Let’s check in on the world of VFX where everything is always terrible. Guess what? Still terrible! Despite some positive progress toward creating a more equitable, less toxic work environment for VFX artists—at least in the US, the situation remains very dire for many non-US workers—things are still pretty bad for the VFX industry.
The latest is the folding of Weta Digital, which was once part of Peter Jackson’s Weta FX, until it was split off and sold to Unity in 2021. Unity is a game engine maker that spent over $1.6 billion to acquire Weta Digital just two years ago. They are now shuttering the division but retaining the software tools they got in the deal.
So, to recap, Unity bought Weta Digital and just two years later, stripped it for parts. Of the 265 employees being laid off, Weta FX hopes to re-hire “as many of the team as possible”, and for their part, Unity says Weta FX will still have access to the software and production tools they sold to Unity as part of the deal—for a price, I bet. The deal originally came about as VFX production began incorporating game engines like Unity and the more popular Unreal into their pipelines—Unreal is a favorite with crews utilizing the “volume” technology such as in The Mandalorian and Our Flag Means Death (OFMD has the best-case usage for the volume to date, they worked with Weta FX on that show).
Hopefully, everyone from Unity will land on their feet, but this isn’t the first round of layoffs at that company. Earlier this year, they laid off 8% of their workforce after hitting the skids following a spending spree after their IPO in 2020. It’s not an unfamiliar story—it’s a microcosm of the problems facing Disney following their acquisition of Fox—but it does expose yet another issue within the VFX industry.
It's not just that crunch conditions are grinding everyone down, that chronic overwork and underpayment is demoralizing, it’s also that the tech is evolving so fast corporations struggle to strategize what to even do. Unity is a prime example, as effects studios starting using their engine in their pipelines, Unity tried to expand their focus to include filmmaking, but instead, they imploded and are now downsizing for a “company reset” to focus on their central product—the game engine.
There are just so many moving parts, and the talented artisans on the cutting edge of cinematic visual effects are utilizing so many disparate pieces of technology to keep advancing their art, if you’re not careful, you can easily step on a rake like Unity did. Adding to the pile of challenges facing the VFX industry, the same corporate consolidation plaguing the studios and jeopardizing film libraries is now jeopardizing jobs for tech and VFX workers. Can just ONE part of this industry function in a way beneficial to the people working in it? Please?
Live long and gossip,