Interview conducted by: Angie Jordan
I recently got the chance to sit down with John Gibbs and Ben Flanders, the founders of Artimatic Technologies, Inc. Artimatic is a company aiming to increase digital artists’ efficiency throughout the 3D animation process by providing machine learning products that take the tedious work out of the equation. Artimatic has already developed two time-saving products, skiNNer and geNNie, but they have plans to make an even bigger impact on the 3D animation industry in the near future. Learn more about Artimatic and co-founders John and Ben below:
Let’s start with the basics. Tell me about yourselves and your career story.
“I graduated from the University of Georgia with undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Cognitive Science. Then, I went on to get my master's degree in Artificial Intelligence. While I was doing my graduate degree, I programmed for the National Parks and during my undergraduate degree, I also taught kids how to code. So, a lot of my career is in technology. I think I've known that I wanted to be an entrepreneur since my freshman year of college; it just always seemed right for me.”
“I graduated way back in 1987 with a degree in physics from Princeton and then jumped ship in grad school at Ohio State and went completely the opposite direction into English. So, my PhD is actually in English, but I was always extremely fascinated by computers. So, even though I had an English degree, my dissertation actually included Computer Modeling of Language, primitive as it was back in the nineties. After graduation, I ended up running some programs that were all about “multimedia,” which seems so out of date now, but that was the cool term in the nineties. That led me to get completely hooked on 3D animation in around 1995 and I’ve been teaching it and doing it ever since.
I’ve also always had a huge interest in AI, but there was not a degree program for that when I was younger. So, when I realized that UGA offered an AI degree program and I could actually take classes as a faculty member, I immediately said, ‘Yes, I’m doing that!’ It took a few years, but now I have a degree in AI as well. Currently, I'm very happily merging all of these different, weird things together.”
How do each of your stories lead into Artimatic’s story?
“I'm a faculty fellow with The Institute for Artificial Intelligence and they said, ‘Do you have any classes you want to teach?’ And I was like, ‘Actually, yes, I would love to teach one where we try to use machine learning to solve 3D animation problems.’ So enter Ben and the rest of the class.”
“While working toward my graduate degree, I took a class that was a collaboration between the UGA theater department and AI department and it was taught by John."
"Imagine that! In that class, there was one project that me, two other students, and John worked together on. We spent the semester working on it, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but we continued to work. I guess we never really stopped working on it, and that turned into Artimatic’s first main product, skiNNer.
UGA helped us a good bit with continuing on because they helped us get the provisional patent and helped us retain our intellectual property. Also, a big thanks to the University of Georgia Delta Innovation Hub for helping teach us about pitching to investors, customer discovery, and generally how to make our company and product better. If you are an aspiring UGA entrepreneur then I highly suggest you check them out!
Can you describe current-day Artimatic? What are the current applications offered and what does each do?
“skiNNer weight mapping solution is our company’s first product."
"We are currently rolling out an open beta version of the software, which means that now anyone can access it, which is very cool. We're excited about that, but we also have another current project that's going on called geNNie, which is an AI based texture map generator. In addition to skiNNer and geNNie, we have a rather overwhelmingly large roadmap for future products.
We can't really talk about all the products just yet, but we have a lot of plans to grow the company and expand out from our beginnings as a single product into a whole bunch of different products.”
What gap in the animation industry do Artimatic’s applications fill?
“skiNNer started off because I absolutely hate weight painting..."
"...so it was a completely selfish pursuit. This is a problem I detest, and I figured everybody else must hate it too - which they do; we've done market research and everybody hates it. So I set out to solve this problem. That seems like a really good idea for research, right? Pick a problem that people hate, and figure out a way to solve it.”
“We wanted to build tools that allow animators to get back to the creative parts of animating. We don't intend to try and steal the creativity of people or even replicate it; our vision is to let people create what they imagine faster. People are what's really important to me at my core.”
Speaking of the future, what does the future look like for Artimatic?
“I really want to continue expanding our development team, and trying to bring out a lot of good talent. We’re looking to hire machine learning developers and 3D animators soon.”
“With where Artimatic is right now, someone joining the team would be helping to shape the company. Rather than just being a little cog in a big machine elsewhere, you’d get to be a really big cog.”
“I agree, I think that also applies to other roles that we'd be looking for, like business, marketing, or sales roles."
"We are very willing to take into account other people's opinions and we want a variety of people to help shape Artimatic as they see fit.”
“To build on that, I think the community is our partner too."
"It's not like a one way thing where we're selling products to a person, it's like a loop where we’re getting feedback from the community and they're helping us shape the company. We're then providing better products for them. I think that's a very virtuous cycle.”
Describe the legacy you each want to leave on the animation industry, and how Artimatic might help you achieve it.
“I want to save people a lot of time on things that they don't want to do. I also want it to be really usable. With programming, there's been a lot of effort put into taking advanced programming languages and condensing them into something that's really intuitive, but I don't think animation has received that same love. So I hope to help make the animation industry intuitive enough for anyone to use it.”
“I'm super excited about the future of our company. To be honest, it's a really weird thing to be at the beginning of a process like this. Ben said that he'd always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I had always been afraid to be one. Now I'm getting more and more excited about it. So, I think that's pretty cool.”
“I would like us to become an important part of the 3D animation creative world where people think highly of our solutions. Whatever we can do to make our company really customer-centric, and have our customers be delighted to use our products is what I want.”