Wellington-based visual effects (VFX) studio Weta Digital is entering the software-as-a-service (SaaS) market thanks to a new deal with software vendor Autodesk that will see its proprietary, internally developed visual effects software embedded in Autodesk Maya.
The partnership underpins the launch of WetaM, a new offering that productises Weta’s own set of proprietary VFX tools for artists built on Maya’s open application programming interface (API).
The WetaM offering, which is expected to be rolled out as a private beta in the fourth calendar quarter of this year, will be commercialised by Weta Digital as a subscription cloud service.
Weta Digital, which is famous for its Lord of the Rings series and Avatar effects, has won 13 Academy Sci-tech Awards for its tools, designed to help artists produce some of the most successful film and TV series in the world. It now claims to be one of the largest single-site VFX studios in the world, drawing artists from over 40 countries.
The launch of WetaM marks the first product launch under a newly formed SaaS division within Weta Digital. The new business arm is an integral part of Weta’s expansion strategy to offer professional and prosumer tools to artists across the global entertainment industry, the company said.
“WetaM is the first step in the democratisation of VFX and animation production,” said Prem Akkaraju, CEO of Weta Digital. “Weta Digital brings together the most creative minds in the world and has been a pioneering innovator in the visual effects and entertainment industry for decades.
“WetaM is a transformational move that will raise the bar for global creative production, redefining the industry in the process. At its core, this partnership with Autodesk will extend the reach of the Weta magic, making it more accessible for artists in pursuit of creating amazing characters and worlds across film and television,” he added.
According to Diana Colella, senior vice president of entertainment and media solutions at Autodesk, the debut of WetaM is a “game changer” that opens up years of Weta’s dedicated animation and VFX research and development resources to users around the world.
“It is exciting to be working with Weta to bring their magic to Maya artists, offering them powerful new effects tools and time-saving automation capabilities,” she said.
While Weta’s new SaaS offering is clearly not an enterprise technology play, it does mark a major development for the company that will see it garner recurring revenue from software subscription services, in addition to the revenue it makes from its core visual effects business.
Over the years, Weta Digital itself has been a major consumer of such services. In late 2020, after provisioning its own supercomputing power for decades, Weta Digital moved to retire most of its IT infrastructure and head for the cloud with Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The studio's data centre cluster in Wellington regularly made the Top 500 list of global supercomputers until fading out in June 2018.
Now, Weta is making use of AWS' cloud services to create a new, cloud-based VFX workflow, including a set of technologies for VFX artists to support the studio’s global expansion, accelerate key portions of film production and expand Weta Digital’s New Zealand operations.
Over the course of the multi-year deal, the studio is migrating the vast majority of its IT infrastructure to AWS to support a pipeline that includes 100 proprietary tools and its LED-stage virtual production service, which creates immersive new worlds on set.