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December 7, 2022

Stable Diffusion Collaborator Raises $50M, Touts Democratization of AI-Created Content

Runway tools were used to create this video for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Runway, one of the organizations behind the controversial Stable Diffusion image and video generation model released earlier this year, announced it has closed a Series C round of venture capital funding worth $50 million.

Stable Diffusion is a deep generative neural network that can create images based on text input, similar to OpenAI’s DALL-E. The source code for the AI model, which was created by the CompVis group at the German university LMU Munich, was released publicly in August via a collaboration of Runway, Stability AI, and CompVis LMU.

Stable Diffusion, which was trained on billions of publicly available images, has faced controversy during its short public life over the potential for abuse. In addition to automatically generating surreal images that would fall into the fantasy and sci-fi categories, Stable Diffusion can also be used to create images that violate community standards regarding violence, racial bias, and pornography. While its terms of service forbid that, experts say it’s relatively easy to bypass.

Stable Diffusion is a generative AI model that can create an image based on a few words of input text (Image source: Runway)

Companies behind the AI model nonetheless are moving forward with the technology, which they say puts awesome creative powers into the hands of more people. StabilityAI announced a $101 million funding round in October, and now Runway is getting ready to make its own push into the potentially lucrative realm of AI-generated images and videos.

“As content needs continue to skyrocket, creators will become overwhelmed by the volume of rote tasks their jobs require,” says Runway CEO and Co-Founder, Cristóbal Valenzuela, in a press release. “Runway is pushing the boundaries of creativity and enabling creators to meet these demands and enhance their craft, while saving enterprises and creatives significant amounts of time and money with recent advancements in AI.”

The Series C funding round was led by Felicis, a new investor. It also saw participation from existing investors Amplify Partners, Coatue, Compound, and Lux Capital, as well as Madrona, a new investor. The Series C round brings the total funding for Runway–which was founded in 2018 by Valenzuela, Alejandro Matamala, and Anastasis Germanidis and is based in New York–to $95.5 million. Coatue also is an investor in StablityAI, which reportedly has a valuation above $1 billion.

Runway is also a creator of Latent Diffusion, a diffusion model that can be used to create images. The company plans to make money by selling access to its AI technology, including AI Magic Tools, a suite of more than 30 utilities for generating and editing images. In addition to creating images with just a few words, Runway’s offerings can create images based on other images. It also uses AI to handle basic image editing tasks, like removing backgrounds and objects from images and videos.

“Powered by proprietary cutting-edge AI research, Runway empowers individuals and leading creative teams all over the world to create multimedia content in magical ways and collaborate over a browser in 4K definition,” says Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis in a press release. “We’re thrilled to partner with Cris, Anastasis, and Alejandro as they continue to grow and expand the universe of creative tools at a blazing-fast pace.”

Runway counts CBS, New Balance, Harbor Picture Company, and Publicis as customers. Among the happy users are the graphics team for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which used Runway to speed the development of a recent “Americone Dream” bit for the show (you can view the video here).

“I think if we hadn’t had Runway, it would have been a disaster, and a much bigger lift,” said Late Show Art Director Andro Buneta in an interview posted to the Runway website. “You could kind of pull a key, but there were a lot of rough edges and a lot of stuff was disappearing. The Runway matting process was perfect and it allowed us to actually focus on shadowing reflections.”

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