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Weta Digital: The Lords of CGI

How Weta, a small company from New Zealand, revolutionised cinema’s visual landscape
Iron Man
© Marvel Studios

The company that would go on to become the world leader in film effects, with its fingerprints on numerous Hollywood blockbusters, was born in 1987 in the flat of its two founders, Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, in Wellington, New Zealand. Then known as RT Effects, it took on its current name, Weta, when they were joined in 1993 by film editor Jamie Selkirk and the man now most associated with its work, Peter Jackson – who would go on to direct The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

Early in its life, the company split into two specialised halves, Weta Workshop and Weta Digital. The former provides props, costumes, make-up and prosthetics and the latter produces computer-generated visual and special effects – everything from destruction and explosions to lifelike digital characters such as their famous portrayal of Tolkein’s Gollum and Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

For three consecutive years, from 2002 to 2004, the company won the Academy Award for best visual effects. Weta Digital won the same Oscar again in 2006 for Jackson’s remake of King Kong, and in 2010 for James Cameron’s Avatar.

This year’s Iron Man 3, starring Robert Downey Jr, is another success story, the fifth-highest-grossing film of all time.

Its premise provided fertile ground for Weta’s talents: the villain, Killian, is a human who has been genetically modified through the injection of a serum called Extremis. Extremis makes him almost invincible but also generates an incredible internal body heat. Computer graphic simulations were combined on top of a fully simulated digital body to achieve the unique look.

Currently in production is the new Hunger Games film, the second in the series starring Jennifer Lawrence, the second Hobbit film, due out in December and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is set for release next July.


Bio: Weta Digital is one of the world’s premier visual effects companies. Led by Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri, Weta Digital is known for uncompromising creativity and commitment to developing innovative technology. From groundbreaking performance-driven digital characters such as Gollum, Kong and Caesar, to the revolutionary virtual production workflows of Avatar and The Adventures of Tintin, they continue to break down barriers between live action and CG and expand what is possible in film. Weta Digital established its reputation for cutting edge visual effects with work on blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. The company began work in 1993 on co-founder Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures and is based in Wellington, New Zealand.


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