In 1993, filmmaker Peter Jackson founded a small special effects company in his hometown of Wellington, New Zealand to provide visuals for the horror-comedy “The Frighteners.” Three decades and two Tolkien-based film trilogies later, Weta Digital is one of the most renowned companies in Hollywood—and now, it’s made Jackson a billionaire. Unity Software, a leading video game software company, is buying the technology division of Weta Digital for more than $1.6 billion, hoping to incorporate its tools and technologies into the next generation of video games. With the sale of the 3D Tools division, Jackson and his life partner Fran Walsh will earn around $975 million in cash and stocks, and with New Zealand’s lax capital gains tax, the couple will retain a large portion of their windfall.
Unity’s acquisition of Weta’s suite of visual effects tools and the underlying technology has made a fortune for more than just the filmmaker. Tech investor and Napster legend Sean Parker, who has a 25% stake in Weta, stands to earn about $400 million in the deal, and Unity CEO John Riccitiello, with 3.5 million shares of the successful video game company, has also seen his net worth grow to $1.4 billion as a result.