Toronto-based VFX startup MARZ raises $5.3M to develop AI technology solutions

Technology and visual effects startup Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies (MARZ) has raised $5.3 million in Series A funding. The investment was led by Round13 Captial with participation from Rhino Ventures and Harlo Equity Partners. MARZ plans to use the funding to grow its core VFX business and accelerate the development of its ‘AI for VFX’ technology solutions.

The Toronto-based studio launched in 2018 and is developing AI solutions that aim to address some of the challenges faced by the entertainment industry regarding VFX capacity shortage spurred by streaming wars, the corresponding explosion of on-demand content and the importance of VFX in driving subscriber growth.

“We will use the funds to accelerate research and development of our ‘AI for VFX’ solutions, of which there are two AI products currently in development,” MARZ co-founder and co-president Jonathan Bronfman told TechCrunch in an email. “In line with this, funding will be allocated to the hiring of key personnel in our research, engineering and product organizations. The funding will also be used to grow our hardware capabilities and infrastructure, which will help to meaningfully shorten AI research and development, as well as increase capacity efficiency for both our AI products.”

Bronfman said that while the majority of funding will be allocated to the development of proprietary AI solutions, it will also help the company accelerate its growth in its traditional VFX services business, which he says is synergistic with MARZ’s AI business.

The company has worked on 88 projects in its first three years since launch, including Marvel’s “WandaVision,” HBO’s “Watchmen,” Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” and Apple TV+’s “Invasion.” MARZ completed 13 projects in its first year, 21 in its second year and 54 in its third year.

MARZ has grown from 45 employees in 2019 to 194 today, with plans to grow its team to 300 over the next year. Of the current employees, more than a quarter are focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Although the company is based in Toronto, MARZ is a remote-first company with a distributed workforce based in cities around the world, including Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal, Madrid, Los Angeles, Melbourne, London, Moscow, Mumbai, and Mexico City.

“Our mission is to democratize VFX and in doing so to empower creatives around the globe to produce the most ambitious video content possible — whether that be a streaming service or Hollywood studio, gaming studio, metaverse developer, or a talented up-and-comer who wants to integrate VFX into their social media content.” Bronfman wrote.

The company plans to create a suite of automated AI-driven products that are integrated into both VFX and gaming technology. For Hollywood, MARZ’s products will aim to allow for the ability to create more ambitious content. Regarding other markets like the end consumer, Bronfman says MARZ’s solutions will aim to make VFX accessible for the first time ever. 

​​“MARZ is one of the fastest-growing VFX studios in the industry with a reputation for leveraging technology to deliver a best-in-class product within record timelines,” said Brahm Klar, a partner at Round13 Capital, in a statement. “By partnering with MARZ, alongside some of Canada’s most successful investors, we can work closely with the team to build on the company’s extraordinary success so far.”