Why did Unity raise Weta Digital’s 3D tools for $ 1.6 billion?

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by Peter Jackson Weta Digital made some of the most amazing cinematic special effects, such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movie. And now Unity Technologies bought Weta’s 3D tools division for $ 1.62 billion.

The move has the potential to shake up game and movie making, as Unity has a huge base in game development and is expanding into tools for making digital movies. And the deal could go a long way to shutting down the quality game between games made with the Unity game engine and its rival Unreal, made by Fortnite’s producer Epic Games.

I spoke to Marc Whitten, general manager of Unity, and Weta Digital CEO Prem Akkaraju in an interview about why the companies joined. About 275 Weta Digital instrument makers will join Unity, but Weta’s team of 1.70 visual artists will continue to work independently of the new WetaFX team. And that studio will now license its tools from Unity.

Meanwhile, Epic Games’ Unreal engine has also ventured into Hollywood and its tools were used to make Lucasfilm’s The Mandalorian.

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Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Marc Whitten is general manager of Unity.

Image credit: Unity

GamesBeat: What was your reasoning behind the deal?

Marc Whitten: The key to me – I firmly believe, whatever word you want to use for the metaverse, it will need more 3D content. It will need a dramatic increase in the number of people capable of building in 3D. Certainly from a Unity perspective, we’ve really started thinking about how we could build something that democratizes content creation.

Prem and I talked, and there was this incredible moment where we realized that between Unity and Weta, we had the tools to do something extraordinary. There was this group of people who had built the most spectacular tools ever for creating 3D content that had never been produced, and then there was Unity, where our daily bread is to package and democratize tools and make them more accessible. It became increasingly clear that we could find great ways to work together, find the right transaction to make it happen, and we could do something great. We are super excited.

Above: Prem Akkaraju is the head of Weta Digital.

Image credit: Weta Digital

Prem Akkaraju: Our motivation was very clear. As for why now, why Unity, why this deal, it was – Peter Jackson started Weta with nothing. You know what it’s like to be a creator without access to specialized tools or software to create your vision on the screen. This is his kind of gift, if you will, to the entire industry, to give the tools that created The Lord of the Rings and Avatar and many other major films around the world to the artist community. When we were looking for a partner, it became very clear that Unity was the best of the best in creating and shipping tools for creators, supporting those tools, and living by the mantra we live by, which is an uncompromising dedication to service. of history and Creator.

GamesBeat: Does this mean that capabilities expand in the movie for Unity? Or does this somehow help games a lot more?

White: It is both. People are already using Unity for virtual production, for pre-visualization and other areas, but obviously nothing of the kind. We are thrilled to allow everyone from the Weta effects on down, because we will continue to work closely with them to continue doing extraordinary things and other film and media companies, democratize film making, but we firmly believe there is a ‘ opportunity to create a universal pipeline. A pipeline capable of pointing to offline rendering, high-end visualization, but also in real time, bringing them together so that you can create the same resource, the same set of resources, the same simulations and decide if it’s something that will be displayed at the highest level of fidelity possible, or on every cellphone in the world, and everything in between. You will surely see it move towards real-time gaming and other non-gaming and non-entertainment areas. Wherever there are artists, we will give them great tools.

Akkaraju: It is truly a convergence of both. Movies and TV are shifting towards real time, and game fidelity is shifting towards cinematic and television quality. We’re both skimming the line and meeting right in the middle.

GamesBeat: how standardized is Weta technology?

White: The first thing to think about what they built is that they have an incredibly forward-thinking architectural approach. While there are dozens of tools that come along with this, what they really are are parts of a pipeline. There is a data model, a river of data and a set of tools that impact this, allowing people to see how things manifest on multiple objects or on multiple artists to be able to collaborate together and work in parallel and do amazing things around this.

One, that means, however you want to think about moving something like this to the cloud, or think about how you drive interoperability, it all starts with a common data model and data plan. It’s an amazing starting point from architecture. Two, things like USD, portability of data and being able to take content and move it between engines and tools and things like that are very important. While we won’t go into the technical details of how these things are built, it certainly is an important part of how we think about this.

GamesBeat: What Will Become Available to Unity Customers Over Time?

White: Today is really the side of the intention to acquire, the beginning of the process. We have more work to do, going through all the closing conditions. So we have to get the teams together, get the chance to meet, start planning, transfer knowledge. We will have much more to talk about in the future. This is more than just talking about where we are going. But we’ll come back and spend time talking about plans for the future.

GamesBeat: How Many People Are Coming? What are a few hundred or so?

White: Yes, that’s about 275 people. And they are extraordinary. They are PhDs, researchers. They have been focusing on graphic research for 20 years. If you go to SIGGRAPH and take a look at the documents–

Akkaraju: Only goes Weta, Weta, Weta.

White: It is quite unbelievable. We are thrilled to be able to work with them even more closely.

Above: Weta Digital will bring the Unity game to the movies.

Image credit: Unity

GamesBeat: Are there any other Weta properties that aren’t part of the deal here?

White: The way we think about it, there is the core of this company which is Weta is about 1,700 people. Think of it like, 1,400 or 1,500 of these are truly amazing technical artists. And then about 300 are extraordinary tools of engineers and graphic researchers. We’re taking all the tools, technology, and critical teams that built it, and Weta FX will be on the other side. They will continue to operate and build whatever they are doing now. We will continue to work with them, arm in arm with those amazing artists as they continue to build the next version of the fantastic films they are making.

That relationship, by the way, has been very important to us as part of this deal, because it’s like – these tools were all created because, over the past 15-20 years, they have carried the art of the possible further and beyond. , wondering more about what perfection could be like. We don’t want all of this to go away. We want to make sure that, if anything, it accelerates. Weta FX will continue to do great things in movies and on TV and will provide the tools, technology and R&D innovation behind that.

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