New Zealand-based 8i is the latest startup to get funding to grow its idea, with $13.5 million to continue developing its 3D video platform to capture realistic, almost hologram-like, people for viewing with VR and AR.
While current consumer-level virtual environments have a lot of beauty to them, capable of delivering a great sense of presence, humans are quite adept at discerning the tiny details of the human face. It’s the reason for the so-called ‘Uncanny Valley’ in which attempts to create digitized humans often creep people out rather than impress. That’s also one reason companies like Altspace use robot avatars instead of human-like ones to represent people in a virtual environment — the current level of technology doesn’t allow for compelling human-like avatars.
“We’re focusing on people because it’s the hardest problem,” said 8i CEO Linc Gasking in an interview with UploadVR. “There was literally no solution for people to get humans into a virtual environment. Even with months and months of work and dozens of artists you still can’t get there it just wasn’t gonna ever scale.”
8i is attempting to create a platform that can scale to consumers so that anyone can create and share immersive 3D video. The funding announcement for 8i came within days of Uncorporeal’s emergence from stealth mode via a Wired article. 8i and Uncorporeal seem to be working to solve the same problem — making the capture of people in 3D easier. Their methods use multiple cameras to capture an actor’s performance or a person’s heartfelt message to the future. The resulting capture allows a person to lean or move around in VR and see the captured person from different angles.
Uncorporeal uses a camera array to capture “geometric data” that “results in a data mesh that can be placed in any game environment built in Unity 3D.” 8i says its “proprietary software transforms regular video from off-the-shelf cameras into realistic experiences delivering the realism of human movements, face and hair.”
“Our next setup we’re buying more cameras,” Gasking said of their solution, which currently captures a little more than a 180º view of the subject. The near future goal, he says, is to do a full 360º live holographic capture.
For scale, the funding is slightly less than the $16 million Series A investment in Oculus in 2013 and more than the $10 million funding this summer for VR software developers Altspace and WEVR.
The funding round for 8i comes from RRE Ventures, Founders Fund Science, Horizons Ventures, Signia Venture Partners, Samsung Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Sound Ventures, Inevitable Ventures, Freelands and Advancit Capital, among others. The company also opened up a studio in Culver City, Los Angeles and has offices in San Francisco. It was founded in May 2014.