On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Magic Leap, the much-hyped augmented reality (ar) startup, laid off 1,000 employees — around half its workforce. The company’s CEO Rony Abovitz confirmed the restructuring in a blog post, but didn’t specify the number of layoffs. Having spoken to a Magic Leap employee, who requested anonymity, Cartoon Brew can report that 80–120 animation jobs were lost.
Abovitz founded the company in 2010 in Plantation, Florida. For years, it secretively developed its flagship product, the Magic Leap One ar headset, while amassing over $2 billion from major investors like AT&T and Alphabet. The $2,300 headset was unveiled in 2017 and essentially marketed as an entertainment system for the general public, complete with games and other creative apps.
In his post, Abovitz explains that the company is shutting its consumer business to focus on “the enterprise side.” He ascribes the pivot to the coronavirus crisis, but Bloomberg notes that the Magic Leap One was already a relative failure: “[The] company had already started to shift its strategy to selling its products to large companies in the healthcare, industrial, and financial sectors after slower-than-expected consumer adoption of the headset it developed.” Dozens of employees were laid off late last year, according to a report in The Information.
According to our source, there were two teams producing entertainment content for the company’s products. Magic Leap Studios was based in the Florida HQ, while Weta Gameshop — a division of vfx titan Weta Workshop, with which Magic Leap had a close partnership — was in Wellington, New Zealand. Each team contained 40–60 staff: animators, riggers, designers, programmers, TDs etc. The Florida staff included at least six designers, four concept artists, four animators, three art directors, two character modelers, two riggers, and two fx artists. Both studios have been effectively liquidated.
Our source, who worked in Magic Leap Studios, describes a workplace full of “amazing talent” undermined by “poorly functioning leadership” at the very top of the group. They add: “Middle management was not aware of any issues until the announcement. Only senior-most and board of directors were aware of cuts.”
Magic Leap Studios will shut down with a legacy of well-received (if little seen) ar works, including Tónandi, a musical experience produced with the band Sigur Rós; Pancake Pals, a quirky culinary game; The Last Light, an immersive film that was supposed to debut at this year’s canceled SXSW festival; and a Star Wars demo never released to the public.
Our source regrets that the company’s restructuring likely spells the end for its entertainment projects: “Technically the Magic Leap One device is a marvel and I’m really proud of the work that is there… The treasure trove of unused IP library that employees generated for the company will likely also fade out of memory.”
Below, watch a journalist from The Verge demo the headset in 2018 in the video:
(Image at top: “Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders” by Magic Leap Studios.)