Practically every film production these days needs some kind of visual effects work, but independent creators often lack the cash or expertise to get that top-shelf CG. Wonder Dynamics, founded by VFX engineer Nikola Todorovic and actor Tye Sheridan, aims to use AI to make some of these processes more accessible for filmmakers with budgets on the tight side, and they’ve just raised $ 2.5 million to make it happen.
The company has its origins in 2017, after Sheridan and Todorovic met on the set of Rodrigo Garcia’s film Last Days in the Desert. They seem to have both felt that the opportunity was there to democratize the tools that they had access to in big studio films.
Wonder Dynamics is very secretive about what exactly its tools do. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr saw a limited demo and said he “could see where it will be of value in the area of world creation at modest budgets. The process can be done quickly and at a fraction of a traditional cost structure,” though that leaves us little closer than we started.
Sheridan and Todorovic (who jointly answered questions I sent over) described the system, called Wallace Pro, as taking over some of the grunt work of certain classes of VFX rather than a finishing touch or specific effect.
“We are building an AI platform that will significantly speed up both the production and post-production process for content involving CG characters and digital worlds. The goal of the platform is to reduce the costs associated with these productions by automating the ‘objective’ part of the process, leaving the artists with the creative, ‘subjective’ work,” they said. “By doing this, we hope to create more opportunities and empower filmmakers with visions exceeding their budget. Without saying too much, it can be applied to all three stages of filmmaking (pre-production, production and post-production), depending on the specific need of the artist.”
From this we can take that it’s an improvement to the workflow, reducing the time it takes to achieve some widely used effects, and therefore the money that needs to be set aside for them. To be clear this is distinct from another, more specific product being developed by Wonder Dynamics to create virtual interactive characters as part of the film production process — an early application of the company’s tools, no doubt.
The tech has been in some small scale tests, but the plan is to put it to work in a feature entering production later this year. “Before we release the tech to the public, we want to be very selective with the first filmmakers who use the technology to make sure the films are being produced at a high level,” they said. First impressions do matter.
The $ 2.5M seed round was led by Founders Fund, Cyan Banister, the Realize Tech Fund, Capital Factory, MaC Venture Capital, and Robert Schwab. “Because we are at the intersection of technology and film, we really wanted to surround ourselves with investment partners who understand how much the two industries will depend on each other in the future,” Sheridan and Todorovic said. “We were extremely fortunate to get MaC Venture Capital and Realize Tech Fund alongside FF. Both funds have a unique combination of Silicon Valley and Hollywood veterans.”
Wonder Dynamics will use the money to, as you might expect, scale its engineering and VFX teams to further develop and expand the product… whatever it is.
With their advisory board, it would be hard to make a mistake without someone calling them on it. “We’re extremely lucky to have some of the most brilliant minds from both the AI and film space,” they said, and that’s no exaggeration. Right now the lineup includes Steven Spielberg and Joe Russo (“obviously geniuses when it comes to film production and innovation”), UC Berkeley and Google’s Angjoo Kanazawa and MIT’s Antonio Torralba (longtime AI researchers in robotics and autonomy), and numerous others in film and finance who “offer us a wealth of knowledge when we’re trying to figure out how to move the company forward.”
AI is deeply integrated into many tech companies and enterprise stacks, making it a solid moneymaker in that industry, but it is still something of a fringe concept in the more creator-driven film and TV world. Yet hybrid production techniques like ILM’s StageCraft, used to film The Mandalorian, are showing how techniques traditionally used for 3D modeling and game creation can be applied safely to film production — sometimes even live on camera. AI is increasingly that part of the world, as pioneers like Nvidia and Adobe have shown, and it seems inevitable that it should come to film — though in exactly what form it’s hard to say.