US tech giant Autodesk has bought Auckland startup Moxion in a deal that is understood to run to the tens of millions.
Moxion makes software that delivers digital "dailies". Historically, moviemakers have reviewed dailies at the end of the day - hence the name. But Moxion can be used to get footage to producers and special effects teams while the day's shooting is still taking place - compared to the more traditional dailies process that can take days.
The Kiwi company's technology turns "Dailies" into "Immediates" on a clutch of Hollywood productions, including The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and the just-released The Matrix Resurrections.
"A big movie can cost $50,000 per hour to shoot. So much cheaper to fix things when all the actors are still on set," Moxion co-founder and CEO Hugh Calveley told the Herald.
While US filmmakers have long embraced technology in areas like special effects, workflow organisation tools were more analogue, Calveley said.
"The pandemic forced them to digitise," he said. "While horrible, Covid's actually been quite good for us."
And the Kiwi startup has earned respect in Tinseltown.
In early December, Moxion was honoured with an award from SMPTE, a key industry body that sets technical standards in film and television worldwide. In part, it recognised the Kiwi company's contribution to Hollywood during the outbreak.
"Moxion's ability to deliver near-real-time access to production footage enables both creative and technical teams to make faster and more informed decisions, troubleshoot issues and easily bring remote collaborators into the production process. This capability proved vital to the resumption of work during the global pandemic," SMPTE said. (The initials stand for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.)
"The SMPTE award was the pinnacle of my career," said Calveley.
He formerly worked as a video content editor at TVNZ.
Closer to home Moxion won Startup of the Year and Creative Technology Solution of the Year at the NZ Hi-Tech Awards 2021.
The past year or so has seen a string of tech companies sold offshore, including the $2.3 billion sale of Weta Digital's technology division to US company Unity.
But Calveley emphasised the Autodesk deal involved protections for current staff, and new investment that would create local jobs.
The Autodesk deal "is really good for NZ Inc. They've made a commitment to make New Zealand their down-under hub", the CEO said.
"We had a couple of options on the table, but it was It was really important to us to go with a deal where all our staff maintained their positions and all our customers kept the same level of care and support we'd given them."
Moxion's staff - split between Hollywood and Auckland - has doubled to 28 over the past 12 months.
While plans are still being finalised, Calveley says that could double over the next year under the new ownership.
"They add water," he says, using the startup-speak for accelerating growth.
"We'll be able to do some of the big projects we've always wanted to work on."
Those will include expanding Moxion to become a full "script-to-screen" platform that digitises every element of the film-making process.
Moxion was founded in 2015 by Calveley and film director and editor Mike Lonsdale, who today serves as the company's chief design officer.
No financials have been disclosed, but Calveley says revenue has doubled over each of the past five years.
Shareholders before the deal included Lance Wiggs' Punakaiki Fund, Enterprise Angels, Alt Ventures, the Crown-backed NZGCP and Calveley and Lonsdale.
The CEO won't comment on his cut from the sale, but does offer: "I've just paid off my mortgage."
The deal closed on December 22.
Autodesk, best known for dominating the architecture software field, is listed on the Nasdaq and has a US$57 billion market cap.
The buyout offer emerged through the pair's technology partnership, or at least interaction - Moxion integrates with Autodesk's ShotGrid platform for managing special effects and animations.
Punakaiki's Wiggs told the Herald, "We are long-term, buy-and-hold venture investors, so we were very surprised with this exit, but also very happy for all concerned.
"Our Moxion investment lasted just four months, or just over 100 days when we average the dates of the two tranches. The internal rate of return was quite extraordinary."
"Moxion has carved out an impressive niche, and while we were looking forward to many years of growth, Autodesk are natural owners and will accelerate the next phase of their journey."
String of offshore sales
The Moxion deal is the latest in a string of offshore tech sales this year, which has included Ministry of Health email vendor Crossware, Wellington video game maker A44's sale to a UK fund, robotics specialist Rocos' sale to a US firm, the $100m+ sale of EzyVet, plus the sale of Vend ($455m), Timely ($135m), Seequent ($1.45b), mobile gaming outfit Ninja Kiwi ($203m), Intraheath Systems ($22m) Education Perfect (in a majority-control deal valuing the firm at $455m) and the $500m Hawaiki Cable (a deal now in front of the Overseas Investment Office), while December saw the sale of local retail hero Mighty Ape to Australia's Kogan for $128m.