Autodesk acquires AI-powered VFX startup Wonder Dynamics

3D tools giant Autodesk has acquired Wonder Dynamics, a startup that enables creators to quickly and easily create complex characters and visual effects using AI-powered image analysis. The two companies have worked closely for years, but today they make it official.

Wonder Dynamics, founded by visual effects artist Nikola Todorovic and actor Tye Sheridan, basically made adding motion-captured CG characters to footage as simple as dragging an icon onto an actor.

But Wonder Studio, as its flagship tool is called, was never a toy, even if it could be used as such. With years of experience in the film industry, the co-founders were clear from the beginning that it was a tool for professionals, providing all the nitty-gritty, animation and masking that VFX people need to do their jobs.

They were careful to say then (and during the writers’ and actors’ strikes) that the goal was to empower creatives, not replace them.

TechCrunch covered the company’s debut in 2021, when they were still in stealth mode after raising a $2.5 million seed round. They raised an additional $10 million later that year and eventually developed Wonder Studio into a fully cloud-hosted web-based platform.

As a provider of Maya, one of the most powerful and durable tools in 3D media work and production, Autodesk naturally took notice.

Final shot, mocap data, mask and 3D environment generated by Wonder Studio.
Image credits: Wonderful dynamics

“We did an integration with Maya last year, a complement, to be able to speed up that process in the character study. It’s been the leading software in the industry for decades, so we wanted to make it easy for those users. We started talking to them and one thing led to another,” Todorovic told TechCrunch.

“We’ve been trying to bridge the old with the new, making things possible on the channels that artists already use, and this partnership is the perfect example of that,” Sheridan added. It’s not that Autodesk is “old,” they both quickly clarified (although few would call it young).

Issues surrounding AI in media, from film to commercials to music, arise from what both see as a misconception of both the technology and the art.

“There are new tools and new waves of AI coming, but I think a lot of them underestimate what artists need to do and how hard they work,” Todorovic said. “We know: we come from this space. Tye and I are artists; We did this to allow artists to do things they couldn’t do before. Because we don’t want to see a future in which the artist is not involved, is not asked; That, for me, is not filmmaking. “Autodesk deeply understands that this is a collaborative and iterative process.”

“People have this conclusive idea that we’re going to start making movies with AI, but I think the people who come to these conclusions don’t really understand the industry, or they don’t understand the limitations of these tools,” Sheridan said. . “Using them as a complementary part of the process is key: learning what is viable, where and how to close the gap.”

Both founders will go to Autodesk along with all staff; Todorovic said that he does not expect any changes in the short term and that any changes that appear should only be positive for users. “That’s what happens with startups: you have to choose what to do, what path to take,” due to lack of resources. The Autodesk acquisition should allow them to accelerate and expand, although they declined to propose specific directions.

Other requests for details, such as the terms of the agreement, were politely overruled. I asked Autodesk about the acquisition and Diana Colella, executive vice president of Entertainment & Media Solutions, emphasized that the company fits perfectly with its current strategy.

“Autodesk has been working on AI technologies for over a decade and we have already introduced several AI tools into our current M&E products,” he wrote in an email. “However, we weren’t yet working on anything that did exactly what they do, so their work is very complementary to the AI ​​work we’re already doing.”

As for the immediate future, “Our immediate focus is continuity,” Colella said. Don’t expect big changes, like switching to a new account or a complete rebrand. Of course, if you’re a fan of Wonder Studio, you’re probably already using Maya anyway.

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