If the monsters of Stranger Things have sent a chill down your spine, or you have cowered from the ice dragon in Game of Thrones, you can partly thank Orfeas Boteas, who invented a revolutionary way of making sound effects while a student at the University of Edinburgh.
Boteas is founder of Krotos, whose products are used to create sound effects for Hollywood films, blockbuster computer games and cult TV shows.
Krotos’s Dehumaniser allows unearthly sound effects to be created from the human voice in real time, where previously a laborious process of layering and synchronising multiple sounds would take hours.
Emmy-winning sound designer Craig Henighan describes using Dehumaniser to create the voice of “Dart” in the Netflix hit Stranger Things 2, a creature that is taken in as a pet but soon becomes a terrifying Demodog, passing through several stages of growth – and screeches.
“A challenge for me was coming up with the vocal idea of how it will grow — what stage 1 of that little guy would sound like, then stage 2, and stage 3,” Henighan told A Sound Effect in November 2017.
“I ended up using my own voice a fair bit … and ran it through Dehumaniser by Krotos.”
Similarly, Krotos’s Reformer product, which makes it easy to combine several sounds into one effect, proved invaluable when creating the flight sounds of wight dragon Viserion in Game of Thrones Season 7.
In a Vanity Fair interview in August 2017, Game of Thrones sound designer Paula Fairfield says she does not know how she would have created her desired dragon sounds if Reformer had not been released shortly before her HBO deadline on 4 August.
She took the existing dragon flight sounds and used Reformer to run them through an “ice chamber” that included rocks and glass. The resulting effect “is that really fast movement where he does that flyby”, says Fairfield.
Boteas created his Dehumaniser system when an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh, supported by Edinburgh Innovations.
Previously an audio engineer in his native Greece, Boteas moved to Scotland to study a masters in Sound Design. During his studies he worked on a project to create monster sounds, which entailed the time-consuming process of combining sounds together. He decided to design a system that would do the job in real-time, and Dehumaniser was the result. In 2013 he launched Krotos.
With support from Edinburgh Innovations he won the Young Edge Award and a one-year Enterprise Fellowship with the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
He says: “I have been engaged with Edinburgh Innovations and LAUNCH.ed at the University of Edinburgh since 2013 and have benefited from their one-to-one advice as well as such initiatives as the Virtual Board.”
Krotos has also received investment from the University venture capital fund Old College Capital, and from Scottish video games pioneer Leslie Benzies, former president of Grand Theft Auto producer Rockstar North.
“I think Edinburgh is a perfect base for tech startups,” he adds. “There is great support, there are a lot of grants and programmes available. I don’t think the same level of support is available anywhere else in the UK.”
Dehumaniser has been used in Hollywood films including Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jungle Book, video games such as Doom, Far Cry and Sonic, and TV hits including Sleepy Hollow and Finding Big Foot.