Wētā FX

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Wētā FX
Company typePrivate
IndustryVisual effects, CGI animation
Founded1993; 31 years ago (1993)
Founders
HeadquartersMiramar, New Zealand
Key people
    • Michael McNeil (CEO)[1]
OwnerPeter Jackson
Number of employees
1,700 (2023)[2]
Websitewww.wetafx.co.nz

Wētā FX, formerly known as Weta Digital, is a New Zealand-based digital visual effects and animation company based in Miramar, Wellington. It was founded by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, and Jamie Selkirk in 1993 to produce the digital special effects for Heavenly Creatures. The company went on to produce some of the highest-grossing films ever made, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and Avatar: The Way of Water. Considered one of the most influential film companies of the 21st century, Wētā FX has won several Academy Awards and BAFTAs.[3] The company is named after the New Zealand wētā, one of the world's largest insects, which was historically featured in the company logo.[4]

History[edit]

Previous logo with a New Zealand Wētā on top of the logo.

The company was founded by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, and Jamie Selkirk in 1993 to produce the digital special effects for the film Heavenly Creatures.[5] As of 2023, Wētā FX has won seven Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), King Kong (2005), Avatar (2009), The Jungle Book (2016), and Avatar: The Way of Water (2022).[6]

The studio has developed several proprietary software packages to achieve groundbreaking visual effects. The scale of the battles required for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy led to the creation of MASSIVE, a program which can animate huge numbers of agents: independent characters acting according to pre-set rules.[7][8]

To recreate 1933 New York for King Kong, the company created CityBot, an application which could "build" the city on a shot by shot basis.[9] Kong's fur also required the development of new simulation and modeling software.[10] A set of tools that combined procedural and interactive techniques added wind to the five million individual strands of fur and modeled interaction with other surfaces. New shaders were written that accounted for the scattering of light from within each hair that added to the volumetric quality of the fur. Large chunks of fur were ripped out and filled in with scars, blood, and the mud of Skull Island. Each frame of fur took two gigabytes of data.[11]

For James Cameron's Avatar, Weta Digital modified MASSIVE to give life to the flora and fauna on Pandora, for which the company did most of the visual effects with Joe Letteri,[12] under a team led by executive and producer Eileen Moran.[13][14] The film is regarded as a landmark for visual effects.[15][16][17][18] By 2017, Weta Digital had started visual effects development for the sequels.[19][20][21][22]

In 2010, a texture painting application developed by the studio for Avatar called Mari has been bought by The Foundry Visionmongers.[23] For The Adventures of Tintin and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the studio developed a new grooming system called Barbershop where users can interactively manipulate digital hair. This tool received a Sci-tech award in 2015.[24] The Adventures of Tintin was Weta Digital's first fully animated feature film.[25]

For Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, the company was able to develop their motion capture technique to be able to leave the studio for shooting on location.[26][27][28] The motion capture technology would be improved in the 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.[29][30][31] This was further refined in War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017.[32][33][34][35]

On June 19, 2020, Weta Digital announced that it would be producing original animation content under the name Weta Animated.[36][37][38] The company also announced a new chief executive Prem Akkaraju, who comes from Los Angeles.[39][40][41] In September 2020, Weta was able to secure a multi-year deal with Amazon Web Services to use the Amazon cloud to forward its VFX and animation production.[42][43]

In December 2020, Weta Digital CEO Prem Akkaraju announced additional board members including Tom Staggs, Jeff Huber and Ken Kamins. They join current board members Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Sean Parker and Joe Letteri.[44]

On June 17, 2021, Weta Digital announced they have partnered with Autodesk to productize Weta's proprietary tools based in Autodesk Maya for a cloud service called WetaM.[45] It will first be released in Q4 as a private beta.[46]

On August 23, 2021, Weta Digital announced a collaboration with SideFX for a cloud service combining the studio's proprietary tools within SideFX's Houdini called WetaH.[47][48]

On November 9, 2021, Jackson sold the company's VFX tools development division to video games software company Unity Technologies for US$1.625 billion.[49][50][51] Unity's acquired tech assets of Weta will be called Weta Digital, while the visual effects company remained separate and renamed as Wētā FX.[52][53] The acquisition was completed in December 2021.[54] In April 2022, Wētā FX opened a new studio in Vancouver. It is the company's first dedicated VFX studio outside New Zealand.[55][56]

For Avatar: The Way of Water in 2022, Wētā worked on 3,240 visual effects shots, 2,225 of which involved water.[57] The studio developed new performance capture technology for the film's underwater sequences.[58][59][60] The digital water in the film was created by artists using Wētā's latest Loki simulation software.[61] Wētā also refined their Facial Action Coding System (FACS) from Alita: Battle Angel for its use in Avatar: The Way of Water.[62][63][64][65] The company eventually ended up rendering close to 3.3 billion thread hours.[66] Letteri won his fifth Academy Award for his work on the film.[67]

On 25 November, 2023, Unity and Wētā FX mutually agreed to terminate Unity’s service agreement with Wētā FX effective December 10, 2023; this comes after Unity laying off the entire Wētā Digital staff in a "company reset".[68][69] Unity will continue to own the software from the Wētā Digital acquisition (with Wētā FX being able to continue using them), but the Wētā Digital name and related intellectual property will be transferred back to Wētā FX with no current plans to use the old Wētā Digital name. Wētā FX will be extending offers to as many of the Digital team as possible "as it looks to expand its research, development and support functions".[69]

Workplace culture[edit]

Beginning in June 2020, an investigative project by Kiwi public TV broadcaster 1 News into Wētā's workplace culture following a social media posting by former Wētā Workshop employee Layna Lazar later resulted in more than 40 current and former Weta Digital employees anonymously sharing accounts of "sexism, bullying and harassment" in September 2020.[70][71][72]

In their testimonies, workers identified the existence of a male-only pornographic mailing list called "Caveman", which originated in 2002 following a company-wide tradition known as Porn Friday, and continued to circulate until 2015.[70] Several reports also alleged that the company's IT systems required upgrades in order to accommodate the volume of pornographic content hosted on the company intranet, in addition to numerous allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, intimidation, misogyny and homophobia.[70][73]

In response to these allegations, Wētā owners, including Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and chief executive officer Prem Akkaraju, commissioned an independent review from barrister Miriam Dean, who stated in her report that she received 80 complaints of bullying behavior, 120 complaints of inappropriate conduct and 19 complaints of sexual harassment from amongst the company's 1,500 employees.[74][75][76] Dean put forward 17 recommendations for internal reform, including the establishment of a code of conduct, restricting the executive team, expanding the diversity and inclusion program, and reviewing the company's pay structure.[74][77] Her review also stipulated that the existing management systems were not sufficient to protect workers "from bullying, sexual harassment, sex discrimination and other inappropriate conduct".[74][78][79]

Films[edit]

1990s[edit]

Year Films Studio(s) and Distributor(s)
1994 Heavenly Creatures[80] Miramax Films
1995 Forgotten Silver TBC
1996 Tales from the Crypt

(You, Murderer)

Warner Bros.
The Frighteners Universal Pictures
1997 Contact Warner Bros.

2000s[edit]

Year Films Studio(s) and Distributor(s)
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring New Line Cinema
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 Van Helsing Universal Studios
I, Robot 20th Century Fox
2005 King Kong Universal Studios
2006 X-Men: The Last Stand 20th Century Fox
Eragon
2007 Bridge to Terabithia Walt Disney Pictures
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 20th Century Fox
Enchanted Walt Disney Pictures
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep Columbia Pictures
30 Days of Night
2008 Jumper 20th Century Fox
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Walt Disney Studios
The Day the Earth Stood Still 20th Century Fox
2009 District 9 TriStar Pictures
The Lovely Bones Paramount Pictures

DreamWorks Pictures

Avatar 20th Century Fox

2010s[edit]

Year Films Studio(s) and Distributor(s)
2010 The A-Team 20th Century Fox
Knight and Day
Predators
Gulliver's Travels
2011 X-Men: First Class
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Paramount Pictures
2012 The Avengers Walt Disney Studios

Paramount Pictures

Prometheus 20th Century Fox
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Warner Bros.
2013 Iron Man 3 Walt Disney Studios

Paramount Pictures

Man of Steel Warner Bros.
The Wolverine 20th Century Fox
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Lionsgate
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Warner Bros.
2014 Godzilla
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 20th Century Fox
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Warner Bros.
What We Do in the Shadows Paramount Pictures
2015 Furious 7 Universal Studios
Fantastic Four 20th Century Fox
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Lionsgate
Krampus Universal Studios
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip 20th Century Fox
2016 Deadpool
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Warner Bros.
The Jungle Book Walt Disney Studios
Central Intelligence Warner Bros.

Universal Studios

Independence Day: Resurgence 20th Century Fox
Hunt for the Wilderpeople Madman Entertainment
The BFG Walt Disney Studios
Pete's Dragon
2017 Spectral Netflix
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Walt Disney Studios
Avatar Flight of Passage[81] TBA
Wonder Woman Warner Bros.
War for the Planet of the Apes 20th Century Fox
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets EuropaCorp Distribution

Lionsgate

Justice League Warner Bros.
2018 Maze Runner: The Death Cure 20th Century Fox
Rampage Warner Bros.
Avengers: Infinity War Walt Disney Studios
Deadpool 2 20th Century Fox
Animal World Enlight Pictures
Aquaman Warner Bros.
Mortal Engines Universal Studios
2019 Alita: Battle Angel 20th Century Fox
Avengers: Endgame Walt Disney Studios
Annabelle Comes Home Warner Bros.
Ad Astra 20th Century Fox (under Walt Disney Studios)
Gemini Man Paramount Pictures
Terminator: Dark Fate 20th Century Fox

Paramount Pictures

Lady and the Tramp Walt Disney Studios

Disney+

Jumanji: The Next Level Columbia Pictures

2020s[edit]

Year Films Studio(s) and Distributor(s)
2020 Birds of Prey Warner Bros.
Mulan Walt Disney Studios

Disney+

Shadow in the Cloud Rertical Entertainment

Redbox Entertainment

The Christmas Chronicles 2 Netflix
We Can Be Heroes
2021 Zack Snyder's Justice League Warner Bros.
Godzilla vs. Kong
Black Widow Walt Disney Studios
The Tomorrow War Amazon Studios

Paramount Pictures

Jungle Cruise Walt Disney Studios
The Green Knight A24
The Suicide Squad Warner Bros.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Walt Disney Studios
Eternals
The King's Man 20th Century Studios (under Walt Disney Studios)
2022 Kimi Warner Bros.
No Exit 20th Century Studios (under Walt Disney Studios)
The Batman Warner Bros.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Walt Disney Studios
Thor: Love and Thunder
Black Adam Warner Bros.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Walt Disney Studios
Avatar: The Way of Water 20th Century Studios (under Walt Disney Studios)
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Netflix
2023 Cocaine Bear Universal Pictures
Shazam! Fury of the Gods Warner Bros.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Marvel Studios
The Little Mermaid Walt Disney Studios
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Paramount Pictures
The Flash Warner Bros.
The Creator 20th Century Studios (under Walt Disney Studios)
The Marvels Marvel Studios (under Walt Disney Studios)
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Warner Bros. Pictures

Upcoming[edit]

Year Films Studio(s) and Distributor(s)
2024 Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Warner Bros. Pictures
Alien: Romulus 20th Century Studios (under Walt Disney Studios)
Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
2025 Avatar 3
2029 Avatar 4
2031 Avatar 5
TBA In the Blink of an Eye Searchlight Pictures (under Walt Disney Studios)
Better Man Footloose Productions

Television[edit]

Year Name of Television show & special Network
2017 Game of Thrones (Season 7) Warner Bros./HBO
2019 Game of Thrones (Season 8)
The Umbrella Academy Netflix
2020 Space Force
2021 The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Disney+
Mr. Corman Apple TV+
Invasion
Hawkeye Disney+
2022 Peacemaker HBO Max
Moon Knight Disney+
Obi-Wan Kenobi
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Amazon Prime
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special Disney+
2023 The Last of Us HBO

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ "Another visual effects Oscar for Weta Digital?". Wellington.scoop. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  4. ^ "The VFX of WETA Digital". RocketStock. 27 August 2015.
  5. ^ Gray, Tim (22 October 2014). "Weta Digital: Peter Jackson's VFX Company is About 'Immersive Filmmaking'". Variety.
  6. ^ "Awards". Wētā FX. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  7. ^ "Massive Software". Massive Software. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  8. ^ "How 'Lord of the Rings' Used AI to Change Big-Screen Battles Forever". CNET. 4 September 2022.
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  11. ^ "Bigger and Badder: How Weta Digital Bulked Up for King Kong". Studio Daily. December 2005. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  12. ^ Alex Ben Block (10 December 2009). "The creatures of 'Avatar' were 15 years in the making". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  13. ^ Barnes, Mike (3 December 2012). "Top Visual Effects Producer Eileen Moran Dies in New Zealand; Worked on 'Avatar,' 'The Hobbit'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  14. ^ "MASSIVE Is On The Gallop Again". VFX Voice. 21 August 2017.
  15. ^ "'Avatar': The Game Changer". Animation World Network. 21 December 2009.
  16. ^ "Avatar: 10 Ways The Original Movie's Special Effects Were Groundbreaking". Screen Rant. 4 September 2022.
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  29. ^ Staskiewicz, Keith. "'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes': See Andy Serkis and others go ape in this side-by-side special-effects video -- EXCLUSIVE". Entertainment Weekly. Entertainment Weekly Inc. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
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  32. ^ "How the lifelike visual effects in 'War for the Planet of the Apes' were created". ABC News. 13 July 2017.
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External links[edit]