Unity is buying Peter Jackson’s visual effects company for $1.6B

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Unity has announced that it’s entered a definitive agreement to acquire Peter Jackson’s visual effects company Weta Digital for $1.6 billion.

Weta Digital has worked on hit films including Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Wonder Woman, and Black Widow. Unity says its acquisition will “democratise” Weta’s powerful tools to make them available for more creators.

“Weta Digital’s pipeline represents the most complete toolchain for 3D creation, simulation, and rendering ever created,” wrote Marc Whitten, SVP and GM of Unity Create, in a blog post.

“The unified tools and the incredible scientists and technologists of Weta Digital will accelerate our mission to give content creators easy to use and high performance tools to bring their visions to life.”

Weta was co-founded by Peter Jackson in 1993 and was used to create popular animated characters including Gollum from Lord of the Rings, Caesar from Planet of the Apes, and Neyriti from Avatar.

“Weta Digital’s tools created unlimited possibilities for us to bring to life the worlds and creatures that originally lived in our imaginations,” said Sir Peter Jackson, Chairman & Co-Founder of Weta Digital.

“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 has provided a “sneak peek” of a number of solutions that will be coming under its stewardship:

  • Manuka: A flagship path-tracing renderer used to generate final frames that can produce physically accurate results based upon specific spectral lighting profiles.
  • Gazebo: The core interactive renderer used for viewing scenes in real-time with visual fidelity inside any pipeline attached application. 
  • Loki: Used for physics-based simulation of visual effects including water, fire, smoke, hair, cloth, muscles, and plants. 
  • Physically-based workflows: Tools including PhysLight, PhysCam, and HDRConvert provide the foundation for lighting and color workflows.
  • Koru: A puppet rigging system optimised for speed and multi-character performance.
  • Facial Tech: Uses machine learning to support the direct manipulation of facial muscles and transferring of an actor’s face capture onto a target (puppet) model.  
  • Barbershop: A suite of tools for hair and fur that supports the entire workflow from growth through grooming.
  • Tissue: Enables the creation of biologically-accurate anatomical character models with realistic behaviors of muscle and skin.
  • Apteryx: Provides artists with a complete workflow for animated feathered creatures and costumes.  
  • World Building: Relevant tools include Scenic Designer and Citybuilder to support world building, layout, and set dressing ranging from planet-scale to small-scale scenes. 
  • Lumberjack: Provides the core toolset for vegetation and includes modeling, editing, and deformation tools. Artists can author and edit plant topology including animated geometry, manage levels of detail, instancing, and variability among individual assets.  
  • Totara: A procedural growth and simulation system for vegetation and biomes that integrates with Lumberjack to create large-scale and complex scenes procedurally. 
  • Eddy: An advanced liquid, smoke, and fire compositing plug-in for refining volumetric effects. 
  • Production Review: Relevant tools include HiDef and ShotSub which form the foundation for production review. HiDef is a core tool for production review, with features for note taking, version browsing, and more that’s integrated with a color-accurate browser and playback engine. ShotSub is a core tool for production review, with tools to prepare artist work for review with the appropriate color space, frame ranges, and settings for frame rate and resolution.  
  • Live Viewing: These tools support the mixing of computer-generated (CG) content in real-time with on-set camera feeds.  
  • Projector: A production tool which supports scheduling, resourcing, and prediction, with controls for data access and analytics to improve production decision-making.

Unity will also be acquiring Weta Digital’s vast asset library which includes urban and natural environments, flora and fauna, humans, man-made objects, materials, textures, and more.

The solutions will continue to be used for major film and TV productions but will now help to support game development and more.

“Our goal is to put these world-class, exclusive VFX tools into the hands of millions of creators and artists around the world, and once connected with the Unity platform, enable the next generation of RT3D creativity,” continues Whitten in his blog post.

“Whatever the metaverse is or will be, we believe it will be built by content creators, just like you.”

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