Former Magic Leap CEO Now Building Synthetic Characters

Rony Abovitz, who stepped down as chief exec of augmented reality company Magic Leap in 2020, is now heading Sun and Thunder, a startup focused on synthetic characters and interactive storytelling made possible by spatial computing. That latter goal leans into the work Abovitz did at Magic Leap to create mixed reality experiences. Abovitz said Sun and Thunder is building its own technology platform, the TREX101, and output isn’t tied to any specific media or platform. Meanwhile, Magic Leap is now headed by former Microsoft executive Peggy Johnson.

VentureBeat reports that Abovitz, who is still on the Magic Leap board, said Sun and Thunder has fewer than 10 people and will take some time to achieve its goals. “I’m conscious that I’m on at least a 15-year journey to make and build some underlying tech and also the creative top,” he said.

The first phase is what he calls “an early experimental interface” that he dubs “supernova.” “The technologies we are building are about amplifying human intelligence and human creativity,” explained Abovitz, who said that this year the company will try to make “some short films that show people what it is experimenting with.”

He’s stated that the company 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.” Inspirations for the work include “early animation studios, mythopoeia concepts pioneered by the Inklings, and the freewheeling and creative spirit of music labels such as Island Records.”

He cautioned that his AI characters will not replace people but instead will work in harmony with them to co-create “a better planet and a social good.”

The first AI character, Jako Vega (aka Yellow Dove), is a “vagabond singer” much like Woody Guthrie, who “moves across space and time.” “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,” said Abovitz, who described him as “the first artist on Sun and Thunder Records.”

The first short film features Yellow Dove, who starts in a room but then “goes outside and teaches us about the world.” “Our Pinocchio right now has strings,” said Abovitz. “But over time, we keep cutting those strings over 10 to 15 years.” He added that Yellow Dove “ultimately will be writing all of his lyrics and adventures.”

Abovitz is currently funding Sun and Thunder, but “is in discussions with possible investors.” He added that Sun and Thunder is “a different kind of company” than Magic Leap. “We are not trying to build a massive amount of hardware and take on like the largest tech companies in the world,” he said. “It’s not the best metaphor, but this is like a craft beer. Or something Studio Ghibli would do.”