Published: 17th March 2021
How three small-town boys from TN came together to democratise the 3D world
HighAvenue is a mobile app using which anyone can generate a 3D character within a minute or so, by just inputting three photos of themselves
When COVID hit, like many small start-ups and businesses, Pradeep Baskaran, Soorya Sankar and Terrance Abilan had to give up on their office space because of the lockdown situation. After struggling to work remotely for a while, they realised that all the reasons why they were staying in Chennai did not apply to them anymore. The three young men all hailed from small towns in Tamil Nadu and they didn’t see why they could not just set up shop there. So, for the last few months, the trio’s Highavenue Creative Labs has been functioning out of a 2BHK flat in Narasankuppam, outside of the Anupuram DAE township.
The trio converted their living room into an office space, with four desks, two systems and a rented workstation. When they couldn’t get access to a workstation, they would borrow from other start-ups for an hour to finish their work. For food, the trio says that they depended on Pradeep’s mother for sambar, rasam and, on occasion, biryani too! With all these limitations and restrictions, including a personal loss to COVID, the three managed to create the Highavenue mobile app. Using this, anyone can generate a 3D character of themselves within a minute or so, and they managed to build this product in only ten weeks. The user just has to use three photos of themselves as the input and they can apply the different ready-made animations that are generated to the model and record some fun, attractive videos in Augmented Reality.
“Unlike other AR consumer platforms, our vision is to democratise the creation of 3D animated scenes. Anybody should be able to create a short 3D animation of 15 to 30 seconds with their smartphone and even be a part of it. Usually, 3D animations need big tools to build, weeks to learn and hours to create. Not just that, it involves various stages like modelling, rigging, texturing and then, animating it. With Highavenue, we solved the modelling, rigging and texturing part of the problem by automating the creation of 3D characters,” says Pradeep. “Anybody can just hop into a 3D scene, select a character that they want to play and start acting. It's as simple as that. This opens a new realm of opportunities for creators and the way we tell our stories,” he explains.
Even though their journey took a bit of a backseat when COVID struck, what it was prior to it was also not an easy one, albeit interesting. Twenty nine-year-old Pradeep from Kalpakam DAE township dabbled in a couple of jobs before he decided to drop it all and start something new. Soorya was his first full-time hire. Soorya from Kurichi, a small village near Bhavani in Erode district, had been a coder since his college days and had already been freelancing for vendors around Coimbatore. The duo have been working for the last two and half years on building applications for the web, mobile and augmented reality. And then the duo met Terrance from Thoothukudi, who joined the company as an intern. When it comes to animation, his colleagues say he is the master of all tools.
“We were all from middle-class families, from small towns, who loved games and the visual industry. We weren’t from the IITs or IIMs but we had a hunger to prove ourselves,” the trio tells us. “Highavenue, as a start-up, gave full-time employment to five people in 2018 and 2019, and also gave intern opportunities to more than 15 students across India from top universities. With a considerable amount of profit saved, we started to work on our product full-time from November 2020,” Pradeep tells us. “COVID had already made things very difficult for us. We were on the verge of going bankrupt, Soorya and Terrance had to work full-time without salary for three months. Finally, after a lot of hustle and building free prototypes for multiple clients, we managed to get one of our regular customers to land a project. We were finally able to pay back all of our debt, transferred all the pending salaries and also earned profits,” a proud Pradeep says.
“It's been really fun to stay, cook and work together. In February, we started rolling out our product to the outside world through channels like ProductHunt, Hackernews, Facebook groups, subreddits etc. Our unpopular opinion that you don't need a network to build a company came true. We are seeing a good amount of week-on-week growth, a few investors have contacted us, people around the world have started connecting with us on LinkedIn, high profile technical and marketing people have contacted us to check for collaboration opportunities, we even had an offer to acquire our product,” the trio tells us.
Having overcome several hurdles along the way, the team has a renewed confidence in their abilities now, “We are certainly confident about what we are building and in our vision to democratise 3D animation. We built this product within ten weeks and shipped it out mid-January. We are iterating the product rapidly, fixing bugs, building minor features, talking to users repeatedly. It's the love for animations, cartoons and consumer platforms that drives us,” the team says.