Weta Digital Opens Virtual Production Service in New Zealand

Visual effects company Weta Digital — founded by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk — joined forces with production facility Avalon Studios and live event, production and broadcast specialist Streamliner Productions to develop an LED-stage virtual production service based in Wellington, New Zealand. That country has done a good job of controlling COVID-19, making it an appealing destination for new TV and film productions. Similar to ILM’s StageCraft platform, Weta Digital’s system is based on Epic Games’ real-time Unreal Engine.

IndieWire reports that Weta Digital executive producer David Conley explained that, “being able to shoot final VFX imagery at the same time as principal photography adds another level of creative control for producers and filmmakers.” “Adding LED stage capabilities to Wellington’s Avalon Studios adds yet another compelling reason for productions to consider shooting in New Zealand,” he said.

Avalon Studios chief executive Gary Watkins said they are offering “the safest work environment possible as production look to ramp up.”

The service is housed at Avalon Studios, which has four main stages and “dedicated spaces to house additional departments.” The virtual production solution is comprised of “large, easily configurable LED panels that are able to display imagery well beyond 8K as a way to augment practical sets and often replace green screen shots for backgrounds and exteriors.” It also enables productions to combine footage from multiple stages, which allows them to work with smaller crews.

Conley pointed out that, in an era of “unprecedented growth in content production,” virtual production allow productions to “augment the onset environment to include proxy elements or even final shot elements.” Watkins added that the setup “allows producers to think strategically about what they shoot and limit the number of actors and onset crew required, changing post-production requirements.”

The process also has the potential to reduce cost. Streamliner general manager Richard Manu added that, “our crew combines decades of live event experience.” “We have the established infrastructure to make this a plug and play pipeline rather than a science experiment,” he said.