Mahesh Ramasubramanian and Kiran Bhat first met two decades ago when they were both undergrads. Their career paths weren't identical but twenty years later, both boast lengthy resumes in the visual effects and facial animation fields, having worked on some of the best-known Hollywood blockbusters in recent times. As a long-term employee of Industrial Light & Magic, Bhat ended up contributing to the likes of The Last Airbender, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Avengers, Warcraft, Star Wars Episode: The Force Awakens, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The latter project even yielded him an Oscar last year, with his Academy Award being given for an outstanding technical achievement. In the meantime, Ramasubramanian spent some 17 years at DreamWorks Animation working on projects such as the Shrek and Madagascar franchises, the former of which ended up being honored with history's first animated feature Oscar since the Academy adopted the genre as a permanent part of its award portfolio in 2001. Today, the two veterans aren't with the companies in which they honed their VFX skills and are instead working together to turn us into "Jedi holograms."
Ramasubramanian and Bhat ended up founding Loom.ai in 2016, with the San Francisco, California-based startup being the firm behind the technology powering AR Emoji supported by Samsung's Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus. While the functionality is touted as one of the main selling points of the new Android flagships, the VFX-experts-turned-entrepreneurs claim it's just a brief glimpse into Loom.ai's technology and use cases it can enable. It has to be because leaving Hollywood after years of enjoying "huge hardware and everything you could want [to do modern visual effects]" was far from easy, Ramasubramanian says. Having vast resources when doing facial animation is extremely useful because "it's so easy to get them wrong," Bhat revealed in an interview with AndroidHeadlines, concurring that the decision to leave Hollywood lights behind him was one of the most difficult ones in his career. Ultimately, the duo is unsurprisingly hoping the risk will pay off and help them "make a luminary out of everyone," which is also how they came up with the Loom.ai name. Faces are "the holy grail [of visual effects] and we wanted to see what we can do with them in the mobile segment, using just a regular smartphone camera," Ramasubramanian adds.
While AR Emoji are still far away from delivering results that look like the Hulk from the upcoming Avengers, that's precisely what Loom.ai will eventually be aiming for but also isn't its ultimate goal. "Five years from now, we'll be doing this interview in augmented reality and look at one another's Jedi holograms," Bhat says, asserting that at that point, the startup's tech will already be able to allow for countless new use cases. "The future of AR is exciting but the present is even more important and that's where we're innovating right now," his colleague says while pointing to Loom.ai's currently largest long-term challenge - answering the question of "can real people actually be present in 3D places?" If the answer is a positive one, "the Jedi console analogy" will likely come true but will also be "just the beginning," Ramasubramanian believes.
"True AR" will make users forget they're wearing goggles akin to Magic Leap's first headgear or any other kind of specialized equipment, consequently helping people "feel the presence" of other individuals and objects even though they physically aren't there, the duo believes. Ultimately, Loom.ai wants to see its technology both create new and ennoble existing experiences such as conferencing and photography. "I look at the 3D avatar of my son during work and it's magical, I can be even more emotionally attached to it than to an ordinary photograph," Ramasubramanian says, adding that bringing such a feeling to audiences all around the world is precisely what he's prioritizing as Loom.ai CEO. In the end, enabling widespread access to 3D avatars and general AR solutions on ubiquitous platforms such as smartphones could make the duo's legacy much more significant than even their high-profile Hollywood accomplishments already did.