Peter Jackson to make original animated content for Weta

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2019 file photo, Peter Jackson poses for photographers at the BAFTA awards in London. Jackson's company, Weta Digital, one of the worlds premier visual effects companies, will begin producing original content. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP, File) (Joel C Ryan, 2019 Invision)

Weta Digital, the Academy Award-winning visual effects company that made “The Lord of the Rings” and “Avatar” possible, is making original animated content for cinemas and streaming for the first time in its 25-year history. The company also said Thursday that Prem Akkaraju had joined the New Zealand-based shop as CEO.

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the married filmmaking team behind “The Lord of the Rings” and majority stakeholders in the company, plan to write, produce and direct several of the projects for Weta Animated.

“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,” Jackson said in a written statement. “That’s, 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.”

Weta Digital was founded in 1993 to produce the special effects for Jackson’s film “Heavenly Creatures” and has grown exponentially as the movie industry has become more reliant on digital visual effects. It’s also been one of the rare filmmaking companies that has been able to continue functioning safely throughout the pandemic. In addition to the “Avatar” sequels, Weta Digital is also working on “Jungle Cruise” and “The Batman.”

Akkaraju co-founded SR Labs with Sean Parker, who recently invested in the company and joined the board as vice chairman.

“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,” Akkaraju said.