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Amazon led a $20 million investment in entertainment firm Superplastic, which makes synthetic celebrities such as Janky and Guggimon.
On top of that, the companies announced a multifaceted collaboration where Amazon Studios gets a first look at licensing content created by Superplastic. The two companies have signed a first-look deal to facilitate the creation of additional series and films starring other characters in the Superplastic universe.
“We’re not a product company. We’re not a gaming company. We’re not a tech company. We’re an IP company with entertainment,” said Paul Budnitz, CEO of Superplastic, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re working with them on a whole bunch of other stuff in the background.”
The Alexa Fund, Amazon’s venture capital arm that focuses on new media, smart consumer electronics, ambient intelligence, and other areas of digital technology, led Superplastic’s $20 million Series A extension investment round.
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“It’s part of an overall evolution of our fund — the migration away from just being focused on voice to more on other consumer technology areas,” said Paul Bernard at Amazon, in an interview with GamesBeat. “The germane topic here is new media, which we took on seriously about 18 months ago.”
Other investors include Craft Ventures, Google Ventures, Galaxy Digital, Kering, Sony Japan, Scribble Ventures, Kakao, Animoca Brands, Day One Ventures, and Betaworks.
This latest round brings Superplastic’s total funding to $58 million to date, and supports the expansion of the Superplastic character universe, which has more than 18 million followers. It’s growing at about a million followers a month.
Additionally, The Janky & Guggimon Show, starring the Superplastic synthetic celebrities Janky and Guggimon, is in development at Amazon Studios. The two companies have also signed a first-look deal to facilitate the creation of more streaming shows starring other characters in the Superplastic universe.
“We couldn’t be more enthusiastic,” Bernard said. There is a lot of democratization of content on places like YouTube.
When the company started, Vtubers, or synthetic celebrities, like Lil Miquela, were just getting started. Now it’s not so unusual to be fans of characters who aren’t real.
Janky and Guggimon have had a rapid rise to stardom, from appearing in Fortnite to walking the runway with Tommy Hilfiger to doing ceramic sculptures with Gucci. They did NFTs with Paris Hilton.
“This is where I think the real metaverse is happening,” Bernard said. “People are showing up with avatars and engaging in role-playing interactions with their fans.”
Bernard said he thinks generative AI will further stir the pot and move more creators to become even more creative.
Bernard said, “It’s a signal into the transformation of entertainment content, not being powered just by humans, but by virtual characters. And that has a lot of implications for a business like Amazon’s media business.”
Janky & Guggimon
The Janky & Guggimon Show follows the adventures of two lazy and spectacularly incompetent best friends who are hell-bent on getting rich and famous but leave a trail of chaos and destruction in their wake. The endearing duo includes Janky, the loveable idiot who spends his spare time scamming celebrities, and Guggimon, a fashion icon and master manipulator who’s too narcissistic to care.
While successful merchandise, gaming, and metaverse activations traditionally follow the success of a popular animated series, this is one of the first times that the sequence has been reversed: Superplastic’s synthetic celebrities Janky and Guggimon built a massive fan base on social media before landing a first-look deal on a major streaming service.
Each episode features a cast of animated and human celebrity friends. If ordered to series, it will be available to stream exclusively on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide.
Over time, Budnitz said the company invested in animation tech such as motion capture to produce animations more quickly and with higher quality. That enables the company to respond to fan feedback more quickly. TikTok is usually the most powerful channel.
“Superplastic’s universe of synthetic celebrities have earned a cult following in every medium they’ve touched,” said Superplastic founder and CEO Paul Budnitz. “The new collaboration partnership with Amazon Studios reaches a massive audience and provides a new playground for us to wreak havoc worldwide. We’re grateful for the investment the Amazon Alexa Fund gave us to help us continue to grow the Superplastic Universe.”
“As we expand the Alexa Fund to address a wider range of consumer technologies that include ambient computing, smart devices, and the future of entertainment, we’re very excited to add Superplastic to our portfolio,” said Bernard. “Superplastic’s virtual celebrities delight audiences and meet their customers where they are, and we see them as demonstrative of a new class of IP that is going to be increasingly relevant with younger generations. We are excited to be an investor and to continue to help Superplastic and Amazon’s Media and Entertainment teams identify more ways to delight customers.”
Superplastic is a Vermont-based character design studio that sells tens of millions of dollars in real and virtual products annually and has collaborated with Gucci, Fortnite, Mercedes-Benz, Tommy Hilfiger, Christie’s Auction House, J. Balvin, Kidsuper, Pusha-T, Paris Hilton, Post Malone, The Weeknd, Vince Staples, Rico Nasty, and more.
Amazon Studios makes original films and television series for a global audience. Original series premiere exclusively on Prime Video, which is available in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide.
The companies crafted a quote from Janky, who said, “We went frum snatchin’ Amazon boxes off porches, to gettin’ Amazon bags, baby. My fans will finally get 2 watch me french kiss my Off-White woodchipper and other $%iT we got planned! Superplastic quadrupled my life insurunce policy and Paul Budnitz already started a Go Fund me page to pay fur my funeral!”
How it came together
Budnitz said the company was approached by multiple studios to make a show about its characters. Superplastic actually came about by making animated characters first and then turning them into sensations on social media. In the old way, someone would create a show with characters and sell it to a studio right away. But that means creators can often lose control.
Superplastic wanted to create a universe with animated characters and still control its own intellectual property. That’s why it started with social media as its No. 1 platform. It always had the intention to take the characters to multiple media, Budnitz said.
“That was a way to make them super famous and then integrate their stories into everything from different revenue streams,” Budnitz said.
The relationship with Amazon started early in the process because Amazon was one of the early investors.
“They came to us and gave us the deal we wanted,” Budnitz said. “They essentially treated our characters like actors, that we retain complete control of them. We agreed. They were just really awesome. So I think the deal itself is a bit different. I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
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