Interview with Nuno Fonseca owner of Sound Particles

Nuno Fonseca, owner of Sound Particles, spoke to us about why he started the 3D audio software company and his passion for sound. Sound Particles plugins have been used on the likes of Star Wars-The Rise of Skywalker, Maleficent, Aquaman, Ready Player One, Wonder Woman, Game of Thrones, Star Trek Discovery, Assasins Creed Origins, The Outer Worlds; the plugins are also used by Blizzard, Epic Games, Ubisoft, Playstation and many more. 


Fonseca has always loved technology, sound and cinema. “I recall doing a career test during high school, and I got the exact same score for engineering and music. At that time, there weren’t any sound engineering courses in Portugal, so I took engineering. Following college and working for a couple of years in IT, I decided to teach at the local university to give me time for my crazy sound-related research projects. I became one of those guys with one foot in each world. I was a university professor teaching computer engineering in one university and I taught music technology in another. This was important to me because my work helped to create bridges between these two worlds. I even found the time to write a book about sound engineering and one about iOS development!”


Fonseca realised that the most interesting visual effects he was seeing on movies used particle systems, a computer graphics technique where you create thousands of points to simulate fire, smoke, dusk, fairy dust, rain, explosions, and thought that it could be interesting to use the same concept for sound, creating thousands of small sounds around you that together would create these amazing soundscapes. In 2012, after finishing my PhD and since no one was using particle systems for sound, as the computer nerd that I am (this face doesn’t fool anyone!), I decided to create my own particle simulator for sound and Sound Particles was born. For me, it is about spreading this vision about native 3D workflows and using the power of computer graphics but applied to sound.”


So how does Sound Particles stay ahead of the game? “I love a quote from Walt Disney that says, “I love the impossible, because there less competition there”. That is our vision. We don’t want to be another audio software company, releasing one more EQ or compressor. We want to push the envelope on this computer graphics kind of approach to sound. And this area gives us so many ideas to implement, and a huge territory to explore – there are tens of new features waiting there that weren’t explored before in audio.”


When deciding what products to create Fonseca has a vision for the future of audio. “We only need to follow the roadmap to reach that. As such, each of our products are one more step to reach that vision, which makes the decision easy to do. The most rewarding thing about creating Sound Particles is to see a sparkle in the eye of sound professionals, when they start to understand the concept of Sound Particles and start thinking about new things they can now create. Of course, the concept of particles is quite intriguing and highly creative – what would be the sound of 1000 flying violins, or 100 drummers, or 50,000 warriors. But then, people start to understand also the small nuances of this 3D approach: the perfect ratio between background and foreground sounds on a soundscape, the micro-doppler, and shifts in frequency collision from working in 3D (and its slight propagation delay), that you don’t get in DAWs, and its impact to makes things feel natural and organic.”


We asked what is the most creative use of your software that you have seen? “Regarding Sound Particles, that is a difficult question, because pretty much everything that you do with hundreds of particles end-up be quite interesting, independent of the source material. But one example that comes to mind, is the ‘King Kong’ scene from Disney’s ‘Ralph breaks the Internet’, where you have thousands of Ralph’s that together create a huge monster.”


His favourite SFX plug in is currently the new Energy Panner plugin, a panner that is controlled by sound intensity. “Most of the time, we have an idea for a sound, and we think what tools can we use to achieve that goal. I really like it when the opposite happens, when tools act as a source of inspiration.” As for products he is working on, “We continue working on the new version of Sound Particles, exploring new territory and following that vision. We are also working on better integration with videogames. And we want to start having a more constant release of new plugins.”


“Before the Sound Particles adventure, I created a text-to-sing tool (WordBuilder) for EASTWEST choir libraries, which allows people to write the text that you want the symphonic choir to sing. The biggest surprise was finding out that a lot of people were having fun using the tool to make a symphonic choir sing dirty words – priceless!”


Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit we have seen many changes to our industry. “COVID had affected immensely the audio industry. Although it affected both worlds in terms of operations (everyone went to remote work), it had an even greater impact on cinema, because also affected immensely the business side of things – no one wants to release movies, because no one will be going to cinemas to watch them. But in the middle of all this, the most affected ones are the audio freelancers. Most people in the industry are freelancers, and no work means no salary.”


However, there is still industry growth in terms of sound library offerings so we asked where Fonseca sees the industry in the next 5 years. “Things are changing: more sound artists releasing sound libraries instead of only the traditional publishers, much more offering with new formats, especially immersive, but there is a lot that needs to be done. We are still using the same concepts of the past, and we need to change that, to re-invent ourselves on the way that we store, manage, search and use sound collections. We have been doing some work with some ideas, but is still too soon to talk.”


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