Google, Legendary and Others Invest $542M in Magic Leap

Magic Leap Art - H 2014
Courtesy of Magic Leap, Inc.

Magic Leap Art - H 2014

The Florida-based company seeks to revolutionize visual technology

Magic Leap, which has been working on a secretive visual technology that some say could revolutionize the entertainment industry, is set to announce Tuesday a $542 million investment led by Google and including separate stakes taken by Legendary Entertainment and its CEO, Thomas Tull.

Tull told The Hollywood Reporter that he was so blown away by demonstrations of Magic Leap’s lightweight, wearable device that delivers an immersive experience for the user, that he took a minority stake in the company, and so did Legendary.

Magic Leap has been showing filmmakers, rock bands, game developers and others its technology, always under a nondisclosure agreement, though insiders speculate a consumer product could still be a couple of years away.

“When you walk out of their headquarters, your head is spinning,” Tull told THR. “They say, ‘Look up. A dragon’s going to fly into the room.’ And that’s exactly what happens. It’s startling.”

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Magic Leap, based in Dania Beach, Florida, was founded by CEO Rony Abovitz, who raised $50 million for the firm in February. The new round, to be announced on Tuesday, includes not only Google, Legendary and Tull, but also KKR, Vulcan, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz and Obvious Ventures. In 2004, Abovitz co-founded a surgical robotics company that nine years later sold for $1.65 billion.

Sundar Pichai, senior vp of Android, Chrome and apps at Google, will join Magic Leap’s board of directors. Tull said he may join, as well, and Magic Leap expects to announce an advisory group in the coming months that includes several people from the entertainment industry, although its products could be used in other areas, such as medicine and education.

While terms of the investments weren’t disclosed, people close to the negotiations say the funding round values the entire firm at roughly $1.2 billion.

Magic Leap is usually described as a virtual or augmented reality company, much like Oculus Rift, another firm in which Tull is invested.

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“Thinking about this in terms of 3D is inaccurate. It really is completely immersive all the way around you,” said Tull, who was careful not to specifically reveal what he saw at Magic Leap. “This is not like going to an Imax. It’s much more personal. You can do it at home or in a car. You could really get creative, but you’re not bound by your physical location.”

Magic Leap has quietly been building buzz in Hollywood for several months, even though it's not exactly clear what the exact ramifications of the technology are yet. An earlier stakeholder, and one of its board members, is Richard Taylor, a co-founder of Weta Workshop, the special-effects company known chiefly for the Lord of the Rings movie franchise.

“We’re looking for new words to express what we’re doing,” Abovitz told THR. “An analogy I’ve been using is: Kids growing up with Magic Leap will be doing what Harry Potter did, not watching or reading it. Doing it. I know that sounds a bit out there, but that’s exactly the experience. Imagine being one of the kids in Hogwarts, interacting with the ghosts, with a magic wand that works. That’s what we’re doing."

He added: “It’s a whole new medium, like [when] radio, film and TV were new. Whether you’re a kid in India who wants to make something amazing on our platform or a major Hollywood studio that wants to make something tied into a tentpole film, we’re going to enable it all.”