Loom.ai has raised $1.35 million in seed funding, and it has also unveiled its platform for automatically creating 3D avatars of your face from a single selfie.
San Francisco-based Loom.ai has its roots in founders who worked on visual effects for DreamWorks and LucasFilm. You’ll eventually be able to use those avatars on social networks, virtual reality content, and games. The startup is an example of the democratization of technology, through a tool that enables everyone to create their own expressive 3D avatar. The tech uses artificial intelligence to guess at what it cannot see in trying to extract a 3D image from a 2D image.
“We want to bring virtual communication to life,” said Mahesh Ramasubramanian, CEO of Loom.ai, in an interview with GamesBeat. “It all starts with a single photograph, and we turn it into something expressive.”
The company raised money from Silicon Valley investors, including the Y Combinator accelerator.
Loom.ai’s face platform provides the essential building block for enabling powerful social interactions and copresence between individuals in virtual reality and augmented reality. It creates a facial rig, which can be plugged into a variety of animation tools. You can plug it into a game or a VR app, and “it’s going to move,” Kiran Bhat, chief technology officer, in an interview.
“We are also exploring stylized versions of human faces,” Bhat said.
The company thinks it will be useful for social VR.
“You need something like this to bring your face into real experiences,” said Ramasubramanian. “You can use it for chat bots and emojis. You can use it for personalizing e-commerce and advertisements, making communication more visual.”
Loom.ai’s patent pending algorithms leverage deep expertise in computer vision and machine learning along with visual effects wizardry to breathe life into people’s digital personae. Loom.ai is releasing a public applications programming interface (API) for powering applications in VR, games, messaging, e-commerce, 360 films, and virtual classrooms.
Loom.ai was founded earlier this year by Ramasubramanian, a former visual effects supervisor at DreamWorks Animation on movies such as Madagascar 3, and Bhat, who worked on LucasFilm’s facial capture systems for movies such as The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“We created faces for the big screen for many years,” Bhat said. “The challenge is taking it to the consumer and average business user. We guess at what we cannot see by using machine learning. We fill in the gaps from what you cannot see. Then you train the software to create better avatars and motions.”
Eventually, the company plans on using videos of your face to come up with more accurate representations of faces, Bhat said.
Loom.ai raised their seed round from Danhua Capital, Y Combinator, Presence Capital, Anorak Ventures, and angel investors including Zach Coelius and Joe Kraus (a partner at GV, previously known as Google Ventures).
“Easily getting your likeness into the digital world has widespread applications,” said Greg Castle, managing partner at Anorak Ventures and seed investor in Oculus, in a statement. “The impact of experiences is significantly increased when you can visualize yourself in a game, simulation, communication environment or advertisement. Every face in the world will be modeled for innumerable purposes.”
The company also recruited Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and Halo co-creator Alex Seropian, as advisors.
“Since the late ’90s I have been searching for an easy way to make 3D models of people — avatars that look and behave like their human counterparts. Up until now there has been no way to do this at scale and speed. Loom.ai has provided a solution that will revolutionize how avatars are made; it’s all automatic and requires nothing more than a simple 2D image,” Bailenson said in a statement. “This is important because social VR is likely to be the home run application in VR. Social interaction via avatars will be much better than videoconferencing in terms of the intangible feeling of being with another person. It all starts with building avatars that look and behave like their owners.”
Investor Zach Coelius said in a statement, “I am incredibly excited about what Loom.ai is doing, and I can see them becoming the Dolby of avatar creation and licensing their solution everywhere; the network effects are amazing. This will be the technology that captures five billion faces.”
Asked how the company will make money, Ramasubramanian said the plan is to allow all partners to use and license the technology. But that will take a lot of work by other companies.
“Imagine a chat bot that has to be driven by someone’s voice,” Ramasubramanian said.
Morph 3D is a complementary company, in that it can create 3D avatars with all sorts of body types and clothing. Loom.ai has seven people.