Peter Jackson’s Visual Effects Company Weta Digital Launches Animation Division
Industry veteran Prem Akkaraju will serve as its chief executive officer. The New Zealand-based company said Thursday that creating animation has been a long-held dream of majority owners Jackson and Fran Walsh, who will write, produce and direct several animated projects for the company. Details of those projects were not disclosed.
“We are huge fans of animated storytelling in all of its forms, but it can be a long, protracted, and often costly way to make movies,” Jackson said in a statement. “That’s, in part, why we have created this company – to change the model and open the doors to filmmakers and storytellers who might not otherwise be given the chance to show what they can do.”
Weta Animated will work alongside Weta Digital’s visual effects business for the film and television industry and will begin producing original content for the first time in its 25-year history.
The company began operations to produce the digital special effects for Jackson’s 1994 thriller “Heavenly Creatures.” Comprised of 1,550 artists and engineers, Weta Digital has won six visual effects Academy Awards, 10 Academy Sci-Tech Awards and six visual effects BAFTA Awards. Notable projects include “Avatar,” The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, “Avengers: Infinity Wars,” “Avengers: End Game,” “Game of Thrones,” “Ad Astra” and the upcoming projects “Mulan” and “Black Widow.”
Akkaraju co-founded technology services company SR Labs with Sean Parker and still serves as executive chairman. SR Labs is a technology company which aims to streamline traditional distribution to theaters and consumers. Akkaraju is an inventor on 11 domestic and 25 global utility technology patents related to SR Labs’ architecture. Prior to SR Labs, Akkaraju was the chief content officer of SFX Entertainment.
“Weta Digital began with one machine and just one artist who created the digital effects inHeavenly Creatures,” said Walsh. “None of us knew what we were doing, but even in those early days we could see the incredible potential of this new technology. Since then, VFX has become a huge industry, but our goal has remained the same – to bring stories to life, through the power of imagination. If you can dream it, we can create it.”
The announcement comes nine months after Parker — the co-founder of Napster and the founding president of Facebook —announced a “significant” investment in Weta Digital. The company announced Thursday that Parker has joined the company’s board as vice chairman.
“I have been a Weta superfan for the past two decades,” Parker said. “The team at Weta never fails to inspire: their artistic imagination is unbounded, and their technical accomplishments have made that creative expression possible. I have spent most of my career as an entrepreneur building and expanding companies, many of which sit at the intersection between content, technology, and commerce. This unique combination of artistry and technology is precisely what sets Weta apart from its peers.”
Jackson also praised senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri and executive VFX producer David Conley for playing a “huge” role in the success of the company.
“With the expansion of the company, adding someone of Prem’s caliber to this mix is essential,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know Prem well over the past few years. I’m thrilled he’s agreed to lead the company through this exciting growth phase. Prem’s energy and passion for film is inspiring; we cannot wait to work with him.”