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View from the Top: Nuno Fonseca, CEO/Founder, Sound Particles

Nuno Fonseca, CEO/Founder of Sound Particles, shares how an academic career teaching both computer science and music technology led to the creation of his company's namesake software.

Nuno Fonseca, CEO/Founder, Sound Particles
Nuno Fonseca, CEO/Founder, Sound Particles

You might not have heard of software house Sound Particles yet, but you’ve certainly heard the results of its products. Films like Dune, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Wonder Woman, as well as TV shows like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things have all used the company’s flagship, eponymous software, Sound Particles, which creates what founder/CEO Nuno Fonseca, Ph.D., calls “thousands of small sounds that together create fantastic soundscapes.” That software, however, is only one of multiple intriguing projects that the Leiria, Portugal-based startup is exploring.

“Over most of my professional life, I was a university professor, teaching computer science at one university and music technology at another,” said Fonseca. “Around 15 years ago, I noticed that the most interesting visual effects I saw in the movies used particle systems, a computer graphics technique that generates thousands of points to simulate fire, smoke, dust, explosions, rain, fairy dust or desert storms. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same, but with sound, generating thousands of small sounds that together create fantastic soundscapes?’”

After finishing his doctorate on a different topic, Fonseca began fleshing out his software idea in 2012, but the project picked up speed two years later when he began planning to attend that year’s AES Convention in Los Angeles. Sending emails to a half-dozen contacts to say he was working on the new technology and would be in the U.S. for two weeks, he was immediately asked to give a talk at Skywalker Ranch. Over the next six months, his speaking schedule grew to include talks at Warner, Universal, Fox, Sony and Paramount; more talks at Disney, Pixar, Apple and Blizzard soon followed. Having garnered that kind of enthusiastic response, perhaps unsurprisingly, Sound Particles V1.0 was released the following year in 2015, and the company in turn was founded in 2016.

The namesake software quickly found favor in TV and film audio post-production, but was soon adopted by videogame companies as well. In more recent times, the company has branched out with Explorer, its sound management software; a series of music production plug-ins that adapt some of the Sound Particles concepts; and a forthcoming technology for 3D sound over headphones.

Sound Particles Spatial Music Bundle Launched

That’s a lot of projects for any software company, much less a streamlined entity with a staff of 30, but Fonseca has been careful to only take on as much as they can handle: “As a startup, we need to be careful not to lose focus, so we cannot address all markets at once, especially when we are small. Over the years, we were able to enter new markets because it made sense at the time.”

Except for a salesperson in London and Los Angeles apiece, Sound Particles’ workforce resides in Portugal, centered around four R&D teams, each with its own QA pro for testing, quality assurance and support; a marketing team with a social media manager and graphic designers; a sales team; and management. Fonseca is the first to call the company “informal,” noting that the average employee is 28 years old, but he nonetheless has big plans and an international perspective when it comes to running the business. That’s a necessity, however, as the U.S. represents 45 percent of the company’s business, while the U.K. is 10 percent and Canada, Japan, China and Germany each provide 5 percent; Sound Particles’ home country accounts for less than 1%.

With so much going on, Fonseca no longer codes but is still involved in each development team while managing the day-to-day of the company, and there’s plenty of projects heating up. “We have a 10-year vision, with multiple initiatives planned for the future—including AI and superhuman hearing—but we cannot address them all at once,” he said. “Our focus for the next 12 months is to release the next generation of Sound Particles, turning it into a 3D DAW; release a new virtual instrument, which we cannot wait to show; release Explorer Cloud, our sound management software; and finish the initial version of our 3D sound over headphones technology, which sounds great.”

Fonseca’s ability to see how those products and their intended industries all interconnect reaches back to his earliest days of developing the company’s flagship software: “It was the mix of engineering and music in my life that allowed me to have the idea of Sound Particles and the knowledge to implement it. In the past, I taught multimedia and CGI classes. Without that knowledge of CGI, I would never know what a particle system is. Nowadays, it looks like everyone needs to be an expert in a specific field, but in my case, understanding both fields allowed me to create a bridge between them.”

That lesson—to observe what different areas have in common and then foster that connection—has informed how Fonseca runs Sound Particles itself, and the result is a small company with big plans. As the founder simply put it, “Our mission is to create the future of audio technology.”