Nikola Todorovic and Tye Sheridan (Courtesy of Wonder Dynamics)
Wonder Dynamics' advisory board includes Steven Spielberg, Joe Russo, Terry Dougas
Actor Tye Sheridan is wearing a different hat with his new media-tech startup — which he claims will let indie filmmakers deliver blockbuster-level VFX on a fraction of the budget.
Sheridan (above right) co-founded Wonder Dynamics with visual-effects artist Nikola Todorovic (above left). Over the last four years, the duo have been quietly experimenting with using artificial intelligence and machine learning to create interactive video applications. Now Wonder Dynamics is gearing up to introduce a new AI production tool that they promise will let independent artists produce dazzling VFX and CGI animations for far less than is required today.
“It breaks down the barriers to achieving your wildest vision,” Sheridan told Variety. “A lot of times people dream up this story but it’s not possible to make because it would cost $200 million. AI can democratize VFX.”
Sheridan, who starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” and Todorovic have lined up a roster of Hollywood and tech mavens for their advisory board.
Those include Spielberg; director/producer Joe Russo; Rhea Films’ Terry Dougas; Gregory Trattner, president of Film Finances; Joshua Baer, founder/CEO of Capital Factory; Angjoo Kanazawa, assistant professor at UC Berkeley and Google research scientist; MIT Prof. Antonio Torralba, head of AI and decision making; and private-equity investor Robert Schwab.
According to Russo, whose credits include directing “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” the potential for using AI in filmmaking is today largely untapped.
“We are often reminded of all of the ways that AI and similar tech advancements will profoundly impact our lives, but I think we haven’t yet scratched the surface of its potential impact on the media industry,” Russo said in a statement. “Wonder Dynamics is one of the early startups exploring this intersection, and I look forward to being part of this exciting journey with them.”
Wonder Dynamics (wonderdynamics.com) has two products: Wallace Interactive, a patented technology that lets viewers engage in AI-powered conversations with characters in a TV show or a movie; and Wallace PROduction, which the founders say will expedite and reduce the cost of creating visual effects. (That’s “Wallace” as in “wall-less,” i.e., breaking down the fourth wall with an audience.)
Sheridan and Todorovic are cagey on what Wallace PRO will actually do except to promise that it can significantly reduce the number of steps VFX artists need to create visual effects like CG characters — involving a lot of the grunt work. Initially, Wallace PRO uses its own rendering engine but the company is developing extensions to plug into third-party systems.
The startup expects to begin demoing the software in early 2021 to prospective customers. “We’ll be looking for content creators and production companies to partner with,” said Todorovic.
“Visual AI is going to be one of the biggest revolutions in the industry,” Todorovic predicted. “It’s going to let indie filmmakers or kids anywhere in the world realize their movies.”
Added Sheridan, “A lot of people are going to ask us, ‘Does this mean VFX artists are going to be out of jobs?’ The truth is, it will streamline [the process] — it will create a bunch of new jobs for artists and engineers.”
Sheridan and Todorovic started Wonder Dynamics, formerly called Aether Inc., in 2017. They first met on the set of Rodrigo Garcia’s 2015 drama “Last Days in the Desert,” in which Sheridan starred opposite Ewan McGregor. Todorovic was a VFX consultant on the production.
“We hit it off,” Sheridan said. “We had similar passions for the same films and stories… We are both excited about these emerging mediums for storytelling.”
The company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from venture-capital investors. Sheridan and Todorovic declined to identify their VC backers and said they’re in the midst of raising a new round of funding. Wonder Dynamics, with offices in L.A. and Serbia, has about 20 employees. Todorovic serves as Wonder Dynamics’ CEO, and Sheridan heads up creative and content relationships.
Sheridan, who is 24, made his film debut at 11 in Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” opposite Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain. In 2019, he reprised his role as Scott Summers/Cyclops in the latest installment of the X-Men franchise, “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” Other credits include films “The Night Clerk,” “The Yellow Birds,” “Entertainment,” “Detour,” “Age Out,” “Dark Places,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” “The Mountain” and “Mud” opposite Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.
Sheridan will next be seen opposite Colin Farrell in Neil Berger’s sci-fi pic “Voyagers” for Lionsgate, as well as Paul Shrader’s “The Card Counter” opposite Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish.
Variety's Todd Spangler contributed to this post.