Autodesk acquires AI-powered VFX startup Wonder Dynamics | TechCrunch

Autodesk — the 3D tools behemoth — has acquired Wonder Dynamics, a startup that lets creators quickly and easily make complex characters and visual effects using AI-powered image analysis. The two companies have worked closely together for years but are making it official today.

Wonder Dynamics, founded by VFX 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 like one. With years of experience in the film industry, the co-founders were clear from the start that it was a tool for professionals, providing all the nitty-gritty mocap, animation, and masking that VFX folks need to do their job.

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

TechCrunch covered the company’s debut back 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 the provider of Maya, one of the most powerful and enduring tools in 3D work and media production, Autodesk naturally took notice.

Final shot, mocap data, mask, and 3D environment generated by Wonder Studio.
Image Credits: Wonder Dynamics

“We did an integration with Maya last year, a plug-in, so you can streamline that process in the character studio. It’s been the leading software in the industry for decades, so we wanted to make it easy for those users. We started talking with them, and one thing led to another,” Todorovic told TechCrunch.

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

The AI-adjacent issues in media, from film to commercials to music, stem from what the two see as a misconception of both the technology and the art.

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

“People have this conclusive idea that we’re going to start making films with AI, but I think the people making these conclusions don’t really understand the industry well, or they don’t understand the limitations of these tools,” said Sheridan. “Using them as a supplemental part of the process is key — learning what has viability where, and how to bridge the gap.”

Both founders will go to Autodesk along with the full staff; Todorovic said he doesn’t expect any changes in the short-term and that any changes that do appear should only be positive for users. “That’s the thing about startups: You have to pick and choose what to do, which way to go,” due to a lack of resources. The Autodesk acquisition should let them accelerate and expand, though they declined to propose any specific directions.

Co-founders Nikola Todorovic (left) and Tye Sheridan sitting in a normal way.

Other requests for specifics, like the terms of the deal, were politely quashed. I asked Autodesk about the acquisition, and Diana Colella, EVP of Entertainment & Media Solutions, emphasized that the company fits right in with their existing strategy.

“Autodesk has been working on AI technologies for more than a decade and we have already introduced several AI tools into our current M&E products,” she wrote in an email. “However, we were not yet working on anything that does exactly what they do, so their work is highly complementary to the AI work we are already doing.”

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

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