Nimble Collective announced today that it has closed an $8.5 million funding round led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA).
The Silicon Valley-based company, founded by DreamWorks Animation and Pixar vets, plans to use the cash to revolutionize the $90 billion animation content market by developing the industry’s first cloud-based, end-to-end platform and the world’s largest online animation community, targeting an estimated 10 million professional and aspiring animators around the globe.
That’s big talk, but what exactly does that mean?
“The genesis really started in education,” Nimble co-founder and CCO Rex Grignon told VideoInk. “We were out at these universities teaching and we saw how tough the animation students had it. They were sort of cobbling things together from open source and freeware, and we thought, ‘Wow, if they could use the same tools we’re using at the studio, this educational experience would be a lot richer, and they could really focus on the creativity.’”
“They would spend most of their time trying to install scripts and software and figuring out where to save stuff,” added Nimble co-founder and head of content Jason Schleifer. “You have this amazing opportunity to learn and you’re spending all this time saying, ‘Where do I put the file?’ You’re focusing on the wrong thing.”
It’s a Virtual Studio Back Lot
In live action filmmaking, a production can rent a soundstage, with lighting and gear set up, as well as furniture and props. Not so in animation.
“Let’s say you wanted to animate a funny 30-second story about someone sitting in a kitchen,” said Schleifer. “Traditionally, what you’d have to do is build every single one of the assets in the kitchen — the kitchen itself, all of the knives and forks and get the lighting right. That can take months to do.”
Then a virtual camera rig would need to be designed to shoot it, animators and other crafts people engaged (e.g., sound designers), and a pipeline constructed to handle the workflow.
Nimble is creating a cloud-based network that will make all the assets available for rent or purchase, connect the various craftspeople needed to make them the animation, and give them a virtual space where they can store and share the assets. It will work with preexisting animation tools, both from Autodesk Maya to free, open source tools such as Blender.
It’s Also a Flea Market
The Nimble network will be a place where artisans can sell virtual assets, as well as their services.
“I don’t have to be a director to be able to be able to make money doing my stuff,” said Grignon. “If I see that everybody wants a coffee pot, I can make five different coffee pots and every time someone uses one, I get a little bit of money.”
Nimble also plans create a multi-channel network to distribute, promote and monetize the work of its creators, as well as help creators shop content to outside outlets.
“Traditionally, animation has gone out to film festivals and stuff, which is a tiny little market, and most animation doesn’t make much money,” Grignon said. “You can’t get it in theatrical release unless you’re lucky enough to be a Pixar or a DreamWorks, so we want to give independent animators, a pathway to prosperity.”
Grignon spent time at Pixar, where he worked on the original “Toy Story” (1995), before becoming the founding head of character animation at DreamWorks Animation, where he worked on such films as “Antz,” “Shrek” and “Madagascar” and its two sequels.
Schleifer spent the early 2000s in New Zealand at effects house Weta, working on CGI animation in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, before returning to the U.S. work with Grignon at DreamWorks Animation.
The duo joined co-founded Nimble in November 2014 with another DreamWorks Animation vet, Scott LaFleur (head of platform), and entrepreneur Michael Howse, who previously served as SVP of marketing and business development a 3dfx Interactive (now Nvidia) and CEO and president of Bigfoot Networks, which was acquired by Qualcomm in 2012.
The Big Reveal
Just a year ago, Nimble was working out of LaFleur’s garage. Today, its 18 employees are based in a 4,500-square-foot facility in Mountain View, Calif.
Nimble plans to launch its cloud-based platform as a public beta this fall. In the meantime, it’s working on a pilot program with five filmmakers in its offices, and it will add another 15 projects later this year.
“These are our guinea pigs,” said Grignon. “We’re saying, ‘We’re going to try some things with you, are you okay with that?’ The filmmakers are like, ‘Yeah. I’d have no idea how to do this, so let’s figure stuff out.’”