Unity Acquires LOTR FX Studio Weta Digital, Bringing Movie Quality Tools To Game Developers

Game development platform Unity has taken a big step in the race for photorealistic next-gen graphics by purchasing Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s visual effects house that has worked on everything from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Avatar, Planet of the Apes and The Suicide Squad. This $1.65 billion purchase isn’t just about adding to Unity’s portfolio of companies — the plan is to take Weta Digital’s groundbreaking tools and give them to all Unity developers, enabling movie-quality images and effects. . You can watch a short video below announcing Unity’s acquisition of Weta.

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Weta founder Peter Jackson had this to say about the Unity deal…

Weta Digital’s tools created limitless possibilities for us to bring to life the worlds and creatures that originally lived in our imaginations. Together, Unity and Weta Digital can create a path for any artist, from any industry, to leverage these incredibly creative and powerful tools. Giving budding creatives access to Weta Digital’s technology will be nothing less than game-changing, and Unity is just the company to bring this vision to life.

So, what kind of new toys will Unity developers get once Weta tools are added to the platform? Here’s a sneak peek…

  • Manuka: Manuka is the flagship path tracing renderer used to generate final frames and is capable of producing physically accurate results based on specific lighting spectral profiles.
  • Gazebo: Gazebo is the main interactive renderer used for real-time viewing of scenes with visual fidelity in any pipelined application. Since the Gazebo real-time rendering of the 3D viewport approximates the same results from Manuka, artists can iterate in the 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 offers physics-based simulation of visual effects, including water, fire, smoke, hair, clothing, muscles, and plants. Physical accuracy for complex simulations is provided through the use of cross-domain coupling and high-precision numerical solvers.
  • Physically based workflows: Tools such as PhysLight, PhysCam, and HDRConvert provide the foundation for light and color workflows. Using these tools, artists can create spectral lighting-based lighting and accurately replicate the effects of various 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 multi-character speed and performance. With Koru, technical directors and developers can create constraints, rigs, deformers and puppets to support high-performance animation, screen simulation and similar applications.
  • Facial Tech: Facial Tech provides advanced face capture and manipulation workflows, using machine learning to support direct manipulation of facial muscles and transferring actor face capture to a target model (doll model).
  • Barbershop: Barbershop is a suite of hair and coat tools that support the entire workflow from growth to grooming. Artists can use a combination of procedural and artist-led tools to grow hair and fur, adjust growth patterns, and care for 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 movement and wind.
  • Tissue: Tissue enables artists and animators to create biologically accurate anatomical character models that accurately depict muscle and skin behavior, and transfer the resulting characters into simulation tools.
  • Apteryx: Apteryx provides artists with a complete workflow, starting with procedurally generating feathers, hand sculpting, and grooming animated feathered creatures and costumes.
  • World Building: These tools include Scenic Designer and Citybuilder to support building, layout, and dressing of the world, ranging from planet-scale scenes to small-scale scenes. These tools allow artists to procedurally create scenes with node charts, place content programmatically, and adjust placement manually.
  • Lumberjack: Lumberjack provides the core vegetation toolset and includes tools for modelling, editing and deformation. Lumberjack allows artists to write and edit plant topology, including animated geometry, levels of detail, instancing, and manage variability between individual assets.
  • Totara: Totara is a procedural growth and simulation system for vegetation and biomes that integrates with Lumberjack to procedurally create large-scale and complex scenes. Totara allows artists to 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 compounding plugin for refining volumetric effects. Eddy enables artists to generate new, high-quality fluid simulations and display them directly in their composition environment.
  • Production rating: HiDef and ShotSub are the foundation for production rating. HiDef is a core production review tool, with features for annotation, versioning, and more, integrated with a color-accurate browser and playback engine. ShotSub is a core production review tool, providing tools to prepare artists’ work for review with appropriate color space, frame ranges, and frame rate and resolution settings.
  • Live View: Live view tools support real-time mixing of computer-generated (CG) content with built-in camera feeds. These tools support live mixing for on-set playback, live composition of CG elements on chromakey or other CG elements, depth-based live composition, and projection of facial image onto a motion capture puppet.
  • Projector: Projector is a production tool that supports planning, resource and forecasting, with data access controls and analytics to improve production decision making.

This purchase by Unity is clearly a shot over the bow from Epic Games, who have stated that they want to go into film FX production with Unreal Engine 5, to create a “continuum” between film and games. Well, now Unity owns the best visual FX house in the world. Your move, Epic.

What do you think? Excited about the future of games with Weta tools in the hands of Unity developers?

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