The special effects studio co-founded by Sir Peter Jackson, which has brought blockbusters including Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones to life, has been sold for more than $1.6bn, in the latest blow to New Zealand’s film and TV industry.
The cash and shares deal, which will see Weta Digital sold to US-based video game company Unity Software for $1.63bn, comes less than three months after Amazon made the shock decision to move its $1bn-plus development of a small screen adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LOTR) from New Zealand to the UK after shooting just one series.
The US-listed Unity said the visual special effect tools created by Weta Digital, which has built characters and scenes from film spanning Avatar, LOTR, Wonder Woman and Planet of the Apes, will now be “democratised” and put in the hands of “millions of creators and artists around the world”.
“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, chairman and co-founder of Weta Digital. "Juntos, 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.”
Unity said the technology behind Weta’s award-winning work, including creating the effects behind Gollum as well as effects for hits including Black Widow and The Suicide Squad, will now be integrated into its platform to “shape the future of the metaverse”.
“We are thrilled to democratise these industry-leading tools,” said John Riccitello, chief executive of the US-listed Unity, which saw its share price rise more than 5% on news of the deal. Unity offers software tools to developers to make their games more life-like.
Unity was that as part of the deal it would add the Wellington-based company’s 275 engineers to its workforce. sin embargo, the deal will be seen as something of a blow to New Zealand’s prolific film and TV industry.
Weta Digital’s visual special effects and animation teams will continue to exist as a standalone entity and will become Unity’s largest customer in the media and entertainment space. WetaFX, which employs about 1,700 personal, will remain majority owned by Jackson.
Jackson co-founded Weta in 1993 to produce digital special effects for the film Heavenly Creatures. Shareholders include his wife, Fran Walsh, chief executive Prem Akkaraju and Napster founder Sean Parker.