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Former Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz has started a new company called Sun and Thunder to focus on AI characters and interactive storytelling. And today he is teasing a new character with the company’s first short video dubbed Yellow Dove — Misbeliever.
We don’t often write about video entertainment. But Abovitz’s background and his interest in creating “synthetic beings” have caught my interest, and I talked to him both about his grand ambitions for years from now as well as what he’s starting to tease with the video. You may wonder what this is all about, but it is pretty intriguing. And it’s worth nothing that Abovitz created and performed the song Misbeliever in the video himself, though he credits the work to his virtual character.
When you think about the long run, Abovitz told us earlier this year that the company represents a fusion of technology, intellect, and art. The aim is to create “synthetic beings” and tell stories within worlds made possible by “spatial computing,” or the kind of mixed reality experiences that Abovitz has tried to create in his prior company Magic Leap.
While Sun and Thunder will work across all mediums including spatial computing, the company is not part of Magic Leap and it is not necessarily tied to any single platform yet, Abovitz said. And these films may seem small now, but Abovitz hopes they become part of something really big.
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Magic Leap legacy
Magic Leap brought in former Microsoft executive Peggy Johnson a year ago to run the company as it shifted into making mixed reality hardware and software for enterprises. Abovitz remains on the board, but he is free to start his new business in a segment that is very different from what Magic Leap is doing. Back in 2018, Magic Leap launched its Magic Leap One mixed reality headset.
Magic Leap grew huge and raised more than a billion dollars on its promise of spatial computing, or connecting visualization hardware with locations in the real world. Abovitz believes it may take about 15 years before the company can realize its ambitions.
More recently, Magic Leap raised $500 million and Johnson announced that the company will launch its Magic Leap 2 AR glasses next year. That means that the enterprise version of Magic Leap is rolling along.
“Remember when Star Wars Episode Seven came out, they had this series of trailers. They were very, very tantalizing, but they weren’t too long, Abovitz said. “You’re wondering, ‘What the heck’s going on?’ But they were really, really cool. And that’s sort of my reference for what we’re doing. How do we get you wanting more?”
Abovitz said a lot of experimentation work is happening that could change what the company does. He considers this phase of the company to be a “supernova,” or an explosion of creativity.
The company is working on short films that show people what it is experimenting with. Some of the concepts sound like something out of science fiction. For instance, Abovitz wants to create AI characters that have real intelligence, and he hopes to then use those intelligent characters to help the company with its work. The company isn’t there yet.
Sun and Thunder is greatly influenced by early Disney, Lucasfilm, Studio Ghibli, and the eclectic ravery of Chris Blackwell era Island records. At the same time, exploring the physics and science of reality and creativity will be a sustained focus, Abovitz said.
“I expect the next decade to be filled with a lot of fun and cool releases,” Abovitz said. “And we will open and reveal the bigger picture of what we are working on when the time, creative work, and technology are ready.”
Yellow Dove – Misbeliever is the first short animated film from Sun and Thunder Studios, produced in collaboration with Pukeko Pictures and the Academy Award-winning Weta Workshop. Yellow Dove is a character from a larger, original SNT Storyworld project called the Hour Blue, Abovitz said.
The Hour Blue story and world building has been developed in a slow-cooked manner for more than a decade, with thousands of pages of writing, music, art, design, and character development. The first short film is a very small glimpse into the Hour Blue world, and the first step in a series of releases across a range of media and technology (art, publishing, film, music, web, physical, Xverse, synthetic beings).
Yellow Dove – Misbeliever had its physical premiere in August 2021 at the Roxy Cinema in Wellington, New Zealand. GamesBeat has the digital premiere of the short film. (It’s only going to be posted here for a short time, and then it will be replaced by a trailer).
The first AI character appearing in the film is Jako Vega (also known as Yellow Dove). Abovitz said he is like Woody Guthrie, a vagabond singer who moves across space and time. The first film is in production.
“Yellow Dove is a member of the Sun and Thunder team, a co-creator, and traveler through a number of interconnected Sun and Thunder storyworlds,” Abovitz said. “He is a musician and the first artist on Sun and Thunder Records. We are trying to get the character in the world and we are in the process of building the underlying technology. At the same time, I will say this that he is part of a much bigger thing.”
Abovitz said Jako Vega is a synthetic being and will be an active participant in the development of the company’s own tech, dubbed the TREX101 technology platform. For now, Jako Vega is just the character who plays the guitar in this film. Film is the starting point, but Abovitz hopes to take this into other spatial platforms later.
“Everything we’re building is like food for the tech platform,” he said. “It’s like food for the tech platform for building,” Abovitz said. “It’s a synthetic being or creative intelligence platform, and it’s going to take time. We are building mythology and a story, and all kinds of films and music and art and other stuff. We’re feeding that into an engine that I call TRex101.”
So the platform ingests what is being made and it absorbs what it’s supposed to do, and then it will teach its sentient Xverse and synthetic being what to do, Abovitz said.
If you understand that, good for you. But it’s interesting. As for the character, he gets overloaded in the video and passes out, and the next fill will address what happened to him, Abovitz said.
The Hour Blue world
The Hour Blue world is an original mythopoeia that is being created by a mix of people and technology, and over time will be largely co-created by unique Sun and Thunder technologies, including what the company is building to enable synthetic beings. Yellow Dove can be thought of as the company’s Pinocchio, and the creative and production teams are Geppetto in his workshop.
“As we cut his strings we aim for a seamless transition to becoming something new and unseen — and we will quietly build and iterate a technology that can be thought of as our Blue Fairy platform,” Abovitz said.
The wider vision of Sun and Thunder (many years from now) is the creation and development of an interconnected Sun and Thunder Universe (SNTU). Abovitz is working on the very early design, experimentation, and architecture of the Synthetic Being Platform, TREX101, and an Xverse platform for our Storyworlds, which is currently named Wyreworld. Sun and Thunder has the goal to synthesize art, cinema, literature, music, philosophy, science, and creative innovation, with the hope and vision of enabling and creating Storyworlds that have the breadth and depth and richness to combine them all.
The Kyoto test
The Sun and Thunder Kyoto Test is one marker that the company hopes to achieve.
As for what that means, Abovitz said that the ultimate goal is to have you experience a Sun and Thunder story and make it feel like you had just spent three days immersing yourself in Kyoto. It’s kind of like the Turing Test, which tests for human or artificial intelligence, he said. He wants every part of the world and the character to have “almost infinite depth to it.”
I asked Abovitz about his writing and performing the song. He said, “This is the fuzzy line between Geppetto and Pinocchio. But let’s say we’re getting very fuzzy there. We’re testing and using a lot of things right now to like. I think the line between puppeteer and puppet is getting blurry at times.”
He considers Jako Vega, the synthetic being, to be an employee of Sun and Thunder, and he plays a character named Yellow Dove.
“We’re really trying to get to feel like a character came alive out of a storybook or a film. And we want that transition to be seamless,” Abovitz said.