This Startup Aims to Use AI and Blockchain Technology to Empower Artists

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

This Startup Aims to Use AI and Blockchain Technology to Empower Artists
Mattia Cuttini's "Produkt Hi-res-50-10" is a culmination of the Italian visual artist's 12 years of creative experimentation with rubber stamps and Xerox machines, which he sold earlier this year for over $5,000 on digital art marketplace SuperRare.

But Cuttini cannot take sole credit for the piece. Some is due to the artificial intelligence software that he fed with dozens of abstract images he's crafted over the years and which synthesized them into the new creation.

Mattia Cuttini's "Produkt Hi-res-50-10"

Mattia Cuttini's "Produkt Hi-res-50-10"

Playform, the company behind the software, wants to provide more visual artists with technology that serves as a creative partner and can generate novel digital artworks based on the artist's previous works. Backed by Khosla Ventures, the company's technology stems from founder Ahmed Elgammal's research.

Now the startup is shifting its center of gravity to Los Angeles.

"What we want to do is create a world in which artists can make a living doing what they love," said Jennifer Chang, the Southern California native who the company announced Friday will take over as CEO.

Formerly head of marketing for the remote company, Chang inherits the mantle from outgoing CEO Ahmed Elgammal, a computer science professor at Rutgers who will remain the company's chief technology officer.

A work by Chris Trueman created with Playform

The rising popularity of NFTs has provided digital artists with new financial opportunities, enabling their works to more easily be certified as authentic, thanks to the blockchain.

Cuttini is one of about 15,000 artists who've used Playform, Chang said. He's also one of about 35 who've worked with the company as part of its residency program, through which Playform provides artists access to its software, co-markets the output, and takes a percentage of the sale.

"Between all these new, emerging technologies like AI, which is creating new ways of producing artworks, and blockchain, which is creating new ways of selling artworks, this is the time of the artist; they're in a position that just wasn't accessible before, other than to a very select few," Chang said.


Playform is one of several generative AI tools available to artists. Some, like Runway ML, are available for free with limited features. Many require some degree of technical know-how.

To use Playform, artists need not know how to code. They feed a set of images to the software, which uses a type of AI invented in 2014 called a "generative adversarial network" to create novel pieces. The model can work with as few as 30 inputted images, a relatively low input volume for GANs. Processing time varies depending on the variety of the inputted images, but can take as little as 30 minutes, Chang said. The software includes several features for artists to guide the output.

The company charges $5 per hour of usage, or a monthly subscription fee.

Copyright ownership can get murky when human artists work alongside machines to generate new creations, but Playform gives artists full control of the IP.

"We're committed to empowering artists and helping them succeed," said Chang, who earned her MBA from USC and considers creativity the consistent theme in her career path.

The new CEO has worked in Disney's ABC division and at numerous startups focused on helping creative people develop monetization opportunities. For her, Playform is a new opportunity to bolster creative people through technology.

Artificial intelligence poses an ever present threat of replacing humans in any realm where it is deployed. But Chang sees Playform, along with technologies like the blockchain, as tools poised to help rather than harm artists.

"This new ecosystem provides the infrastructure necessary to really enable digital artists to thrive," she said.

Chang inherits a company with 10 full-time employees distributed across North America and Asia, but anticipates growing her team through her L.A. network and capitalizing on the region's artistic community.

"This is a very creative city and it's full of really creative talent," she said, "and I'm really excited to be building a business here."

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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