Unity, the company behind the popular Unity game development software suite, has announced it intends to acquire the tools, technology, and certain key engineering staff from Weta Digital, the visual effects house known for its work on The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Jungle Book, and Avatar.
Weta Digital was co-founded in 1993 by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk. Back then, the company spearheaded special effects on Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures. It’s one of several Wellington-based production companies owned by Jackson. The company has gone on to win numerous Academy Awards and remains a popular hire within the world of film VFX.
The deal, worth $US1.6 billion ($2.2 billion), represents a major push from Unity to expand its platform’s utility to VFX teams in addition to game developers. It also allows Unity to compete more directly with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, which was famously picked up by Industrial Light & Magic in its work on The Mandalorian. Unreal’s aptitude for real-time rendering was attractive to Lucasfilm and became an integral part of its ongoing Star Wars productions. With the competition making moves like that, Unity doesn’t want to be left behind.
According to the press release, Unity intends to acquire Weta Digital through cash and stocks. It says it expects the deal to be finalised within its fourth quarter. The acquisition will see around 75 of Weta Digital’s engineers move to Unity, along with many of Weta’s proprietary tools and pipelines.
What should be noted here is that the actual VFX teams at Weta Digital are not part of this deal. Rather, they will become part of a new entity, WetaFX, over which Peter Jackson maintains majority ownership. Weta Digital is also entirely separate from Weta Workshop, which specialises in hand-made props and costumes.