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Welcome Weta Digital!

November 9, 2021 in News | 12 min. read
Unity logo and Weta Digital logo in white with a closeup image of a chimpanzee in the background.
Unity logo and Weta Digital logo in white with a closeup image of a chimpanzee in the background.
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Today, Unity announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Weta Digital, specifically its artist tools, core pipeline, intellectual property, and award-winning engineering talent. The Academy Award-Winning VFX service teams of Weta Digital will continue as a standalone entity known as WetaFX and will become Unity’s largest customer in the Media and Entertainment space. By combining the industry leading VFX tools and technical talent from the incredible team at Weta, plus the deep development and real-time knowledge within Unity, we aim to deliver tools to unlock the full potential of the metaverse.

Forged in production

I remember when the first preview of Fellowship landed in the theaters — just the preview, mind you, not the actual film — and how the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It’s an experience that I would find myself having over and over again with Caesar, the Na’vi, King Kong, and in many films where I didn’t even know Weta Digital was behind the great work. I was a fan before I fully appreciated the genius of Peter Jackson and knew the depth of the expertise and talent housed in this New Zealand based studio.

Weta Digital’s pipeline represents the most complete toolchain for 3D creation, simulation, and rendering ever created. The brilliance of Peter Jackson and the entire team at Weta Digital is incredibly inspirational to all of us at Unity.

The unified tools and the incredible scientists and technologists of Weta Digital will accelerate our mission to give content creators easy to use and high performance tools to bring their visions to life. This pipeline has been developed with an artists-first mentality and the result is an incredible set of tools capable of the pinnacle of visual effects (VFX) forged within the uncompromising schedules of hundreds of film and TV productions.

Our goal is to put these world-class, exclusive VFX tools into the hands of millions of creators and artists around the world, and once connected with the Unity platform, enable the next generation of RT3D creativity. Whatever the metaverse is or will be, we believe it will be built by content creators, just like you.

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Tools sneak peek

This list represents just a glimpse of the breadth and depth of innovation from Weta Digital’s 15 years of deep research and development. Individually, these tools are capable of spectacular results, but their real power is as part of a unified pipeline allowing changes made using one tool to instantly be reflected in another tool and allowing groups of artists to collaborate in the pursuit of their vision. These tools have been foundational in award-winning TV and films like Avatar, Black Widow, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman, The Suicide Squad, and more.

  • Manuka: Manuka is the flagship path-tracing renderer used to generate final frames and is able to produce physically accurate results based upon specific spectral lighting profiles.
  • Gazebo: Gazebo is the core interactive renderer used for viewing scenes in real time with visual fidelity inside any pipeline attached application. Since the Gazebo real-time rendering of the 3D viewport approaches the same results from Manuka, artists can iterate in context of the final frame regardless of which application they use. Gazebo is also the core of the production pipeline for pre-visualization and virtual production workflows.  
  • Loki: Loki provides physics-based simulation of visual effects including water, fire, smoke, hair, cloth, muscles, and plants. Physical accuracy for complex simulations is delivered through the use of cross-domain coupling and high-accuracy numerical solvers.  
  • Physically-based workflows: Tools including PhysLight, PhysCam, and HDRConvert provide the foundation for lighting and color workflows. Using these tools, artists can create spectral-based lighting and accurately replicate effects of different lenses, sensors, and other parts of the pipeline, resulting in a physically accurate rendering workflow for both Gazebo and Manuka.  
  • Koru: Koru is an advanced puppet rigging system optimized for speed and multi-character performance. Using Koru, technical directors and developers can create constraints, rigs, deformers, and puppets to support high-performance animation, cloth simulation, and similar applications.  
  • Facial Tech: Facial Tech provides advanced facial capture and manipulation workflows, using machine learning to support direct manipulation of facial muscles and transferring actor face capture onto a target (puppet) model.  
  • Barbershop: Barbershop is a suite of tools for hair and fur that supports the entire workflow from growth through grooming. Artists can use a combination of procedural and artist-guided tools to grow hair and fur, adjust growth patterns, and groom the final model. Advanced procedural tools support concepts such as braided hair, and the resulting models are simulation-ready to provide realistic dynamics resulting from motion and wind.  
  • Tissue: Tissue enables artists and animators to create biologically accurate anatomical character models that accurately represent behaviors of muscle and skin, and transfer the resulting characters into simulation tools.  
  • Apteryx: Apteryx provides artists with a complete workflow starting with procedural generation of feathers, hand sculpting, and grooming for animated feathered creatures and costumes.  
  • World Building: These tools include Scenic Designer and Citybuilder to support world building, layout, and set dressing ranging from planet-scale to small-scale scenes. With these tools, artists can procedurally create scenes with node graphs, place content programmatically, and manually adjust placement.  
  • Lumberjack: Lumberjack provides the core toolset for vegetation and includes modeling, editing, and deformation tools. Using Lumberjack, artists can author and edit plant topology including animated geometry, manage levels of detail, instancing, and variability among individual assets.  
  • Totara: Totara is a procedural growth and simulation system for vegetation and biomes that integrates with Lumberjack to create large-scale and complex scenes procedurally. Using Totara, artists can grow individual trees and entire forest biomes, grow other vegetation such as vines, adjust growth parameters and control biomechanics, add snow cover, and reduce the complexity and size of scenes.  
  • Eddy: Eddy is an advanced liquid, smoke and fire compositing plug-in for refining volumetric effects. Eddy allows artists to generate new, high-quality fluid simulations and render them directly inside their compositing environment.  
  • Production Review: HiDef and ShotSub are the foundation for production review. HiDef is a core tool for production review, with features for note taking, version browsing, and more, integrated with a color-accurate browser and playback engine. ShotSub is a core tool for production review, with tools to prepare artist work for review with the appropriate color space, frame ranges, and settings for frame rate and resolution.  
  • Live Viewing: Live viewing tools support the mixing of computer-generated (CG) content in real-time with on-set camera feeds. These tools support live mixing for on-set viewing, live compositing of CG elements onto chromakey or other CG elements, depth-based live compositing and projection of face capture onto a motion capture puppet.  
  • Projector: Projector is a production tool supporting scheduling, resourcing, and prediction, with controls for data access and analytics to improve production decision-making.
Totara user interface
Totara

Another exciting element of this acquisition is the asset library we’ll inherit from Weta Digital, which includes urban and natural environments, flora and fauna, humans, man-made objects, materials, textures, and more. The WetaFX team will continue their industry-leading VFX work for major film and TV productions and feed into this asset library for years to come.

Here is one last video featuring our graphics architect, Natasha Tatarchuk and the visionary and award-winning VFX artist Joe Letteri that speaks to the power and potential of these tools:

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To real-time and the cloud

To achieve the full potential of these tools, we will work to unify this pipeline to deliver content across the spectrum from cinematic realism to real-time XR on mobile devices. This includes linking these capabilities with our other content tools and services such as SpeedTree, with proven tools for scaling vegetation from VFX to real-time, and Pixyz, which provides sophisticated services for managing large, complex models.

Our intent is to cloud-enable these tools and ensure they easily integrate with the workflows artists already use. It should be easy to take advantage of these advanced capabilities directly in the digital content creation (DCC) tools such as Maya and Houdini; and it should be easy to move and manipulate content into the Unity engine and more.

The vision is simple: you will be able to use the DCC canvas you already know and love, get access to a growing set of incredibly powerful tools used in movies like Avatar and Wonder Woman, and get incredible content from our content library to fulfill your vision.

Technology for the metaverse

And finally, to the point of this significant acquisition — to our creators now and in the future. We believe we are just at the beginning of an enormous need for rich, interactive, compelling, 3D content — in games, in movies, and far beyond.

We believe we need to do more to make it easy for anyone to be able to create, and this acquisition is one of the foundational elements we will use to deliver this vision. We want to make it easy for these tools where content creators already are. In tools like Unity, in tools like Maya and Houdini, and in many others. We want to use the cloud to give content creators super powers by making these deep tools available, accessible and more. It will take some time to realize this complete vision, but please see this as our first step.

And to the entire Weta team, thank you for using your imagination and vision to inspire us.  We are looking forward to this future together.

I am very excited about the creation of Weta Digital at Unity. The other day, somebody shared with me a very powerful Māori proverb:

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi

I believe the literal translation means "with your bread basket and my bread basket, our people will thrive.” This thought — if we work together, we can do much more than if we are alone — captures exactly what we are trying to do.

Join the discussion on the Unity Forums.

November 9, 2021 in News | 12 min. read