Unity, the video game engine company, has acquired Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings effects studio Weta Digital in a $1.625 billion deal. Under the terms of the proposed deal, which is not final, Unity will get Weta Digital’s “tools, pipeline, technology, and engineering talent.”
In announcing the deal, Unity said the long-term goal is to use the acquisition to help create a metaverse.
“Ultimately, this acquisition is designed to put Weta’s incredibly exclusive and sophisticated visual effects (VFX) tools into the hands of millions of creators and artists around the world, and once integrated onto the Unity platform, enable the next generation of RT3D creativity and shape the future of the metaverse,” Unity said.
In a press release, Unity said Weta Digital’s teams will “continue to exist as a standalone entity” known as WetaFX. Going forward, Unity said it expects WetaFX to be Unity’s biggest customer in the media and entertainment spaces.
Peter Jackson remains the majority owner of WetaFX, and the current CEO, Prem Akkaraju, is staying on board as part of the buyout.
“Weta Digital’s tools created unlimited possibilities for us to bring to life the worlds and creatures that originally lived in our imaginations,” Jackson said. “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 CEO John Riccitiello, the former CEO of Electronic Arts, said Unity and Weta working together will “enable an entirely new generation” of creators to bring worlds to life.
Weta Digital is perhaps best known for its work on The Lord of the Rings, but its projects go well beyond Middle-earth. It’s also done work for Avatar, Black Widow, Game of Thrones, Planet of the Apes, The Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and other franchises.
“Unity is the best at delivering world-class tools and technology to creators. Together we have the opportunity to make Weta Digital’s award-winning, high-end artist pipeline and tools, which are in a class by themselves, accessible to a much broader audience of artists than what has been historically possible,” Akkaraju said. “Weta’s goal has always been to inspire and motivate a whole new generation of creators and it’s exciting to pass the mantle over to Unity. I see a future where more and more content shares the same level of visual fidelity as Avatar and Game of Thrones and Unity is the ideal company to lead us into this future.”
As mentioned, Unity believes the metaverse is coming, and buying Weta and ultimately making its tools and pipelines available to people more broadly could help accelerate the metaverse’s arrival.
“By moving these high-fidelity tools and assets to the cloud, Unity and Weta Digital will open new possibilities for creators to use the canvas they already know and love, while getting access to incredibly powerful artist tools, procedural building blocks, and scalable content,” Unity said. “Creators will have the power to improve processes and simplify production, with stable, predictable results that approach perfection, while ultimately building their own part of the metaverse.”
In 2020, Weta Digital faced an investigation over allegations of a toxic workplace environment. Employees shared stories about experiencing bullying and harassment, in addition to a culture of sexism, at the acclaimed New Zealand-based effects studio.
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