Weta Digital is a New Zealand-based visual effects company.
It was founded in 1993 as collaboration between Peter Jackson, Jamie Selkirk, and Richard Taylor to produce digital special effects for the film Heavenly Creatures.
The company is named after the Weta, which is an insect native to the country.
The Weta is among the largest and heaviest insects, and is extremely hardy, living in a wide range of climates and environments – which is apt, because Weta Digital has quietly established itself as one of the most reliable names in the global visual effects industry for a superlative quality of work.
They are associated with several successful films which have won Academy awards for visual effects:
Also, they have provided visual effects for numerous popular films like Van Helsing(2004), I, Robot (2004), Eragon(2006), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Prometheus (2012),The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014),Man of Steel (2013), Godzilla (2014), Deadpool(2016), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017), and Justice League (2017)
– Among many others. Let us take a look behind the scenes of some of these notable films to better understand what makes Weta Digital tick.
Released all the way back in 1994, this film marks the beginning of the career of not only Weta Digital, but also actress Kate Winslet.
A psychological drama, it is based on the real story of two girls who develop a friendship and eventually hatch (and execute) a plan to murder one of their mothers so that they won’t be separated.
Their friendship is cemented by their shared experiences and written descriptions of imaginary worlds – which is where Weta Digital comes into play.
Over seventy latex costumes were created for the plasticise characters that inhabit the imaginary Borovnian world.
Fourteen VFX shots were done on their first computer, recreating a balcony, and imagining the Borovnian landscapes.
Despite the then-limited technology, the film became a landmark of sorts, setting the yardstick for Weta’s subsequent work.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Starting with The Fellowship of the Ring (540 vfx shots) in 2001, The Lord of the Rings trilogy also includes The Two Towers (2002, with 799 vfx shots) and The Return of the King (2003, featuring 1488 vfx shots).
Set in Middle Earth, a fantastical world created by J. R. R. Tolkien in his famed books, the series is an epic fantasy describing a dark lord’s quest for world domination and the attempt of an ordinary person to make a difference and stop the dark lord.
For the visual effects of the three films, Weta developed new software, MASSIVE, which was used extensively for simulating large crowds in the war scenes.
The Fellowship of the Ring marked the first time that a virtual camera was used for filming.
The Two Towers marked the first full screen appearance of Gollum, whose motion capture was done by actor Andy Serkis.
The Return of the King, the final film, won the Academy Award (Oscar) in all eleven categories in which it received nominations.
If one counts the extended editions of the films, the total number of VFX shots goes up from 2730 to 3420.
The plethora of digitally created creatures, environments and special effects make this series a landmark in the world of visual effects and, by extension, set Weta Digital as a force to be reckoned with.
Right on the heels of The Lord of the Rings came 2005’s King Kong.
A remake of the original 1933 film, King Kong tells the tale of a filmmaker who travels to a mysterious island where they encounter a massive gorilla called Kong.
They capture Kong and bring him back to New York City, but things don’t happen quite as planned.
As far as visual effects goes, the gorilla Kong was created through a blend of motion capture (provided again by Andy Serkis) and traditional digital key frame animation.
The challenge with Kong was to make him expressive and realistic without the aid of dialogue, and Weta has – needless to say – accomplished this successfully.
They even developed a new modelling and simulation software in order to create and render the four million-odd hairs on Kong’s body.
As further testament to their dedication to the field, the studio created CityBot, a system that they used to recreate Manhattan from 1933.
The landscapes and creatures of Skull Island were designed imagining what millions of years of evolution in an isolated environment might have done to dinosaurs and the flora of the prehistoric times.
This epic film follows a retired paraplegic US marine as he is sent to an alien moon on a special mission.
The moon, Pandora, is inhabited by the race of blue, humanoid Na’vi, and the title of the film is a reference to the genetically engineered Na’vi bodies used by the human on their missions.
The Sanskrit word that the word came from (Director James Cameron described in interviews how the blue bodies of the Na’vi, too, is a nod to Hindu deities).
With the combined input of James Cameron (a visual effects enthusiast himself, and director of The Terminator, which was groundbreaking at the time of its release) and Weta Digital, Avatar is remarkable and memorable on many accounts.
Not only did the film pioneer technology such as the use of a stereoscopic camera in production.
It also called for huge leaps to be made in developing existing technology for real-time performance capture (not only motion, but also expressions – the early stages of which was used for King Kong).
Facial rigging (cameras were fitted with skull caps and boom mics to properly capture and digitally translate expressions), 3D animation, lighting, texturing and compositing.
The level of detail achieved ensured suspension of disbelief in viewers throughout the two-hour-plus runtime of the film – which utilised computer generated imagery in varying degrees for the majority of that duration.
The MASSIVE simulation engine was modified in order to generate the Pandoran landscapes and foliage.
Research for the environments involved thousands of reference photographs which were then replicated digitally for the film.
This was the process behind the floating mountains, soul trees, Pandora animals, and various other elements.
To facilitate such massive scale visual effects work.
Weta developed a new cloud based system called Gaia for data management, and set up a 10,000 sq. ft. render farm of 4000 server computers, which is listed among the world’s 200 most powerful supercomputers.
Since Avatar, Weta has been involved with fine-tuning their capabilities and has produced visual effects for many major films.