Wednesday, November 29th, 2023 Posted by Jim Thacker

Unity ends services agreement with Wētā FX: 265 staff laid off

Unity is to end a professional services agreement with Wētā FX, Reuters is reporting. 265 staff whose jobs are related to the agreement – around 3.8% of Unity’s workforce – will be laid off.

The two firms entered the agreement in 2021 after Unity acquired the in-house technology and tools of Academy Award-winning visual effects company Weta Digital. Weta’s VFX teams moved to a new standalone entity, Wētā FX, while 275 Weta engineering staff joined Unity.

In a statement to fxguide, Wētā FX said that it would be “endeavoring to hire back as many crew as we can” and that while Unity retains ownership of the technology it acquired in the deal, Wētā FX will “have the right to build and develop the IP”.

Ending an agreement struck with Unity’s acquisition of Weta Digital’s in-house technology
Unity bought Weta Digital – or at least, the tools development part of it – in 2021, acquiring the technology, pipeline and engineering talent of the leading VFX firm for $1.625 billion.

Its new intellectual property included a long list of in-house software, including Manuka, Weta’s path tracing renderer, and Gazebo, its interactive renderer; simulation framework Loki; and character tools like grooming tool Barbershop, now known as Wig.

Weta’s VFX teams continued as a new standalone entity, Wētā FX, majority-owned by Weta Digital founder Peter Jackson, which became Unity’s largest media and entertainment customer.

265 staff laid off as part of a wider Unity company ‘reset’
Reuters describes Unity as having terminated “the professional services piece of an agreement” it struck with Wētā FX at the time, laying off 265 staff “whose jobs are related to the agreement”.

The move is described as a company “reset”, which will also see Unity shut offices in 14 locations, including Berlin and Singapore, and reduce its ‘office footprint’ in its remaining offices.

It follows a turbulent period in Unity’s history, with the controversial new runtime fee for the Unity game engine having prompted a backlash among game developers, which was followed by a fall in share price and subsequent sudden retirement of CEO John Riccitiello.

Wētā FX now ‘endeavoring to hire back’ the laid-off staff, fxguide reports
In a statement to fxguide, Wētā FX said that the change was “not something we had planned for”, but that it will now “extend offers to as many of the Weta Digital crew as we can”, and will be “endeavoring to hire [them] back”.

The firm told fxguide that while Unity retains ownership of the technology it acquired in 2021, it remains “fully available” to Wētā FX, which will “continue to build and extend the IP”.

What this means for the availability of the technology to other studios is currently less clear.

At Siggraph 2023, Unity launched Unity Wētā Tools, a rebranded division of the company intended to “deliver” software including Wig and Weta Digital’s deep compositing tools.

Both were due to become available later this year.

Updated: Unity has confirmed to CG Channel that the Reuters story is accurate. It did not challenge any of the details provided by Wētā FX to fxguide.

The firm declined to respond to specific questions about whether any former Weta Digital staff remain at Unity, and what impact the news will have on the Unity Wētā Tools release schedule.

Instead, it referred us to a shareholder letter from earlier this month, in which it says that it is assessing its product portfolio “to focus on those products that are most valuable to our customers”, and that it “expect[s] to make final decisions over the next few weeks”.

Read Reuters’ report that Unity is to end its professional services agreement with Wētā FX

Read Wētā FX’s statement to fxguide