VFX House Weta Digital Aims to Become a Content Producer

New Zealand-based Weta Digital, a visual effects company that has worked on such high-profile films as “Avatar” and “Avengers: Endgame,” is making a play to create its own original content. Co-founded by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, Weta Digital recently added firepower to its board of directors, including former Disney chief operating officer Tom Staggs, and is also searching to make strategic purchases in the special effects and animation business since animation can be produced remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “Jackson sees a big opportunity to provide animated programming for streaming services as well as movies and cable channels.” “There’s a demand that’s tending to outstrip supply right now,” he said. Jackson is also betting “on Weta Digital’s independence as a selling point to animators … [since] much of the animation industry is controlled by a handful of companies including Disney’s Pixar and NBCUniversal’s Illumination and DreamWorks Animation.”

Whereas those animation companies make content for their own platforms, said Jackson, Weta Digital can create programming for all comers “without having to be part of an in-house club.”

With New Zealand’s low COVID-19 infection rate, the VFX company has been able to stay open at full capacity during the pandemic. New board member Staggs worked closely with Weta “on the development of the ‘Avatar’ theme park attraction at Disney World.”

Other new board members include Key Creatives head of management Ken Kamins and former Google/eBay senior executive Jeff Huber. Both Weta Digital chief executive Prem Akkaraju and vice chair Sean Parker, who co-founded Napster and was former Facebook president, joined the company earlier this year. Majority owners are Jackson and partner Fran Walsh.

According to Akkaraju, Weta “will be doubling or tripling the size of the company through acquisition and organic growth … a result of executing a strategy of significantly increasing market share and services, launching of original content and expanding investment in next generation AI-based tool sets.”

In September, Weta partnered with Amazon Web Services “to create a cloud-based visual-effects hub that Akkaraju said will clear the way for the company to scale up production globally.” Parker noted that the pandemic “accelerated a lot of our thinking in terms of the future of visual effects and what animation production pipelines are going to look like.”

Deadline reports that Weta Digital intends to open offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which, said Akkaraju, “enables storytellers to tap Weta’s production pipeline and work with concept designers, animation supervisors and other key creatives, in both the U.S. and New Zealand.”

New board member Kamins, who has represented Jackson and Walsh since 1992 and executive produced “The Hobbit” trilogy, “District 9” and others, noted that, “Weta Digital was designed by Peter and Fran to be a creative haven for filmmakers — a place where they could let their imaginations run wild …. No idea was too crazy or too difficult to try.”