Albuquerque startup InnoBright Technologies is preparing for commercial launch in January of a new software technology that could change the way industry turns computer-generated animation into crystal-clear imagery.
The company, which launched in 2014 to market software technology developed at the University of New Mexico, has already won broad accolades and about $650,000 in seed funding to take its product to market. That includes the top-place $100,000 prize from Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest” pitch competition in Albuquerque in October, plus six-figure investments from the New Mexico Angels, the ABQid business accelerator’s investment fund, and UNM’s Science and Technology Corp.
Since early this year, about 50 companies worldwide have been beta-testing InnoBright’s technology, which radically speeds up the rendering process for video animation. The company incorporated feedback from users to create newer, easier-to-use versions of its software that’s now set for commercial launch, said founder and CEO Raghu Kopalle.
“We worked hard to make it simple-to-use software with different products for different customers that cuts down on the learning curve for everyone so they can rapidly get all the benefits,” Kopalle said. “We had a relatively long beta cycle to learn from our customers and we made many enhancements. Now we’re finally at the commercial release point.”
The company says its software can cut the rendering process for video animation by up to twelve-fold. That, in turn, can cut rendering costs by up to 50 percent. And, with rendering often eating up to a third of a project’s budget, that could mean millions in savings for things like major animated movies or complex architectural design projects.
Kopalle hopes to fundamentally disrupt the computer-generated imagery industry by replacing costly investments in hardware that aim to speed the rendering process with simple software solutions that achieve the same result.
“My vision is for real change – a paradigm shift – from people buying more, faster-working hardware to making software more efficient,” Kopalle said.
Rendering is the process by which production teams remove the “noise,” or graininess, in 3-D images that blur what people see in the final product.
People called that “snow” in the 1950s and 1960s when little white dots showed up on their black-and-white television screens, Kopalle said. The rendering process helps remove those dots to take away the graininess and produce a clear image.
Today, the industry achieves that task with rendering software that paints a clearer image with pixels. It shoots light waves at the images to calculate reflections, refractions, depth, altitude and more to then draw a clear picture.
The more light waves that are shot for reflection and refraction, the more photo-realistic the image looks, Kopalle said. But with existing rendering technology, producers need huge amounts of light samples, greatly extending the time spent on rendering.
“It’s a challenge, because the more light samples given, the more photo-realistic the image,” Kopalle said. “Fewer light samples mean less time spent, but the image ends up looking more grainy or noisy.”
InnoBright’s software does not do rendering. Rather, it creates a “noise filter” to identify and remove the noise, or interference, to help speed the whole rendering process, Kopalle said.
“Our de-noiser software produces quality images in a fraction of the time and, in this world, time is everything given the money spent on people and computing,” he said.
With commercial launch, InnoBright expects many companies and individuals to pay for use of the software. But the company is looking to partner directly with firms that produce and distribute rendering software to incorporate InnoBright’s noise filter, called Altus software, directly into the rendering systems.
“A couple of thousand users have already tried our software but, over the past six months, we’ve shifted our strategy to integrate our software into existing rendering systems,” Kopalle said. “That way, rendering software companies become our customers and our partners so we can sell our software through their channels.”
InnoBright investors are excited about the company’s market prospects because the software provides a plug-and-play solution that users can download and immediately begin using with existing rendering systems. In addition, there are many market segments that could benefit, from the entertainment, advertising and gaming industries to architectural and scientific visualization, and augmented and virtual reality.
“The market opportunity is huge, because rendering is used in all animation, from entertainment to industrial applications,” said Lisa Kuuttila, who heads the STC, UNM’s tech-transfer office. “Speed and quality are critical, and this technology improves both of those things and cuts costs.”
New Mexico Angels president John Chavez said the company’s enticing “value proposition” for end users appealed to angel investors.
“It’s a great product, one we believe the market needs,” Chavez said. “We’re particularly happy InnoBright won the Rise of the Rest competition. It provides real validation and recognition.”
InnoBright’s decision to stay in Albuquerque rather than move closer to markets like Los Angeles where many potential customers are concentrated shows New Mexico’s pro-startup ecosystem is maturing, said Bill Bice of the ABQid business accelerator, which Kopalle graduated from in 2014.
“I thought they might go to L.A. or elsewhere to build the company, but they stayed here thanks to the support base,” Bice said. “They’ve gotten mentoring, seed funding and many other resources here. It shows we have great technology here with enthusiastic entrepreneurs and the support programs in place to take new products to market.”