Weta Digital Launches ‘Weta Animated’ to Produce Original Content

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Weta Digital will begin producing original content for the first time in its 25 year history under a new venture, Weta Animated, led by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, and has hired Prem Akkaraju as CEO. The appointment of Mr Akkaraju is a part of the continued growth of the company, which plans to extend its VFX business into production of original animation under the name Weta Animated. The company will develop original animated content for both cinema and streaming platforms.

Animation production 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 is, 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,” said Jackson.

Peter Jackson and Fran 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 said, “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 significant role in the success of the company. The years of experience that Joe and David bring to the table are invaluable. With the expansion of the company, adding someone of Prem’s caliber to this mix is essential. I’ve gotten to know Prem well over the past few years. I’m thrilled he’s agreed to lead the company through this exciting growth phase. Prem’s energy and passion for film is inspiring and we cannot wait to work with him.”

Weta Digital is known for bringing major advances to the VFX production pipeline for some of the bast known 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 systems.

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“Weta Digital began with one machine and just one artist who created the digital effects in Heavenly Creatures,” said Fran 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.”

Seismic Shifting

This sentiment is shared by entrepreneur Sean Parker, who invested in Weta Digital last year, and who has joined the board as Vice Chairman. “I have been a Weta superfan for the past two decades—I recall my sense of wonder when I first saw the character of Gollum brought to life, and later the surreal feeling of being transported to the alternate reality of Pandora. The team at Weta never fails to inspire –  their artistic imagination is unbounded, and their technical accomplishments have made that creative expression possible.

"I have spent most of my career as an entrepreneur building and expanding companies, many of which sit at the intersection between content, technology and commerce. This unique combination of artistry and technical expertise is precisely what sets Weta apart from its peers,” said Parker.

“As an entrepreneur I look for industries that are undergoing seismic shifts. Weta promises to be a disruptive force by catering to the tremendous unmet demand for high-quality animated content. Producing animated content has high barriers to entry, both technically and artistically, but Weta, with its leadership team, engineering and deep bench of creative employees, principals and collaborators is uniquely positioned to succeed. One of the great privileges of my professional life has been getting to know Peter and Fran, and every Weta team member whom I’ve had an opportunity to meet.

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“With Prem joining as CEO, I’m even more excited for what the future holds. I have long admired Prem’s relentless energy, passion and leadership capabilities. Prem has the ambition and drive to push Weta to even greater heights, and he brings global reach, strategic thinking, and clear-headed execution to a company whose roots lie in the fertile creative soil of New Zealand, but whose influence has always been global.”

Now is a Great Time

Prem Akkaraju, new CEO of Weta Digital said, “When people speak about the magic of filmmaking, they are speaking about Weta. For over 25 years, Weta has led the VFX/animation industry by fostering an incredibly talented group of artists who work in tandem with a gifted team of computer scientists and engineers. I’m thrilled to be joining Peter, Fran and the extraordinary team at Weta as we enter into a hypergrowth stage with the launch of original content, bolstering our VFX service business and expanding our capability and infrastructure.”

“Now is a great time for us to be developing original animation, something I have long been excited about exploring,” said Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri. “Storytelling is an essential part of what we do in visual effects and being able to bring our creative experience to new stories in early development opens up a world of unique possibilities.

”Throughout the ongoing pandemic, Weta's VFX and animation work has continued safely and uninterrupted. “The strength of our business is in the artists”, said David Conley. “Over the last few months they have shown that strength not with their creative skills, but with their ability to quickly adapt to new work environments. It puts a lot of pressure on how we manage the business, but its success to date is acknowledged across the industry and really reflects a collective commitment from our entire team.”

Prem Akkaraju and SR Labs

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Prem Akkaraju co-founded SR Labs with Sean Parker, where he previously served as CEO and still serves as Executive Chairman. SR Labs is a hardware and software development company servicing the film industry. Using a combination of anti-piracy systems, SR Labs speed up traditional distribution to theatres and consumers with a high level of quality and security at low cost. Prem is an inventor on eleven domestic and 25 global utility patents related to SR Labs’ architecture.

Prior to SR Labs, Prem was the Chief Content Officer of SFX Entertainment. At SFX Prem oversaw live and recorded electronic music festival and related content that collectively received over one billion views online and served as an Executive Producer of the documentary film Tomorrowland: 10 Year Anniversary and ‘Tomorrowland: World Stage’ Before joining SFX, Prem was a Principal at JP Morgan Entertainment Partners, the largest entertainment focused Wall Street investment fund at the time.  www.wetafx.co.nz