Unity, a game engine company famous for top-tier mobile phone graphics, purchased Wētā Digital’s name and VFX technology in 2021, but has decided to exit that business in a change of strategy.
It was originally a huge headline that minted Sir Peter Jackson a billionaire. The director of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films sold the digital VFX tools business for $1.625 billion, in a deal which included dozens of award-winning visual effects plugins for 3D graphics programs like Maya and Houdini as well as the 265 computer programmers coding and maintaining that software. The original deal resulted in Jackson creating a new company, WētāFX, which he still has ownership of and still employs digital artists and studio management that went on to win another Oscar for Avatar: The Way of Water.
Wētā FX, the spinoff company of artists but not programmers, has stated they intend to re-hire the programmers that were recently let go from employment with Unity’s business change. WētāFX is currently working on Avatar 3, a film that’s expected to break new ground in visual effects and which relies heavily on the digital tools and programmers that were laid off with this move.
If you’re keeping up, it seems that Peter Jackson made a billion dollars and now gets to keep using the digital tools, keep the team together, and use the Weta Digital name again. First reported by FXGuide, Unity is returning the name Wētā Digital to Peter Jackson.
The news confused many fans, with some thinking the Oscar-winning studio had closed down.
It was also confusing when the deal first happened — many industry folk asked what was Unity buying if it didn’t include the entire award-winning studio responsible for LOTR, Avatar and Planet of the Apes. Many theorized Unity was attempting to jump into the digital filmmaking arena pioneered by The Volume StageCraft of Disney Star Wars fame, a live in-person 8K digital LED screen powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine. Both Unreal and Unity compete in the game engine business, but Unity had almost zero footprint in Hollywood movie production business. Buying Wētā Digital’s toolset seemed like a shortcut to getting world-class filmmaking tools to compete with Unreal on The Volume. VFX industry trade show SIGGRAPH hinted at big plans from Unity and Weta Digital.
Currently all Avatar and The Lord of the Rings filmmaking projects have not utilized The Volume during production, but Star Wars and The Batman have.
All of this business stuff is unrelated to Weta Workshop’s Tales of the Shire video game. That is being currently developed by Wētā Workshop in partnership with Private Division. Additionally, Wētā Workshop’s games studio is separate from Wētā FX.
What’s next for Peter Jackson and Weta Digital, Weta FX and Weta Workshop? They have been busy winning Emmy’s for The Beatles Get Back, releasing a new and final Beatles song Then & Now, winning Oscars for Avatar, and talking with WB about getting back into Middle-earth. Many fans are hoping Jackson can make a deal with Warner Bros to become the Kevin Fiege of Middle-earth: a franchise producer with total control of top-tier storytelling and filmmaking.
Become a Numenorean and sail to Middle-earth with us
After a successful Cruise to Middle-earth in November of 2008, and a sequel cruise in December 2012, it is time to complete the Trilogy. This Journey to Middle earth starts on January 2, 2023, in Sydney, Australia as you board the Celebrity Eclipse, and runs 12 nights long, ending in Auckland, New Zealand on January 14, 2023. This is not a LOTR convention at Sea, but more of a Mobile Middle-earth Moot where we get to see the real-world Middle-earth while enjoying the benefits of a luxurious cruise ship.
The Celebrity Eclipse comes with a 1/2 acre of live grass called the Lawn Club
This 12-night cruise will take you to such filming locations as Hobbiton and Edoras, with the option to visit the WETA Workshop in Wellington on a private tour. Other ports visited will be Melbourne, Dunedin, and the Bay of Islands. And for those choosing to arrive in Sydney a few days early, you will be able to celebrate the New Year’s Celebration near the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge for fireworks (not included, but I can assist in securing a hotel and flights).
Departs Sydney on January 2, 2023 and ends in Auckland on January 14, 2023
Once the cruise is finished, there will be an optional 2-night post-cruise stay in Auckland so that we can experience WETA Unleashed, and have a farewell dinner in the restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland, and have a private tour and dinner in Hobbiton. This allows folks to choose a Cultural or Geological tour option in the port of Tauranga (Rotorua) rather than Hobbiton from the ship, which will be rather short and bunched together with other cruise passengers that might not be as geeky as those in our group. If you choose this post-cruise tour, there will be an additional cost, and you will need to remain in New Zealand at least until January 16, 2023.
Garfeimao and Bella in front of Bagend in 2018
If you choose to arrive on the morning of the cruise, you will have to depart North America on December 31, 2022, to arrive by January 2, 2023, or you can depart earlier and spend a couple of days in Sydney. If you wish to be in Sydney for the actual New Year’s celebration, you will want to depart North America no later than December 29 for a December 31 arrival. For those interested parties in Europe or Down Under, the time difference will affect you differently.
I am arranging an exclusive day tour to visit with WETA in Wellington for us when the ship is in port, which will include a private workshop. There will be a motorcoach to pick us up just outside the port area in the morning and take us over to Miramar to tour the facility, taking in not just LOTR projects, but some of the many other film projects WETA has worked on over the years. This will be topped off with a hands-on workshop on crafting leather and chain maille armor before the motorcoach will take us back to the city center for a self-guided tour inside the Te Papa Museum. You will not want to miss Te Papa, besides it being a world-class museum, there is a Gallipoli exhibit created by WETA that must be seen to believe, and the museum is free. We will then make our own way back to the ship before it departs. This tour can be purchased as a customized package not included in the cruise fare. A quote will be available shortly.
The original 2008 Cruise to Middle-earth group, the 5-year-old in the center just finished his first year of college.
On the ship, there will be a few days at sea, with no port stops, so I’ll be planning a few group activities that you can choose to join or not, depending on whether you would prefer to go to the spa or partake in other Ship Hosted activities. There will be a Tolkien Toast on January 3, 2023, to commemorate the Professor’s birthday, and then there will be a few games and group discussions, and maybe singing along to some of Tolkien’s songs found in the books. And this cruise takes place just a couple of months after the Rings of Power airs, so lots to discuss and maybe an additional location or two to be seen. For those of you with Middle-earth costumes, feel free to bring them, especially if they are on the lighter side, for packing purposes. There will be a Costumed Cocktail reception, and for those without costumes, a geeky t-shirt will suffice. The bonus is that you can also wear the costume either in Edoras or Hobbiton or bring two costumes and do both.
Other cruises thought our group were performers and wanted to follow us to our show
The nitty-gritty information for this group is that it has been on sale for several months, so some room types are no longer available. The Cruise pricing fluctuates regularly, based on available discounts for persons who qualify (past passenger, Senior or military rate, etc.) and just what rooms are still open for booking. An interior room right now is starting at $2179 per person, a Balcony room starts at $2429 per person and a Concierge Balcony (more perks) starts at $2869 per person. The private tour to WETA during the ship’s port stop in Wellington will have its own price, to be finalized very soon, and the customized 2-night post-cruise tour in Auckland to Hobbiton and other activities is currently priced at $1170 per person, but that will go down with a few more people booked into the group. There is a small planning fee of $50 per person if booked by May 31, and then it goes up to $100 per person on June 1.
To make an inquiry, please contact me at Garfeimao@TheOneRing.net
New Line Cinema and Warner Bros animation announce a new animation project LORD OF THE RINGS: THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM from the director of Ghost in the Shell, with film Philippa Boyens attached to consult on the project.
The anime feature film will be directed by Kenji Kamiyama (Ultraman, Ghost in the Shell) and set in Rohan telling the story of Helm Hammerhand. The film is confirmed to be in the same universe as Peter Jackson’s film series.
“This will be yet another epic portrayal of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world that has never been told before. We’re honored to partner with much of the incredible talent behind both film trilogies, along with new creative luminaries to tell this story. And so it begins.”
We’ve been digging through the Green Book archives a bit to find relevant articles discussing the ‘purity’ of Tolkien and his works. We came across this classic from Green Book author, Anwyn, where she addresses the questions that came out of watching the 2003 MTV Movie Awards. If you aren’t familiar with it…read on!
The Hobbits Accept ‘Best Movie’ at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards
I admit it. I’m at a loss for a stunning literary topic, one that will provoke your emotions, stimulate your mind, and offer some insight into Tolkien’s life or works. I sat down this evening with my brain half fried, knowing that I had a deadline to meet, and started flipping channels. Lo and behold, what did I pass but the MTV Movie Awards, and hark, who should be sitting behind Kirsten Dunst but the intrepid trio of Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, and Billy Boyd? Moreover, what award should they be announcing at that very moment but the award for “Best Movie?” I stayed to watch, having not bothered the first time they ran it.
I admit it. My finger is not on the pulse, as they say, of the pop-culture acclaim the Lord of the Rings movie phenomenon has generated and continues to stoke. I have not followed marketing trends; I couldn’t tell my father what TTT had grossed at the box office when he asked. I know, in a general way, that these films are wildly popular beyond the book’s fan base, that the movies have started their own fire that, due to the modern climate, burns higher than the literary one created when Tolkien was still living. What I don’t know is whether or not that’s a good thing.
The intro was cute. Keanu Reeves was charming. And the winner is … The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Elijah, Billy and Sean, looking MTV cool in untucked, unbuttoned shirts, bounded up on stage, where Sean apologized for Gollum’s previous tirade. “That dude is out of control!”
I admit it. I didn’t watch TORn’s clip of Gollum’s “acceptance speech.” I read a transcript and was horrified enough that I had no desire to watch it. Why? you ask. It was funny! you say. Perhaps. But the issue, in my mind, was not whether or not it was funny, but the fact that Tolkien is barrel-rolling in his grave at having one of his characters co-opted into speaking such filth. Puritan, you remark. Perhaps. “Purist” would be closer to the mark, I think. The hallmark of Tolkien’s work is the very purity of his language, and to find the most vile of modern insults coming out of the mouth of a digitally created Gollum disgusted me and, I think, would have appalled and disgusted Tolkien.
The boyishly handsome trio accepted the award on behalf of the production and left the stage. I came to my computer wondering. This new popularity: good or bad?
There is no need to speculate about what Tolkien himself would have thought. Though the popularity of his books, in his day, was smaller in scope and lesser in frantic, frenzied intensity than that we are observing now in response to the movies, he still had to fend off a wave of targeted questioning and obsession with minutiae, causing him to make remarks about his “deplorable cultus” and the dangers of becoming involved in the stories “in a way I’m not.” That tendency is more alive and well than ever today, thanks partly to the very wonderful establishment with which I am connected and others like it on the internet. “Fan fiction,” which I assume to have existed before the web but which certainly has suffered an unbelievable popularity explosion since, with access to an immediate and free forum, proves this in and of itself, as do the myriad questions we get at Green Books every day.
My colleague Quickbeam and many others have come down to the baseline opinion that if it encourages people to read Tolkien, then the indignities that come with the Hollywood marketing machine are well endured. But arepeople reading Tolkien as a result of all this hype? The evidence that I see is mixed.
Viggo reads ‘The Return of the King’
We get many letters at GB that include notes like “I am now reading the books to my [sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandchildren], and they LOVE them. They would never have been interested in them before the movie.” That’s wonderful, and of course I couldn’t be anything but pleased. But we get a greater number of notes, questions for the Q&A, that clearly show that their authors have not read and have no desire to read—only to know more about the world that their current idols [insert Elijah, Orlando, Billy, Dominic, Sean, Sean, or Viggo here] inhabit in these films. “Who is Aragorn and where did he come from?” “Who are Legolas’s parents? Does he ever fall in love? Is it true that he dies in the third movie?” and my personal favorite, “Can you give me a complete history of Elrond? Who is he, where did he come from, who are his parents, what is his significance?” Don’t tell me that these folks have any intention of reading—this stuff could be readily found if they’d ever even cracked a book.
So if people are not reading, what’s the fuss about? Special effects, swordplay, hot guys, and hot chicks, apparently. Again I hear that scraping, swishing sound … Tolkien is rolling.
I am not intending any commentary here on Jackson’s films themselves. My opinions on that score are well documented elsewhere. My concern is with the ultramodern hype that has followed.
I admit it. There’s not much reason to care whether or not the marketing machine runs at full efficiency and creates these millions of screaming Orli drones. After all, what does it hurt Tolkien’s books or my enjoyment of them? From one perspective, it doesn’t hurt one iota. From another perspective, it hurts to see characters that I regarded as the highest of the high, the pinnacle of heroic epic, degenerated into pop-culture icons. And it is not so with some of my other favorites. Anne of Green Gables, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility, and others have all been brought with sensitivity and grace to the big screen. And sensitivity and grace are not lacking in the majority of Jackson’s characterizations, either. So the difference must lie in the public reaction to them and to the supposedly clever accolades, like Gollum’s fling at the MTV awards, that follow.
Forgive me, dear readers, if I am indulging in a ramble without a point. This musing is simply part of a bigger question—how healthy is all this fandom, anyway? “Frenzy and intensity,” I said above to describe the modern fanboy and fangirl machines, and it’s true. The nearness of people to one another through the media and internet allows them to mass-embrace one concept in a way they never could have done a century ago. Is this healthy for our individual and collective minds and spirits? The screaming, the shoving for a picture or an autograph … I digress. Those are issues connected with all popular Hollywooders, not with Lord of the Rings alone, of course. And I guess that’s the crux of the matter—something formerly so exalted in the realm of literature alone has been brought to a level equal to that of the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears. I guess that’s where the real rub lies. Like the rub of a tweed jacket upon the inside of a coffin. Tolkien is rolling.
If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to email@example.com. One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.
The TORn family would like to congratulate Sir Peter Jackson who is among the six new inductees to New Zealand’s Business Hall of Fame. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film productions contributed to the New Zealand economy for years, not to mention Weta Workshop, Weta Digital, and many other spin-off endeavors that Peter had a personal hand in founding, or contributed to in partnership with others.
The hall of fame was established in 1994 to recognise and celebrate individual business people who have made a big contribution to the economic and social development of New Zealand. According to the stuff.co.nz article, the inauguration ceremony will take place on Thursday, June 9. Congratulations, P.J.!! Read More …
Weta Digital has been nominated for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-time Project by the Visual Effects Society for the virtual reality demo “The Hobbit: A Thief in the Shadows.” The virtual reality (VR) experience, a collaboration between Weta Digital, Epic Games, NVIDIA and Oculus is designed to let someone wearing the PC headsets for gamers to take Bilbo’s place as he first encounters Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) in his lair.