Unity Is Buying The Tech Assets Of Oscar-Winning ‘Lord of the Rings’ VFX House Weta For $1.625 billion


Lord of the Rings
Image: Net Ease / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Unity Technologies, the company behind the game engine of the same name, is purchasing the tech assets of Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital VFX house, it has been revealed.

The two firms have entered into a definitive agreement that will see Unity acquire Weta Digital’s proprietary technology for $1.625 billion, with the purchase being made up of a combination of cash and stock. The deal is expected to be finalised before the end of 2021.

Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Weta was founded in 1993 by Jackson, Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk in order to produce the digital special effects work for Jackson’s movie Heavenly Creatures. It would later find fame as the effects studio behind Jackson’s wildly successful The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie franchises and was also involved with the effects on James Cameron’s Avatar (it is currently working with Cameron on the sequels, too).

More recently, Weta has worked on movies such as Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad and Black Widow. Weta has earned several Academy Awards and BAFTAs over the past few decades.

The deal effectively splits Weta in two; the half which Unity has acquired will be still be called Weta Digital and is essentially the tech ‘assets’ of the original Weta. However, Peter Jackson will remain in control of his visual effects business, a separate company now known as WetaFX.

Weta Digital’s Prem Akkaraju will become CEO of WetaFX, while Weta’s CTO Joe Marks joins Unity to oversee Weta Digital. Unity will also benefit from Weta’s 275 engineers and will take on the company’s proprietary technology – which includes the firm’s cloud service and tools, such ‘Manuka’ and ‘Gazebo’ renderers, ‘Barbershop’ hair and fur system, the ‘Loki’ physics-based simulation tool, and its facial capture technology.

Unity is famous for its work in the realm of video game engines, and its Unity engine is used in thousands of games – including, it would seem, the latest Pokémon entry on Switch. However, Unity is looking for ways to expand into new areas, one of which is ‘virtual production’ in TV and movies.

Speaking about the deal, Jackson said:

Weta Digital’s tools created unlimited possibilities for us to bring to life the worlds and creatures that originally lived in our imaginations. Together, Unity and Weta Digital can create a pathway for any artist, from any industry, to be able to leverage these incredibly creative and powerful tools. Offering aspiring creatives access to Weta Digital’s technology will be nothing short of game changing and Unity is just the company to bring this vision to life.

Unity President and CEO John Riccitiello added:

We are thrilled to democratize these industry-leading tools and bring the genius of Sir Peter Jackson and Weta’s amazing engineering talent to life for artists everywhere.