the world, and seeing his products used in major productions such as Jungle Book and Game of Thrones, has been an exciting experience for Boteas. Sometimes, it has been a roller-coaster of emotions, but he relishes the challenge of managing people and solving problems, whether they are technical or commercial.

Apart from building a successful business, what pleases Boteas most is the joy of observing his product enabling performers and artists to express themselves by capturing emotion – improving how they work with sound and getting results without all the “boring stuff” getting in the way of creativity. “Dehumaniser started as a niche product,” he explains, “but we have steadily expanded our portfolio, including Weaponiser and Reformer, adding multi-layered textures to music and special effects, to broaden the spectrum of sound.”

Boteas has thought about establishing an office in Greece, but the United States is where the action is at the moment and where it would be logical to make his next move. In terms of new technology, the sky is the limit for Krotos, as more and more new media take centre stage, including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality, while other new developments emerge from the latest advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), including the ability to compose “original” music. But no matter how clever these learning machines may become in the future, there will always be a place for human beings, says Boteas – even a solution like Dehumaniser needs people to make it perform.


Krotos sound-design software

Dehumaniser: Sound-design software that makes it possible to produce imaginary voices (e.g., robots and monsters) in real-time, “dramatically speeding up a process that previously took up to eight hours to complete,” by transforming your voice using preset special effects – including state of health and age, etc. Priced from about £35-£335 per desktop.

Weaponiser: An “all-in-one” solution for real-time weapon sound design, including a library of hundreds of professionally recorded weapons.

Reformer: Enables artists to perform pre-made sound libraries using any audio input and “sculpt effects in real-time.” Reformer Pro enables real-time sound creation using your own sounds.

 

“Krotos is an exciting new company with potential to grow rapidly and deliver real economic impact in Edinburgh. This deal highlights the potential of student-led enterprise and it is great that the University, through Old College Capital, is able to take a stake in the company and share in its future success.
Andrea young, Fund Manager of Old College Capital

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

"Orfeas Boteas - Krotos". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-two)
Printed from http://www.sciencescotland.org/feature.php?id=340 on 16/11/18 09:22:35 AM

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