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Unity buys Peter Jackson VFX studio Weta Digital for $1.6 billion

Lord of the Rings character Gollum
(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Unity, the company behind the game engine of the same name, has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire blockbuster VFX firm Weta Digital for a hefty $1.625 billion (thanks, The Hollywood Reporter).

A New Zealand-based VFX house owned by director Peter Jackson, Weta is probably best known for the filmmaker's landmark Lord of the Rings trilogy (and the less well-received Hobbit trilogy), alongside James Cameron's Avatar and recent Marvel flicks like Shang-Chi and Eternals. Tangentially, Weta also made (and crashed) a Halo warthog that one time.

The acquisition sees Unity acquire a host of proprietary Weta tech including hair and fur simulators, water and smoke tools, facial capture systems and various renderers. All 275 Weta Digital engineers will join Unity, though Jackson's visual effects business will live on under the new name WetaFX.

"We are thrilled to democratize these industry-leading tools and bring the genius of Sir Peter Jackson and Weta’s amazing engineering talent to life for artists everywhere," said Unity CEO John Riccitiello in a statement.

It's a massive grab for Unity, though it's currently unclear what this means for Unity developers themselves. Rendering pipelines for films and games are dramatically different, so don't expect Unity games to suddenly sport Hollywood blockbuster-quality VFX. Unity's statement specifically mentions using this tech to "unlock the full potential of the metaverse", while developers have speculated that Unity wants to follow Unreal's lead in creative live visual effects for film and TV.

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The mood from indie Unity developers, however, is that this move is a step away from what they need the engine to be doing. As a part-time Unity user myself I've found recent versions to be increasingly frustrating, and a set of film-quality rendering tools is little consolation for game developers still dealing with Unity's own haphazard systems.

The Unity Weta acquisition is expected to close by the end of the year.

Natalie Clayton

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time—and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and having herself developed critically acclaimed small games like Can Androids Pray, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She's also played for a competitive Splatoon team, and unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.