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Sonantic’s Origin Story

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Try our hyper-realistic voices

Zeena Qureshi

CEO & Co-founder

February 12, 2021

Let’s rewind to an earlier time

In the early 1990s no one thought it was possible to see an entire feature film made with computer generated imagery, but then Pixar’s release of "Toy Story" made history. The film was the first of its kind with groundbreaking technology leading to the wide adoption of CGI in animation & film.

Prior to this, CGI goes back to the 1950s. Although notorious in the entertainment world, films only started utilising the tech in the early 1970s. CGI serves several use cases including, but not limited to: visual art, advertising, anatomical modelling, architectural design, engineering, television shows, video games and film special effects, as well as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The technology is a cheap and safe way to illustrate scenes or simulations than physically building models or staging sets. Additionally, the possibilities CGI allows for, helps creators to tell stories like never before.

CGI now heavily supports the entertainment world and is an industry standard. The top 50 highest grossing films of all time, from "Jurassic Park" in 1993 to "Avengers End Game" in 2019, all had CGI. Looking back, what CGI did for visuals is what Sonantic’s technology is doing for audio.

We believe that using technology to augment actors’ voices will be the new normal within 5 years time. For studios, the software provides endless possibilities for creators while being cheaper and faster. For actors, the software delivers passive income, voice protection, and multiple opportunities. Our goal is to contribute in equal measure to the lives of actors and the efficiency of studios. It’s important to us that both parties gain from this revolution in audio technology.

How we started

My cofounder John and I founded Sonantic in December 2018 after becoming good friends at Entrepreneur First. We both had a decade of speech experience each and a deep interest in speech technology. John was technical, having specialised in speech research. He also came from the world of film, where he worked in the editing pipeline of Hollywood blockbusters like the Harry Potter series, The Dark Knight, and Bohemian Rhapsody. I was more business savvy, having spent the previous 6 years in sales at tech startups. I also had a background in teaching speech and language therapy to children with Autism which gave me a different perspective of speech expertise.

At Entrepreneur First, John and I were friends first, but as the programme drew to a close John showed me this incredible demo of an artificial voice that sounded perfect. You could even hear the breath, I couldn’t believe it.

Sonantic's co-founders Zeena Qureshi and John Flynn

Having watched children play video games in between their speech lessons, I realised gaming studios could really benefit from hyper-realistic artificial voices. Game developers are expert storytellers who already use cutting edge technologies including text-to-speech, so I thought they would be a great target market to work with.

Within 5 days, John and I landed 7 pilots with AAA gaming studios.

We knew that current text-to-speech solutions sounded robotic, lacking natural performance and quality. We also knew that speech synthesis was very subjective, unlike speech recognition, which is more objective. So we set out to fix this problem. Fast forward to now, we have built a 'Photoshop for voice' with the help from our pilots in gaming and media, and have over 1000+ companies on our waiting list in under 2 years.

Speech encapsulates various aspects of a voice like pitch, tone, intensity, pacing, emotions, projection and more. There are so many ways to say something and each way can be interpreted differently. I understood this from my days of teaching children how to use their voices as an instrument to communicate. If a child stated something in a tone that was off or if they were too loud, the whole meaning of the statement would change. John also understood this deeply from his years of listening to star actors perform. He would tell me about how Christian Bale would deliver the same line of dialogue several times in slightly different nuances each take for a captivating performance.

This is why John and I knew that partnering with expert storytellers was important to match human acting performance. An art form at the core of our product, bridging the intersection of creativity and technology.

What we do & our focus on quality

At Sonantic, we believe "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." That's why we create full ranging hyper realistic artificial voices.  

Our platform has two parts. On one side we create high quality voice technology for studios. Sparing creators the time and logistics involved in traditional voice recording, while also transforming their scripts into immersive story voices in real time. Audio teams love it!

On the other side of our platform, we work with professional actors. We create models of their voice that they can be proud of. Any time an actor’s synthetic voice is used, they receive a profit share without needing to perform the labour themselves. This also enables the actors to work on multiple projects at once. From the feedback we've received so far, our actors are grateful for the consistency of work this brings to their unpredictable schedules.

Voice is a huge market and we know there are many use cases from advertising and call centres to robots and audiobooks. However, entertainment voice requires the highest bar of quality. This is what really differentiates us from other speech companies.

We're quality first.

Looking at CGI, it seamlessly blends with human actors because the visuals must be believable or the story won’t work. This is the same case for voice. Voices in entertainment must be believable or the immersion breaks.

For the art of storytelling, it’s important to be able to empathise with characters and go on a journey with them in their shoes. Aside from physically watching a scene, voice is the next strongest way for a character to communicate thoughts and feelings of what's going on. This gives the audience the ability to truly understand and connect with the character and the story as a whole.

Our go-to-market ‍& the future

So how can this technology have an impact now? And what does the industry look like in the near future? To answer these questions let’s turn to how the gaming industry works.

Game of the Year for the last 5 years have all been voiced video games with amazing narratives. But games can take up to a decade to be made and getting voice into a game is no easy feat.

“Dialogue production for a large budget, cinematic video game can often be an intense and often brutally challenging process. Getting an actor in the booth and reading a script is in itself a monumental achievement that requires solid tools, pipelines, and communication” says game audio veteran Rob Bridgett. (You can learn more about the game voice process in Bridgett’s piece)

The voice pipeline is extensive and requires precision. From casting & contracts to booking recording studios, directing and editing with several iteration cycles wholly dependent on how the story of the game evolves (which happens frequently).

What about small to mid-sized game studios? They often don’t have the budget for voice at all. With Sonantic, we’re enabling voice for all gaming studios, opening a world of creative possibilities.

Computerised voice has existed for a long time. From personal assistants like Alexa and Siri to actual actors playing artificial voices in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Her, and Iron Man, all of which have been alluding to human quality voice for years.

The future of voice is here with the adoption of synthetic voice being faster than ever.

Sonantic is on the cutting edge of this technology and has made it our mission to create the highest quality artificial voices for the best end-user experiences. We look forward to helping creatives make incredible entertainment products of the future and can’t wait for you to hear us in action.

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