Creating Lifelike Virtual Characters: Our Investment in Ziva Dynamics

Jim Adler
Jim Adler
May 12, 2020 · 3 min read

Our mission at Toyota AI Ventures is to explore what’s next. And notwithstanding the enormous challenges we’re all facing today due to COVID-19, we remain optimistic about the future and bullish on how technology will amplify the human experience. Our portfolio companies have been helping people make the most of their living spaces and move within cities in new ways. We continue to look for entrepreneurs that can bring their creative vision to life and execute on it, even when times are tough.

That’s why I’m proud to announce that Toyota AI Ventures is investing in Ziva Dynamics, a startup based in Vancouver, Canada that is developing advanced character simulation software to create lifelike digital experiences for film, games, and other applications.

Decades of computer science research, visual effects expertise, and even an Academy Award, have gone into the founding of Ziva. The company has the real potential to change the way we coexist with technology by empowering remarkably realistic interactive characters. It’s a mission that resonates with us at Toyota AI Ventures. It especially resonates with me, who as a child, wanted nothing more than to tussle with the superheroes from my comic books.

Led by Academy Award winner James Jacobs and USC Associate Professor of Computer Science Jernej Barbic, Ziva’s exceptional team produces character authoring tools that have already been used by more than 100 media studios in blockbuster films and shows, such as Captain Marvel and Game of Thrones. Watch their sizzle reel to see some examples of their work.

Ziva has a deceptively simple goal of bringing virtual characters to life, but making that possible is far from simple. Their jaw-dropping technology simulates the laws of real-world physics on the character’s anatomy, then harnesses machine learning to make it all happen in real-time.

The end result is impressive in itself, but Ziva’s unique, time-saving approach is what won us over, particularly since the visual effects market for both film and video games is ripe for disruption at scale. Ziva’s team optimizes the creation of virtual characters through physics-embedded soft tissue simulation, which results in computer-generated characters with layers of muscle, fat, and skin that work together organically and move realistically. Their process takes less time than traditional methods and the characters are more reproducible, which is also a tremendous leap forward.

Co-founder and CEO James Jacobs developed this physics-based anatomy simulation framework. He has more than two decades of experience in visual effects, and has won an Academy Award as well. Jernej Barbic, co-founder and CTO, received his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University, and was a postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab. We couldn’t ask for a more balanced team with complementary knowledge and experience that fits the product to the market.

The potential uses for Ziva’s technology are immense in the film and television industry, as well as the video game industry, which could reach over $300B by 2025. Notably, Ziva’s team is already working on major releases for the next highly anticipated generation of video game consoles. Even with COVID-19 disruptions, digital sales of video games have increased and live streaming has gained in popularity. And we look forward to seeing how Ziva applies its technology in other areas in the future.

At Toyota AI Ventures, we never stop thinking of different ways to surprise and launch in new directions. Ziva Dynamics accomplishes that for us, and qualifies as truly transformative technology.

We are happy to support Ziva in its $7M seed round, alongside lead investor Grishin Robotics and Millennium Technology Value Partners. The company is looking to double the size of its team as it further expands into the gaming industry, so visit Ziva’s site to learn more — and check out the available job opportunities through the Toyota AI Ventures Talent network.

Toyota AI Ventures

The future doesn’t invent itself. It’s forged by innovators.

Toyota AI Ventures

Toyota AI Ventures is a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups in the areas of artificial intelligence, cloud, data, autonomy, mobility, and robotics.

Jim Adler

Written by

Jim Adler

entrepreneur · investor · executive · data geek · privacy thinker · former rocket engineer · on twitter @jim_adler

Toyota AI Ventures

Toyota AI Ventures is a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups in the areas of artificial intelligence, cloud, data, autonomy, mobility, and robotics.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store