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VR Veterans Launch Startup for Intelligent AR Avatars

Two veterans of immersive storytelling have banded together for a new Los Angeles-based augmented reality (AR) startup: Former Felix & Paul chief content officer Ryan Horrigan and former Milk VR and VRSE.works producer Armando Kirwin unveiled their new startup Artie Thursday, laying out a vision to bring intelligent avatars everywhere.

“VR and AR are the first media where you can be part of the story,” said Horrigan during a recent interview with Variety. “But you can’t talk to characters. You can’t have human interactions with characters. We felt this was a big problem.”

Artie aims to solve that problem with a suite of tools that it calls its “Wonderfriend Engine,” which aim to help creators to build interactive avatars for mobile AR experiences. The software integrates with existing real-time rendering engines like Unity and Unreal, and makes use of object recognition, natural language processing and even sentiment analysis for more life-like interactions.

“As a creative, having a tool where the story could change based on my audience being happy or sad in real-time is fascinating,” said Kirwin. Currently, Artie’s software is capable of detecting seven prime emotions based on facial expressions. In the coming months, this is supposed to expand to 30 emotions. In addition to detecting emotions, Artie’s engine can also recognize around 80 objects, including coffee mugs, chairs and refrigerators.

The duo decided to focus on AR as opposed to VR to achieve maximum distribution for its avatars, but Horrigan and Kirwin quickly realized that a large footprint of phones capable of running AR doesn’t guarantee that anyone will install or even use them.

“Right now, AR experiences are stuck in the App Store,” said Horrigan. “The distribution angle needs to change to really see meaningful discovery and shareability and thus virality.” That’s why Artie is looking to empower creators to build AR avatars for the web, which can be easily shared with a link and on social media.

Artie is targeting both Hollywood and social media influencers, with Kirwin arguing that studios could create avatars of their stars to promote new movies, complete with a call to action. “For example, a Wolverine avatar that’s marketing a Marvel ‘X-Men’ movie could actually sell you a movie ticket at the end,” he said.

Artie has been backed by Jeff Katzenberg’s WndrCo., Founders Fund, the Venture Reality Fund, M Ventures, DCG’s Metaverse Ventures, and angel investors including Cyan Banister, YouTube founder Chad Hurley and Ubiquity6 Co-founder and CEO Anjney Midha. The company had already begun to onboard strategic developers ahead of an official launch of the platform in the first quarter of next year.

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