AI is coming to disrupt game art production whether artists like it or not. And Layer AI is the latest startup to raise $1.8 million to bring AI to game art.
Layer AI raised the round of venture capital funding from investors such as The Games Fund to create what it says is a cutting-edge AI-powered productivity tool.
The San Francisco company, known for its innovative solutions, has attracted a robust support system from industry stalwarts and investors in the gaming and AI sectors, with case studies here.
The team is led by a cadre of industry professionals with extensive experience in AI, gaming, and computer vision. Volkan Gurel, the CEO, brings a background in engineering and management from MIT, Hunch, and Coinbase.
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Supported by Burcu Ozcengiz, the CRO, and Kuo-chin, the CTO, Layer AI boasts a team with a strategic mix of expertise and experience across various domains, all committed to advancing gaming art production through AI. The company has four employees now and it is hiring.
Investors in the round included top serial entrepreneurs and industry legends like Jim Payne, gaming angels like Akin Babayigit, Michele Attisani, Dilpesh Parmar and gaming VCs like The Games Fund, The Games Syndicate, GFR Fund, Laton Ventures along with other AI/Tech VCs and angels like 500 Global, Elena Silenok, Taimur Rashid. Additionally the team also got a strategic investment from the US-based top art production and talent house Devoted Studios.
Gurel, CEO of Layer AI, said in a statement, “Just like Web 2.0, Cloud computing or mobile unlocked novel
applications that beat incumbents and other startup competitors based on a great product experience, we believe the AI revolution will be no different. AI has unlocked many new applications that will be built on top of this new tech stack and we plan to win by building the best product experience for artists in the enterprise leveraging the power of all the great foundational models and tools released by OpenAI, Meta, Stability AI and others. We’re creator-first, enterprise-ready and will remain model-agnostic.”
The newly secured funds and strategic investments have fortified the company’s vision to enhance game art production. The tool, known for its seamless integration into art pipelines and intuitive workflows, aims to empower creators across skill levels, allowing them to explore new ideas and art styles.
In an industry where AI tools often focus on general use cases or standalone features, Layer AI stands out with its commitment to serving everyday use cases in a user-friendly and enterprise-ready manner. Testimonials and detailed case studies attest to the productivity boost and enhanced user experience that Layer AI offers to game creators. It is being used at studios like Tripledot Studios, APPS Teknoloji and Games United.
“Layer.ai Supercharged Tripledot’s art creation, tripling our production speed and elevating quality. By reducing our reliance on outsourcing studios, we’ve not only saved significant costs but also brought the magic of art production in-house. We’re incredibly excited about this technology and eagerly await further updates,” said Andriy Matviychuk, vice president of creative at Tripledot Studios, in a statement.
“Being deeply rooted in game development we see pivotal changes coming to production with gen-AI tools coming into play,” said Maria Kochmola, General Partner at The Games Fund, in a statement. “We are not big fans of the idea of flooding the market with soulless content and Layer.AI sets itself apart by aiming to enhance, not replace, human artistry, liberating creators from mundane tasks. That is what we all believe in. We also like that their focus is on enterprise clients and their real needs for seamless integration into existing production pipelines.”
Looking ahead, Layer AI plans to expand its offerings beyond 2D generation in gaming to cater to spine and sprite animations. The team envisions integrations into non-gaming workflows like marketing and advertising, ensuring a smooth transition and enhanced productivity for creators.
“At a high level, Our creative process starts with sketching, continues with draft coloring, and lasts with final coloring,” said Bulut Korzay, chief product officer at Fortune Mine Games,” in a statement. “Normally, we are producing one level for our game in 15 days. With the help of Layer AI, we decreased this time to 5 days Our aim is to make it 3 days with the upcoming new features Layer team has planned to ship.”
The company has already begun serving top-tier clients like Tripledot, Sciplay, Mag Interactive, and numerous professional artists since its launch in February 2023. Layer AI is committed to further strengthening its security and reliability through SOC 2 and ISO certification, ensuring a robust offering for enterprise clients. The team is hiring. You can visit Layer AI’s careers page for details.
“AI unlockedcmany opportunities for gaming and we want Layer to be the easiest tool to get onboard with and the fastest to ROI “ said Ozcengiz, the CRO. “Layer is already serving numerous top-tier clients like Tripledot, Sciplay, Mag Interactive and hundreds of professional artists since launching in February 2023. Layer is also working to shore up their compliance program and will achieve SOC 2 and ISO certification to further cement the security and reliability of their offering for the enterprise.”
Gurel said the company’s goal is to be a creator-first and enterprise-ready product.
“We believe AI will change art creation no matter what, and we want to be the ones doing this in the most responsible and artist-friendly way, and in a way that gives confidence to enterprise customers when it comes to copyright,” he said.
Regarding copyright law, Gurel said in an email to GamesBeat, “We respect copyright and want to protect the intellectual property of artists. We believe content generated with no artist involvement or guidance is not copyrightable. Layer tries to stay in line with established norms in the industry around what’s copyrightable work and adapts these norms to the age of AI. Two examples of this are ideation and producing final assets.”
He added, “Today, when a team of artists starts a new project, they do concept development by creating a mood board, gathering content generated by other artists. The goal of this exercise is to draw inspiration and develop a unique style for the project. No artist would say putting such content in the mood board violates someone’s copyright, since this content is not put directly into the final product. Layer supports this use case by providing generic AI models like SDXL or DALL-E 3, and we encourage our users to use these for ideation and concept development, and not to use the outputs of these models directly in their final product.”
And he said, “Once the team develops a unique, original, ‘copyrightable’ style, then Layer provides a way for them to finetune AI models based on reference images in this style and these finetuned models use general world knowledge and combine it with the style in the reference images to output other images in that style. This makes Layer a productivity booster for use cases where a game studio wants to create many assets in their style. In this use case, the creativity and originality still comes from the artists themselves, and the generated assets are not 100% ready in many cases, and the artists and art directors still need to get the final assets to 100% production readiness.”
Regarding the threat that AI poses to jobs, Gurel said that it’s true that AI will eliminate some jobs, but it will create many more higher quality jobs.
“We believe most artists’ jobs won’t be eliminated, but they will evolve – removing the basic and repetitive parts of their work and opening up new possibilities for creativity,” Gurel said. “This has happened many times before with other technological revolutions in the past and despite all the hype with AI today as if it’s unique in history, it is ultimately a massive technological revolution and we can draw a lot of analogies from the past.”
He added, “Photography, digital art or even tube paint were all controversial when they were first invented, but what ended up happening is demand for art exploded along with these inventions, because the cost to create art went down and artists’ productivity went up. We believe this time will be no different – artists’ creativity and productivity will increase by an order of magnitude and the demand for this art will increase even more as a lot more possibilities open up.”
And he said, “With our customers we’re seeing that with increased productivity, instead of cutting jobs they are shipping more game content in shorter time periods. And this makes sense – if a studio is creative and limitless in their imagination, they will take a tool like Layer and simply make more top quality games that their users want, and thus generate more revenue. This is not a zero sum game.”
As for keeping costs for AI low, Gurel said, “The cost has not been a real issue for us for two reasons.
First, our team is quite experienced building ML infrastructure, and we used this experience to architect a best-in-class system that’s scalable, efficient and super fast. As an example, our image generation speeds are an order of magnitude faster (~3 seconds per batch) than any comparable tool.”
And he said, “And second, we’re focused on the enterprise segment and enterprise user flows are a lot more predictable. Our users come to Layer, get the content they need, and leave happy. Consumer focused tools on the other hand might be having a lot of cost related issues and concerns due to the unpredictable nature of their needs and how there is a lot more content created “for fun”.
The company started in November 2022 and it launched its first version in February 2023 after seening early success. The company incorporated in July 2023.
“For a company like us who is focused on Merge-3 games like Merge Park, Layer has helped multiply our art libraries and production powers, we’re 240% more productive thanks to Layer,” said Yagiz Gur, production lead at Games United, in a statement.
When it comes to accuracy, Gurel said the company can deliver two to three times more productvity, based on real users.
“Layer’s contribution to our art pipeline has been tremendous. We’re able to produce assets for our games with 100% more productivity. In other words, it takes half the time it used to take to produce the same assets. Before Layer, we used to create 3D models> Pose the model then get a render. If we wanted to edit an asset we needed to go back to the model and take another render to edit the asset. Using Layer’s Asset Studio, making edits takes only a few minutes. Not only it saves time, but it also multiply our abilities to think creativity by providing a few variations to choose from achieve outputs we couldn’t think about before,” said Samet Soylemez, game artist at Apps Teknoloji, in a statement.
“At PlayPack, we were looking for a user-friendly solution that could easily onboard the team for generative AI pipeline integration and workflow, and Layer.ai was the tool that the team simply chose over all other competitors due to the best user experience. This really allowed us to speed up the production of our merge games and save a lot of resources, enabling us to move forward with content development,” said Tatjana Kondratyeva, CEO at Playpack, in a statement.
As for the inspiration, Gurel said that the team focused AI, MLOps and Gaming. In the summer/fall of 2022, DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion were released, and the Dreambooth paper came out, which triggered massive interest in the AI art hobbyist community in finetuning models to create content in a specific style.
“When we saw this, and discussed it in detail in a brainstorming session, we instantly recognized that if it works as promised, it could solve some serious pain points in the art creation pipelines during game development that we were very familiar with,” Gurel said. “Within two weeks of starting the project, we had some early customers from wo studios that had millions of users and that served both as validation of the idea and as guidance for further development.”
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