Wednesday, November 10th, 2021 Posted by Jim Thacker

Unity acquires Weta Digital for $1.6 billion

Originally posted on 10 November 2021. The deal has now been formally completed.

Unity is to acquire six-time Oscar-winning VFX firm Weta Digital for $1.625 billion, including its engineering team, proprietary software, and in-house asset library.

The firm intends to “put these world-class, exclusive VFX tools into the hands of millions of creators and artists around the world”, with the ultimate aim of “shaping the future of the metaverse”.

The deal, which is subject to standard conditions, is expected to close during Unity’s fourth financial quarter.

One of the major players in VFX, both as a facility and as a tools developer
Established in 1993 to produce the special effects for co-founder Peter Jackson’s movie Heavenly Creatures, Weta Digital quickly became one of the major players in the international visual effects market.

In the early 2000s, the firm won Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects for all three movies in Jackson’s ground-breaking Lord of the Rings trilogy, going on to win three further Oscars and many other awards.

The technology Weta developed to produce those movies has gone on to shape the industry, with many key VFX applications having originally been developed at the studio, or by former Weta staff.

Weta-developed applications now available as independent commercial products include 3D texturing software Mari, digital sculpting software Mudbox, and crowd simulation tool Massive.

More recently, Weta Digital partnered with Autodesk and SideFX to make more of its in-house tools available inside custom builds of Maya and Houdini, WetaM and WetaH, both due in private beta this year.

Unity to acquire all of Weta’s cutting-edge in-house tools and VFX assets
As part of the deal, Unity will acquire a diverse set of asset creation, animation, simulation, set dressing, rendering, virtual production and production management software.

Key acquisitions include Manuka, Weta’s path tracing renderer, and Gazebo, its interactive renderer; simulation framework Loki; physically based lighting tools PhysLight and PhysCam; and a suite of character tools, several of them winners of Scientific and Technical Academy Awards.

Unity will also acquire Weta’s in-house asset library: a huge set of VFX-quality materials, textures and 3D models including environments, plants, creatures, human character and man-made objects.

More of Weta’s tools to be made available via cloud-based subscriptions?
The buyout is the latest – and by far the biggest – of Unity’s recent string of corporate acquisitions, which has also included SpeedTree developer IDV and CAD data preparation firm Pixyz Software.

Unity says that it aims to “link the capabilities” of Weta’s tools to its other software and services, including SpeedTree, Pixyz Studio and the Unity game engine itself, commenting:

“It should be easy to take advantage of these advanced capabilities directly in DCC tools such as Maya and Houdini; and it should be easy to move and manipulate content into the Unity engine and more.”

Unity also intends to “cloud-enable” Weta’s software, with its press release suggesting that it will provide access to at least some of the tools via a cloud-based subscription model.

“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,” said Peter Jackson.

“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.”

We’ve contacted Unity to ask whether the buyout will affect the rollout of WetaM and WetaH, both also proposed as cloud-based services, and will update if we hear back.

Updated 12 November 2021: Unity told us that WetaM and WetaH will not be affected.

The firm commented: “The commitments made before this announcement hold true. The partnerships with Autodesk and SideFX are incredibly important to Weta Digital and Unity.”

Unity did not provide details on how Weta’s other tools will be made available to the public, responding that it “will be making announcements about how these tools will be offered at a later time”.

Helping ‘shape the future of the metaverse’ – whatever the metaverse will be
In the longer term, Unity describes its goal as to “enable the next generation of RT3D [real-time 3D] creativity and shape the future of the metaverse”.

The latter phrase has been widely picked up by the mainstream media, although Unity’s announcements provide little detail on how it sees its tools being used in the metaverse.

Aside from being a term that has been in the press a lot recently, Unity’s blog post on the acquisition gives no information on what the firm believes the metaverse will actually be, commenting:

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

Weta’s visual effects facilities to continue as a standalone business
Weta Digital’s visual effects business will be renamed WetaFX, and will continue as a standalone entity, headed up by current Weta Digital CEO Prem Akkaraju.

Unity says that it expects WetaFX to become its “largest customer in the Media and Entertainment space”.

Weta CTO Joe Marks will join Unity itself, along with 275 engineering staff.

Updated 12 November 2021: Unity confirmed to us that it expects no redundancies due to the buyout. Weta Workshop, Weta Digital’s sibling company for practical effects and props, is not part of the deal.

Read Unity’s blog post about its proposed acquisition of Weta Digital

Read Unity’s press release on the financial terms of the acqusition