Weta Digital will begin producing original content for the first time in its 25-year history. Under the banner Weta Animated, the company will develop original animated content for both cinema and streaming platforms. The company has named Prem Akkaraju, a co-founder of SR Labs, as CEO.
Weta Animated has been a long-held dream of majority owners Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who will write, produce and direct several animated projects for the company.
“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. 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,” says Jackson.
Academy Award winners Jackson and Walsh will play a key role in the development of Weta Animated. The new production company will work alongside Weta’s visual effects business for the film and television industry.
Jackson goes on to say, “We’re fortunate to have a strong, creative leadership team at Weta. Both [senior VFX supervisor] Joe Letteri and [executive VFX producer] David Conley have played 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. Prem’s energy and passion for film is inspiring; we cannot wait to work with him.”
Weta Digital is known for revolutionizing the VFX production pipeline for some of the biggest films of all time, including Avatar, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Avengers: Endgame. Over the past 25 years, Weta Digital has developed over 100 proprietary tool sets and AI technology.
“Weta Digital began with one machine and just one artist, who created the digital effects in Heavenly Creatures,” says 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.”
This sentiment is shared by entrepreneur Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook), who invested in Weta Digital last year and who has joined the board as vice chairman. Akkaraju co-founded SR Labs with Parker, where he previously served as CEO and still serves as executive chairman. SR Labs solutions streamline traditional distribution to theaters and consumers. Akkaraju is an inventor on 11 domestic and 25 global utility technology patents related to SR Labs’ groundbreaking architecture. Prior to SR Labs, Akkaraju was the chief content officer of SFX Entertainment. Before joining SFX, he was a principal at JPMorgan Entertainment Partners, the largest entertainment-focused Wall Street investment fund at the time.