Example of Runway

One of Runway’s dozens of tools renders photos in the styles of famous artists.

By Patrick Kulp

25 mins ago

A series of research advances over the past few years have unlocked new potential for the use of AI in creative settings, from generating realistic-sounding copy to creating art from scratch. Startup Runway wants to make all of these capabilities accessible to anyone regardless of their coding background in a model similar to the Adobe Creative Suite.

This week, the company raised $8.5 million in a vote of confidence for that ambitious mission with a new funding round led by Amplify Partners with participation from Lux Capital and Compound Ventures. Runway plans to use the money to further its transition from a playground for casual AI enthusiasts to a serious creative tool that has already attracted attention from agencies like R/GA, WPP and VMLY&R and brands such as New Balance and Google.

Rather than creating all of the tools it offers itself, Runway operates like an app store-like hub that hosts dozens of models created by independent developers, and users simply pay for cloud computing time to run them.

The capabilities available on the platform range from state-of-the-art text and image generators to photo styling and editing functions and video production tools. While many of them are meant to be serious creative tools on par with professional competitors, others are whimsical novelties or early-stage experiments. For instance, one module offered is a version of the GPT-2 text generator trained on lyrics from K-pop band BTS; another attempts to create an image from a text description—with decidedly mixed results.

A sampling of some of the tools available on Runway.Runway

Runway founder Cristóbal Valenzuela Barrera said the next stage in the company’s evolution is to focus on building even more accessible interfaces on some of the tools to create a Photoshop-like experience for AI functions, like creating deepfake-like synthetic media or natural language processing.

Barrera said he was inspired by projects from professional clients such as New Balance, which used a generative AI model within the platform to experiment with shoe designs, and R/GA, which used the hub to access research group OpenAI’s GPT-2 copy generator.

“We originally thought of the platform as kind of an easy-to-use and accessible platform to discover AI models … because there are a lot of models and research coming out that are very significant for creatives,” Barrera said. “The next step is going to be basically taking that community and building what we call the next generation of creative tools. That basically translates into taking all those models all those algorithms and then building interfaces on systems that allow people to get production-level results with them.”

Runway is one of a handful of companies that are aiming to turn recent advances in creative AI into more accessible tools for non-coders. Another is Playform AI, which has also seen interest from major agencies and brands and recently launched an ecommerce shop for professional AI art.