Lord of the Rings Visual Effects Firm Opts for Microsoft

Weta Digital, the New Zealand-based visual effects company behind such box-office hits as King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, today announced a licensing agreement with Microsoft that will see it use Redmond's technology in its movie, commercial and other multimedia productions. Weta Digital, formed in 1997 by a group of New Zealand filmmakers – including Academy Award-winners Peter Jackson, Jamie Selkirk and Richard Taylor – offers visual effects for feature films and commercials, though it remains best known for two aforementioned projects.

"Last year, Microsoft showed us some new research in computer graphics that we thought would be a great addition to our toolkit," said Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor at Weta Digital. "We realised that by working directly with Microsoft Research, we could develop these ideas faster and spend more time on the creative effects." Microsoft is planning to share its graphics research this year at SIGGRAPH 2007, the Association for Computing Machinery's 34th annual international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques.

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Agreed on Transformers. While some of the effects sequences were very well done, some missed the mark. More importantly, those type of effects are amongst the easiest and best understood pipeline wise today.

Odds are you are right, deadpencil, about crappy model shots. Bad CGI is well understood (some guys just never learned how to light real things, or still use poor lighting model software like Max), but bad model work is just so old school.

Croquant said,
Um, no.
That sort of stuff is small potatoes compared to the CGI that Weta cranks out.

Actually I'd say any DX10 game would beat the crap that was Peter Jackson's King Kong. I wasn't particularly impressed by the graphics in the LOTR trilogy (it set the scene well but was more cartoony than realistic) but I was appalled by the laughable graphics in the King Kong remake. I have much more respect for the special effects that went into the original.

theyarecomingforyou said,

Actually I'd say any DX10 game would beat the crap that was Peter Jackson's King Kong. I wasn't particularly impressed by the graphics in the LOTR trilogy (it set the scene well but was more cartoony than realistic) but I was appalled by the laughable graphics in the King Kong remake. I have much more respect for the special effects that went into the original.

What are you smoking? King Kong special effects were delicious aside from the dinosaurs, but Kong himself looked excellent, so clear and crisp you could see each hair on his fur, with clarity like that in their special effects, I'm sure they could see the slight disappointment when you arrived out of your mothers womb.

Trouble is KK's "special" effects were limited to Kong himself. The rest of the film didn't hold up nearly as well. Some were just outright bad.

They still aren't as consistently great as Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).

Take a film like "Fellowship of the Ring". It's effects have aged badly, especially considering it got the Oscar.

Now look at ILM's "A.I." made that same year. Some of it's effects are still astonishing, and they are all seamless.

PeterTHX,

ILM has a number of teams. The A-team (AI, etc.) remains one of best in the FX industry. So when you are talking about ILM's FX you have to really compare apples to apples. WETA's best for digital human work is still FAR superior to ILM's best in the same category (for example, there's no comparison between the sublime Gollum/Weta and the green toy/rhino Hulk/ILM).

So, while I agree with you that AI has flawless FX work, the nature of that FX work was VASTLY easier (CG robots are easier than CG people).

And this is why ILM has seen a lack of FX oscars over the past 10 years. They traded "factory" for "quality" a long time ago. Those awards are selected by their peers, other VFX people, so they tend to filter in favor of groundbreaking/hard (i.e. BABE) versus well-understood/flawless (i.e. APOLLO 13).

So, I think over the past decade, Weta has EASILY shown higher consistent quality over ILM, without a doubt, despite King Kong being Weta's low point (for everything except Kong himself, who was amazingly well executed).

Xero said,
I'm sure they could see the slight disappointment when you arrived out of your mothers womb.

Do you think that's a fair response to me crticising the graphics in King Kong?

NEway, the graphics during the dinosaur chase sequence were appalling... humans were out running dinosaurs; the lighting was comical; they jumped about on the screen like a bad computer game, etc - in general it was poorly directed. Then there where Kong would pick Ann up - they just looked pathetic and he would move her so quickly the G-force would have been extreme. Physics were lacking. King Kong himself was reasonable but again far from convincing and still obviously graphics.

The best graphics I've seen to date were in the Transformers film and even that was hit and miss. Some scenes were amazing and it was hard to tell they were graphics (and I'm usually pretty fussy), yet others were very crude. Graphics should be used to enhance a film or do something that was otherwise unachievable. Instead graphics are being used to sell films and rather than create atmosphere they go for huge graphical environments that are clearly not real and take away from the scene (the Star Wars prequels are clear demonstration how modern graphics still can't out-do decent films made 30yrs ago).

theyarecomingforyou said,
The best graphics I've seen to date were in the Transformers film and even that was hit and miss. Some scenes were amazing and it was hard to tell they were graphics (and I'm usually pretty fussy), yet others were very crude.

I work in the visual effects industry, and after studying most of the sequences in Transformers I wouldn't call any of them "very crude". I agree that one or two sequences had a rough roto, I noticed a tracking point left in shot and a couple of reflections were incorrect (since they appeared to be reflective occlusion not traced) but I wouldn't think anyone would notice this unless they studied it extremely closely.
I think that possibly the weaker scenes were the ones which were shot using miniatures, not the CG comps.