Creating ‘world’s first’ artificial intelligence with imagination
Dublin-based firm Artomatix has had an extraordinary first year, climaxing with a $100,000 win at an Nvidia competition
Eric Risser and Neal O’Gorman: “We want artists focusing the majority of their time on being creative and leave our technology to work on the more mundane tasks – such as creating seamlessly tiling textures [realistic surfaces]”
Artomatix – run by Kildare-born Neal O’Gorman and American Eric Risser – had its first birthday at the end of March. Its first 12 months comprised of developing its remarkable technology and building the company’s profile and treasure chest. Since 2014, Artomatix took part in numerous competitions, met some iconic (and confidential) potential clients, and accumulated big prizes at tech events.
In June 2014, it won the inaugural Start App competition for Dublin, in that same month it won the first Enterprise Ireland “Roots in Research” and, most recently, it was champions of Nividia’s “Emerging Companies Summit” in March of this year, which had a cash prize of $100,000.
The technology itself is just as impressive as the list of achievements (and of course, one explains the other). Artomatix is a new invention/algorithm that speculates and creates art.
Using a base template it can extrapolate thousands of similar, but distinct images – so Artomatix can create an army of monsters, speculative cities, hundreds of dress designs, and more, all within the style set by the artist or designer. The company’s website describes it as “the world’s first AI with imagination”.
It has recently been augmented so that it can change images automatically using cloud computing. So, for instance, if you’re playing a videogame, the landscape and characters could look different (and utterly unique) every time you play.
“Eric and I found each other thanks to SeedLab,” says O’Gorman, “which was a pre-accelerator run by NDRC. [The body] found 13 academics that felt their research was commercially viable and just under 30 commercially experienced people that were interested in working with a start-up.
“That all happened in October 2013 and then in January 2014 Eric invited me to join the company as CEO. In February, we pitched for NDRC’s VentureLab programme and we were accepted. In March, the company was incorporated and in April 2014 the VentureLab programme commenced.”
“My time at Columbia and Trinity was about advancing the field and developing theoretical contributions, not building a product,” he says.
“Some of the ideas I came up with during my studies have made it into the product, but I published these ideas thus making them public domain. Since turning in my thesis three years ago, I’ve been working on the product full time, which involves its own set of unique challenges.
“The tech has evolved considerably in ways I wouldn’t have imagined during grad school. Academia is all about coming up with a theoretical concept and proving it. This means that there’s no incentive to write efficient or robust code, you just have to get your idea sort-of working, write a paper and move on.
“That mindset doesn’t work in industry. You need something that’s fast, easy to use and completely foolproof. In the last year alone, we’ve made Artomatix 300x faster. Tasks that used to take all night in grad school now take seconds.”
“Initially, our focus is on helping artists within the games domain to create much higher quality art in much shorter time frame,” says Gorman.
“We also want artists focusing the majority of their time on being creative and leave our technology to work on the more mundane tasks – such as creating seamlessly tiling textures [realistic surfaces].
“For some AAA games, creating the thousands of seamlessly tiling textures can take a full man year to do. With Artomatix it would be done in one week.
“Obviously, these kinds of time savings are of significant interest to games developers, but they get even more excited when they realise that we can help them improve the gaming experience for their customers. By generating new art assets ‘on the fly’ – and in the style that the artist created – these studios can now offer a unique experience to the player every time he plays the game.”
Not surprisingly, since this technology can create thousands of usable images, consistent with the artist and project’s vision and direction, Artomatix has caught the attention of the film and game industry. John Huikku, a digital artist on Lord of the Rings and Frozen publicly endorsed the company, and the team has had some meetings with high-profile game and film companies.
“We’ve been working with a large AAA studio in the States and also a significant console manufacturer,” says O’Gorman. “We’re also close to commencing our Artomatix Cloud beta, which we are developing in conjunction with the European Union’s Horizon 2020 FIWARE accelerator called CreatiFI.
“Artists will be able to login, upload their art assets and then download their outputs that have been generated by Artomatix.”
Back in Ireland
Inevitably, with exciting new start-ups such as Artomatix, questions arise about job creation. And with its two main employees coming from two different countries, it looks like Artomatix will create jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
“At the moment we have a team of five,” says O’Gorman, “and we’ll be double that in a few months time. By the end of 2016 we expect to have a team of almost 30 people with the potential of 100 employees by 2018. These numbers are based on an analysis of other players in our market tied in with our product roadmap.
“Having [personally] been away for almost 10 years, it is nice to be back in Ireland, but we intend to do what’s needed to make Artomatix a success.
“A significant percentage of our customers are on the west coast of the United States – so we absolutely need a presence there, which is why we have just agreed to take up an offer for some office space in San Francisco. We expect to always have a development team in Dublin though.”