Unity has recently revealed its intention to pay $1.625 billion for Weta Digital, the iconic visual effects business co-founded by Peter Jackson. You have probably seen Weta Digital’s work, whether or not you know who they are. From “The Lord of the Rings” to “Avatar” to “Shang-Chi,” if it’s a film that people say “you should definitely see in cinemas,” chances are Weta Digital was involved in the visual effects.
Weta Digital was both a team of artists generating visual effects and a team of engineers building many of the technologies used by those artists prior to this purchase. Unity is purchasing those tools and technical teams in particular; the visual effects artistry team, on the other hand, will spin off into its own new entity. The 275+ engineers from Weta Digital will join Unity. The visual effects artists will split off into a separate company called “Weta FX,” with Peter Jackson remaining the largest shareholder. Unity sees Weta FX as one of their “biggest customers in the Media and Entertainment market” moving ahead and the two firms hope to continue working together.
In the meantime, Unity Vita will be responsible for developing many of Digital’s built-in-house tools, such as City Builder (which systematically builds huge 3D cities that we see destroyed in movies like “King Kong”). Manuka (their custom, physics-simulating renderer that helps make everything look oh-so-real in the final version), Gazebo (their faster real-time renderer, used by artists to accurately preview scenes before the much more time-consuming, Simulating hair/fur/smoke/a thousand years of plant growth across an abandoned metropolis or processing motion capture
What is the deal with Weta? To gather his opinions, I dialed Unity SVP Marc Whitten’s number. “Think back ten years,” he said. “Think about 2D photography and how many photographs were made. There was most likely a lot! Nevertheless, let us fast-forward ten years… it has simply become a lot bigger now. In terms of 3D, I believe we’re on the same page.”
“The one difference is those 10 years ago, I… kind of imagined I could shoot a shot,” he says. With 2D, I can do a little bit. However, that is virtually untrue, since every time I press the shutter button on my iPhone, it is probably executing 5 million lines of super-advanced code to transform me into a [photographer].
However, I am now unable to model something in 3D. Over the next ten years, we need to follow the same approach; we need to make sure that this tremendously complex technology runs well.”
In other words, Unity sees a rising need to make 3D modeling easier, and Weta has spent decades working out how to do just that. UnityVeta will also acquire a huge catalog of digital resources – a list of creations that far from being listed, but are long, but think of everything from 3D models of cities, cars or people to algorithms to determine how smoke works. Extinguishing fires in the rain, imitating how a flock of animals could move together through a tree – all of which could potentially find their way into Unity’s pipeline. (This excludes “recognizably obvious IP,” according to Whitten, so do not expect to be able to plunk Gollum into your next game.).
Unity’s greatest acquisition prior to this was the $320 million purchase of Parsec in August of this year. Whitten hinted at the time that the purchase was part of Unity’s bigger cloud aspirations, which this acquisition also fits. “This pipeline is what [Weta Digital’s] tools are,” Whitten explains. “Each tool is powerful on its own, but when used in concert with the others in this pipeline, they all operate seamlessly.” When you make a modification in one tool, it shows up in the correct way when you try to adjust the lighting or compositing in another tool. “Groups of individuals can work together quite well.”
“What we’ll do thereafter,” he says, “is make sure that these cloud capabilities link right into where artists are and where they’re attempting to execute their job – inside of Maya, Houdini, or Unity.” “We feel it’s critical to have this pipeline available on the cloud so that you can easily tap into it from anywhere.” Unity anticipates the purchase to finalize in the fourth quarter of 2021. Prem Akkaraju, the CEO of Weta Digital, will become the CEO of Weta FX, while Joe Marks, the CTO of Weta Digital, will join Unity as the CTO of Weta Digital.