Peter Jackson Sells Weta Digital’s VFX Division to Unity for $1.625 Billion

Peter Jackson Sells Weta Digital’s VFX Division to Unity for $1.625 Billion

Peter Jackson has sold the technology division of the visual effects company he co-founded, Weta Digital, to Unity Technologies for a staggering $1.625 billion. Under the terms of the agreement, Unity will acquire Weta Digital for $1 billion in cash and $625 million in stock, Variety is reporting.

In return, Unity will obtain Weta Digital’s suite of VFX tools and technology. Weta Digital’s team of 275 engineers will also join Unity’s Create Solutions division, which will be led by SVP and general manager, Marc Whitten. Joe Marks, Weta’s chief technology officer, will join Unity as CTO of Weta Digital.

The deal will make the tools the Academy Award-winning Jackson used to create such notable characters as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and Caesar from The Planet of the Apes trilogies available to creators all over the world. The tools will be accessible through a cloud-based workflow, with software-as-a-service pricing to be announced at a later time.

Besides the Lord of the Rings and The Planet of the Apes franchises, Weta Digital’s award-winning visual effects have also appeared in such movies and television shows as Avatar, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, The Suicide Squad, Game of Thrones and The Umbrella Academy. Now the tools the company’s VFX team uses will become available to filmmakers outside of Hollywood.

Jackson said in a statement provided to Variety, “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.

John Riccitiello, Unity’s president and CEO, also released a statement, saying: “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.”

Weta Digital’s VFX and animation teams will continue to exist as a standalone entity, known as WetaFX. The company is expected to become Unity’s largest customer in the media. WetaFX, which has approximately 1,700 employees, will remain majority-owned by Jackson and led by CEO Prem Akkaraju.

Weta Digital previously evaluated commercializing the tools itself. But it ultimately decided that selling the technology assets to Unity, which will be using its scale and cloud-oriented strategy, was the best way to bring them to market, Akkaraju said.

The Wellington, New Zealand-based Weta Digital is the largest single-site VFX studio in the world, as it employs artists from more than 40 countries. The company’s tools provide a range of features, including advanced facial capture and manipulation, anatomical modeling, advance simulation and deformation of objects in movement, and procedural hair and fur modeling.

Unity said that once the acquisition goes through, it will remain focused on the continued development of Weta Digital’s dozens of proprietary graphics and VFX tools, which include Manuka, Lumberjack, Loki, Squid, Barbershop, HighDef, Koru and CityBuilder. The deal also includes Weta’s foundational data platform for interoperable 3D art creation and a library of thousands of assets that the WetaFX team will continue to produce.

Jackson co-founded Weta in 1993 to produce the digital special effects for his psychological drama, Heavenly Creatures. The filmmaker and his wife, Fran Walsh, owns the majority of the company, which is privately held Weta Digital. The other shareholders are Akkaraju, Weta Digital senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri and Sean Parker.

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