Your selfies are about to get a whole lot more realistic.
Loom.ai, a San Francisco-based tech startup that wants to make virtual communication more personal, emerged from stealth mode Tuesday with $1.3 million in seed funding. Using basic digital photos, Loom.ai automatically generates detailed 3D avatars that can be used in text messages, social media, virtual reality games, and e-commerce (think Bitmoji, but 3D and more expressive).
The artificial intelligence startup plans to license the technology to third-party platforms that will incorporate it into new or existing applications.
Loom.ai was founded by seasoned visual effects artists Mahesh Ramasubramanian and Kiran Bhat. Ramasubramanian previously worked at DreamWorks Animation as a visual effects supervisor on movies such as Shrek and Madagascar 3. Bhat worked on facial animation at LucasFilm for movies such as The Avengers and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Until now, creating realistic 3D avatars was an expensive process done exclusively in a Hollywood studio. Ramasubramanian and Bhat want to change that.
“What we found is that the audience no longer wants to sit back and watch a movie — they want to interact,” Bhat says. “We believe that you need to bring the user into the experience, which means figuring out a way to digitize the everyday user just like we used to digitize the movie stars.”
After launching in March, Loom.ai was selected for the Y Combinator fellowship, a remote program that gives prototype-stage startups guidance and $20,000 in funding for 1.5% equity.
Loom.ai relies on machine learning to capture the subtleties of the human face. As the company’s software collects more data about facial movements, it becomes better at guessing and inferring other facial expressions as well.
“Even if we can’t see everything, we can predict a lot of other things about how the face should move,” Ramasubramanian says.
The startup is backed by investors such as Danhua Capital, Y Combinator, Presence Capital, Anorak Ventures, and GV partner Joe Kraus. (Greg Castle, managing partner at Anorak Ventures, was also a seed investor in Oculus, the virtual-reality company now owned by Facebook.)
Loom.ai would not disclose the third-party platforms currently testing its API, but said it’s aiming for platforms like Facebook with a massive user base.
“Facebook has a ton of users, and we would love it if they would use our technology to turn a 2D photograph into a 3D avatar in the future,” Ramasubramanian says.
In October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a video showing how the future of work would involve 3D avatars talking to each other through the Oculus Rift device.