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Beeble AI raises $4.75M to launch a virtual production platform for indie filmmakers

Visual effects (VFX) have emerged as essential in filmmaking and have transformed storytelling and creativity in the film industry with its diverse digital techniques. However, the high cost of VFX tools often leaves independent filmmakers and content creators working with modest budgets struggling to compete with larger productions. A new company, Beeble AI, is turning to AI to address this problem.

The South Korea-based VFX startup has developed virtual lighting solutions for filmmakers and visual effects artists to address the high cost of creating top-shelf, Hollywood-level visual effects and level the playing field in the film industry, empowering indie filmmakers and content creators to compete with larger productions.

The startup has now secured $4.75 million in seed funding led by Basis Set Ventures with participation from Fika Ventures at a valuation of $25 million, Beeble AI CEO and co-founder Hoon Kim told TechCrunch.

Beeble AI was founded in 2022 by five co-founding members who previously worked at the AI research and machine learning team of the South Korean game publisher Krafton. The co-founders, involved in AI-driven content creation, realized that no AI startup focused on "lighting," which they thought was a crucial element in filmmaking and photography, leading to Beeble AI's birth.

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Beeble's main product is SwitchLight Studio, a desktop app that offers relighting and composition within virtual environments. (SwitchLight Studio will be rebranded as Virtual Studio in the third quarter of this year, notes Kim.)

"While our initial focus was on virtual lighting, we are now shifting towards developing comprehensive virtual [production] studios," Kim said in an interview with TechCrunch. "We foresee a future where small teams of fewer than 10 artists can create content that rivals that of major Hollywood studios."

Virtual production entails combining virtual and physical settings in the creation of films. You may have seen the green screen, a background used in filming to allow editors to incorporate VFX during post-production. Kim explained that a large LED screen replaced the green screen in high-end virtual production, but the LED wall is still expensive for indie filmmakers.

"Powered by Unreal Engine and giant LED walls, virtual production creates the illusion of on-location shooting without the actual travel. However, this technology has been accessible only to filmmakers with million-dollar budgets due to its high cost and complexity," Kim continued.

Unlike traditional virtual production companies, which use LED walls to bring virtual environments into the real world, Beeble's virtual production platform will virtualize real actors into the virtual world, the company CEO told TechCrunch. With just a phone camera, users can access infinite locations, lighting, and camera options, all within a virtual environment, he added.

Disney+'s "The Mandalorian" is one example of a film shot using a virtual production for filming and real-time effects, Kim noted. Virtual production has rapidly become one of the fastest-growing areas of visual effects and filming.

Potential users of its virtual production platform could be not just B2C users (content creators and filmmakers) but B2B companies like ReelShort, a short-form video streaming app specializing in serialized dramas, Kim said.

Generative AI companies, like OpenAI's Sora and Runway, help make videos from text, which could entirely disrupt the animation and movie industry. However, Kim said that the generative AI models, including Sora and Runway, often produce random content and alter the original image or video even for simple tasks; Beeble is designed for predictability and ease of manipulation with AI capability. "To tell a compelling story, you need to have full control over every little detail of the project, including environment, characters, camera, and lighting," Kim continued.

A text-based prompt interface is not the way to do this, and it doesn't allow for detailed iteration to perfect your shots. Beeble aims to enable fully controllable video creation with AI.

The key to achieving significant cost reductions is their foundational AI model at the core, which enables you to adjust lighting, environments, and camera movements in the post-production stage, the startup says.

Per a report published by co-founding members at CVPR 2024, the foundational AI model "automatically digitizes 2D footage of an actor's performance into a physically accurate 3D representation." The reconstructed actor in a 3D space has precise geometry and textures, allowing artists complete freedom to alter lighting, environments, and camera angles." Beeble AI claims that this capability significantly reduces budget constraints and allows creators to focus primarily on storytelling. Users can create cinematic shots in their living room using just an iPhone.

Beeble AI says it started generating revenue last October. Around 3 million users have downloaded its SwitchLight mobile app, an AI photo editor app. The startup also said Caption AI is integrating its SDK to offer advanced relighting features within its app.

With the new capital, it wants to expand its business to a virtual production studio platform. It plans to use the new capital to advance its foundational AI model, further product development, and hire staff, which now consists of seven employees.

Previous investors include Mashup Ventures and Kakao Ventures.

https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/01/ilm-shows-off-the-new-stagecraft-led-wall-used-for-season-2-of-the-mandalorian