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

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With this purchase, the game development platform Unity has taken a big step in the race for photo-realistic graphics of the next generation 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. On this 1.65 billion purchase, you can watch a short video below announcing Unity’s acquisition of Weta.

Lord of the Rings Studio Weta Workshop is working on a game “based on a major IP”

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

Weta Digital’s tools have given us limitless opportunities to bring to life the worlds and creatures that originally dwelt in our imagination. Together, Unity and Weta Digital can create a way for every artist from every industry to use these incredibly creative and powerful tools. Giving emerging creatives access to Weta Digital technology will be nothing short of groundbreaking, and Unity is exactly the company that is bringing that vision to life.

So what fancy new toys will Unity developers get once Weta tools are added to the platform? Here’s a foretaste

  • Manuka: Manuka is the flagship path tracing renderer used to generate final frames and is capable of producing physically accurate results based on specific spectral lighting profiles.
  • Gazebo: Gazebo is the central interactive renderer used to display scenes in real time with visual fidelity in any application connected to a pipeline. Because the Gazebo real-time rendering of the 3D viewport approaches the same results as Manuka, artists can iterate in the context of the final frame regardless of what application they’re using. Gazebo is also the heart of the production pipeline for pre-visualization and virtual production workflows.
  • Loki: Loki offers a physics-based simulation of visual effects such as water, fire, smoke, hair, clothing, muscles and plants. Physical accuracy for complex simulations is achieved through the use of cross-domain coupling and highly accurate numerical solvers.
  • Physically based workflows: Tools such as PhysLight, PhysCam and HDRConvert form the basis for lighting and color workflows. These tools allow artists to create spectral-based lighting and accurately replicate effects from 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 speed and multi-character performance. Koru enables technical directors and developers to create constraints, rigs, deformers, and puppets to support high-performance animation, fabric simulation, and similar applications.
  • Facial Tech: Facial Tech provides advanced face capture and manipulation workflows that use machine learning to aid direct manipulation of the facial muscles and transfer the actor’s face capture to a target model (puppet 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-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 of motion and wind.
  • Tissue: Tissue enables artists and animators to create biologically accurate anatomical character models that accurately depict muscle and skin behavior and translate the resulting characters into simulation tools.
  • Apteryx: Apteryx offers artists 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 Designers and City Builders to aid in the construction, layout, and decor of worlds ranging from planetary to small-scale scenes. These tools allow artists to procedurally create scenes with node diagrams, place content programmatically, and manually adjust the placement.
  • Lumberjack: Lumberjack provides the core vegetation toolkit and includes modeling, editing, and deforming tools. With Lumberjack, artists can create and edit plant topologies including animated geometry, manage level of detail, instancing and variability between individual assets.
  • Totara: Totara is a procedural vegetation and biome growth and simulation system that integrates with Lumberjack to procedurally create large-scale and complex scenes. With 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 enables artists to generate new, high quality fluid simulations and render them directly in their compositing environment.
  • Production test: HiDef and ShotSub are the basis for the production test. HiDef is a central tool for production verification with functions for taking notes, browsing versions and more, integrated with a color-accurate browser and playback engine. ShotSub is a central tool for production inspection, with tools to prepare artist work for inspection with the appropriate color space, image areas and settings for frame rate and resolution.
  • Live viewing: Live viewing tools support the mixing of computer generated (CG) content in real time with camera feeds on set. These tools support live mixing for viewing on set, live compositing of CG elements onto Chromakey or other CG elements, depth-based live compositing, and the projection of facial images onto a motion capture puppet.
  • Projector: The projector is a production tool that supports planning, resources and forecasting, with controls for data access and analysis to improve decision making in production.

This Unity purchase is clearly a shot over the bow from Epic Games, who have stated that they want to get 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? Are you excited about the future of games with Weta Tools in the hands of Unity developers?


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