Unity to buy Peter Jackson's New Zealand-based Weta Digital for $1.6b

Unity wants to make Weta Digital's library of tools and assets accessible in the cloud for other creators.

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Image: Unity/Weta Digital

Unity has announced its intent to purchase Weta Digital, the visual effects company co-founded by New Zealand film director Sir Peter Jackson, for $1.6 billion.

Weta Digital is best known as the creative studio that pushes the boundaries when it comes to visual effects and animation. Some of its most popular works are seen in award-winning films such as Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes, Avatar, Game of Thrones, and more.

Under the acquisition, Unity will acquire Weta Digital's proprietary graphics and VFX tools, such as Manuka, Lumberjack, Loki, Squid, Barbershop, HighDef, and CityBuilder, which the company plans to make available to creators through a cloud-based workflow in the future.  

Additionally, Unity will inherit the asset library from Weta Digital as part of the acquisition. This will include urban and natural environments, flora and fauna, humans, man-made objects, materials, and textures.

"By combining the power of Unity and Weta Digital, the tools and technology that built characters and scenes from the world's most iconic films such as Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and Wonder Woman, will enable an entirely new generation of creators to build, transform, and distribute stunning RT3D content," Unity CEO John Riccitiello said.

Explaining further about Unity's plans to democratise Weta Digital's VFX tool, Unity Create Solutions senior vice president and general manager Marc Whitten wrote in a blog post that Weta Digtial's capabilities would be linked with Unity's existing content tools and services, such as SpeedTree and Pixyz.  

"Our intent is to cloud-enable these tools and ensure they easily integrate with the workflows artists already use. It should be easy to take advantage of these advanced capabilities directly in the digital content creation tools such as Maya and Houdini; and it should be easy to move and manipulate content into the Unity engine and more," he said.

Weta's Digital team of 275 engineers will also join Unity, as will Weta CTO Joe Marks as CTO of Weta Digital.

Meanwhile, Weta Digital's VFX team will be spun out into a new entity called WetaFX, which will be headed up by Weta Digital's current CEO Prem Akkaraju. Jackson will also retain majority ownership of WetaFX. Both companies are expected to work together, where WetaFX is expected to become Unity's "largest customer in the media and entertainment space". 

"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," Jackson said.

The deal is expected to close during Unity's 2021 Q4. 

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