2:00pm PT by Carolyn Giardina
Peter Jackson's Weta Launches Animation Studio
Weta Digital — the visual effects company behind the Oscar-winning work on The Lord of the Rings and Avatar — is expanding with the launch of an animation unit that will produce original feature and streaming content. Majority owners Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh plan to plan a key role in the unit, including writing, producing and directing several not yet disclosed animated projects.
Wellington, New Zealand-based Weta is additionally growing with the hiring of its first CEO, Prem Akkaraju, who previously co-founded recently rebranded SR Labs, formerly known as Screening Room, with Weta investor and board vice chairman Sean Parker. Akkaraju previously served as the company's CEO and still serves as executive chairman. Earlier, he was chief content officer of SFX Entertainment, overseeing live and recorded electronic music festival and related content. Before that, he was a principal at JPMorgan Entertainment Partners.
In his new role, Akkaraju — who will split his time between L.A. and New Zealand — will work closely with Weta’s senior creative team, including three-time Oscar winning senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri (who is currently working on the Avatar sequels) and executive VFX producer David Conley.
Dubbed Weta Animated, the new animation unit is expected to tap outside directing and producing talent, and is also looking at the potential to bring them on staff, as is the model at animation studios such as Pixar and DreamWorks. For production, the studio intends to take advantage of Weta's existing VFX technology pipeline and artists for animation work, growing as required from that starting point.
Said Jackson, "We are huge fans of animated storytelling in all of its forms, but it can be along, protracted, and often costly way to make movies. 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 Digital currently comprised of 1,550 artists and engineers, who have been working remotely amid COVID-19 through the studio has more recently started to reopen, with James Cameron's Avatar sequels among the projects back in production.
Akkaraju noted that he was thrilled to join the company in this "hypergrowth stage with the launch of original content, bolstering our VFX service business and expanding our technology capability and infrastructure."
To date Weta's work has won six visual effects Academy Awards, ten Academy Sci-Tech Awards and six visual effects BAFTA Awards. Notable and upcoming projects include Avengers: Infinity Wars, Avengers: End Game, Game of Thrones, Space Force, Mulan and Black Widow.