As more and more users have begun creating their own personal home pages, blogs, and profiles on social networking web sites, a robust demand for personalization of those pages has spawned dozens of companies, focused on creating interesting web widgets and accessories. Among those companies is Sherman Oaks-based Fix8 (www.fix8.com), which recently released a software package that allows users with a webcam to create a real-time, animated avatar which can be posted to a web page. The firm's software tracks the movement of a user's face via a webcam, to animate a customizable avatar on a computer screen. We spoke with Dinesh Bhatia, the firm's VP of Global Sales, about the company's product and how it is being used. Ben Kuo conducted the interview.
Can you describe your service to our readers, and how it is used?
Dinesh Bhatia: Basically, what we provide is an application that allows customization of a user's on-screen visual appearance, in real-time. It's a total consumer play. The client serves as a streaming tool, and is configured to be useful in several areas. It interfaces with instant messaging tools like MSN, AOL, and Skype -- so you can change your online appearance as video is running in real time. We also provide what we called enhanced reality perspective, which is user-generated reality. That user-generated reality gives the ability for a user to change their persona, and assume a character in the digital domain. We're primarily focused right now on the media and entertainment industry.
How long has this been available, and what's the business model behind the software?
Dinesh Bhatia: We released our beta in Mid-May, and we're two weeks out of our beta. Our software has been available for download for a month and a half. It hasn't been available long, but has met with good reception. The business model is driven around content--our revenue stream comes from content and advertising. What I mean by content is accessories for the avatars--what people are dressing them up with. The software is free to download, all you need is a webcam, PC, and a dash of creativity. When you download the software, there's accessories for the avatars, and you can make your own avatar as well. You can also buy additional content packs. For example, we're bundled with Platinum Studios, and you can buy comic book characters that allow you to be the comic book character, using our software.
How did the company come about, and what's the story behind the firm?
Dinesh Bhatia: If you'll remember Max Headroom -- it was an 80's Max Headroom flashback from our CEO, who wanted to re-create the experience of the pop-culture, real time visual animation. Video blogging can be fun, and with YouTube, 70% of the content is video blogging, the other 30% is sharing interesting videos. Imagine if you can enhance that video blogging real-time, in the visual sense as well as the auditory sense. We create a very seamless way to generate that in real time. Our tools is not just one for animating, we're focused on facial animation and can drive an avatar in real time. A webcam on the PC can track your facial movement, and track it in real time. I refer to it as soul transfer--you are transplanting your soul into the avatar. You can also enjoy mixed-mode reality -- you can have a real background, real reality, and just replace your head with the avatar head. It leads to some interesting effects. It all started from Max Headroom, the original talking head.
Was it difficult to create the technology--it seems people have used this for TV before, but not for consumers?
Dinesh Bhatia: Talking about television, we have an interface that plugs into the server components we developed, which allows it to be used in conjunction with live television or a prerecorded television production. You can use it to allow for video participation from the audience, with live audience participation in a fun and entertaining way. Our firm started out very technology focused--we had developed the technology for facial tracking about two years ago, and weren't sure what we were going to do with it. We were involved in biometrics, and facial recognition. About a year/year and a half ago, we figured out we wanted to focus on a fun, entertaining products for consumers. There's a lot of technology and engineering know how, which went into translating this technology into something that you and I could use.
How is you firm backed, do you have any venture funding?
Dinesh Bhatia: We have completed our Series 1-A funding, from a fund called the Vickers Venture Fund. They are a fund based in the Asia Pacific that looks at cross Asia, U.S. plays. They have an office in China as well. They look at both the North American and China market in terms of capitalizing on rich media companies. Vickers Venture Fund is headed by ex-principals from DFJ ePlanet, the firm that invested in companies like Skype, etc.
Thanks for the interview!