With his Star Wars prequel trilogy and his special effects company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) he has pounded the movie industry over the head with an abundance (in some cases an overabundance) of digital effects. Nearly every shot in each of the three movies contains some kind of digital effect. The volume of work that was produced might lead people to expect a diminished quality of the work since there is so much that was being attempted. But the truth is that the art form of digital effects was improved by leaps and bounds. Beginning with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the animation and rendering of skin and texture on digital characters and environments was a huge leap.
The techniques that were developed in that movie seem to have inspired many filmmakers since to use similar methods. Suddenly, things that were thought to have been impossible to do in a movie were now possible. Filmmaker Peter Jackson realized this, which was one of the reasons why he decided to make The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Digital effects aided him immensely in making his own trilogy.
Another way that the methods of George Lucas aided Peter Jackson's team was in previsualization. Previz, as it is usually called, allows a director and effects team to see what shots in the movie will look like before actual shooting begins. Previz used to only consist of storyboards, hand drawn pictures of the shots that didn't move. But Lucas invited Jackson and his team to Skywalker Ranch to have a look at their previz department, which was using computer aided storyboards. They were crude computer models, lesser versions of what would appear on screen, but they allowed for moving pictures instead of the still photos that drawn storyboards are.
Based on this one could conclude that The Lord of the Rings movies almost couldn't have been created without the pioneering of George Lucas. This is true, but only in some ways. The work begun by ILM did enable Weta to have a beginning point but they did not simply slavishly copy the techniques. Peter Jackson encouraged Weta to develop their own techniques that built upon the ones achieved by ILM.
The main difference between the techniques of both effects houses is the creation of their digital characters. Both effects houses were faced with the daunting tasks of creating digital characters that were important parts of the story and had to give actual performances. ILM had to create Jar Jar Binks and later Yoda while Weta had to create Gollum and Treebeard.
But while ILM mainly stuck with the process of key frame animation for creating their characters (with the exception of using the actor Ahmed Best for some motion capture and on set work), Weta used a variety of techniques to bring their characters to life. They used Andy Serkis as an on set actor while filming to give the animators a reference for what Gollum would be like as a character and how he would move around. This also helped with the interaction between the digital character and the actors on set. After filming was completed Andy was put into a motion capture suit to record his movements for the computer. This helped immensely with the animation because every movement did not have to be controlled and created by the animators. It already existed from Andy Serkis' performance. Another method they used was to scan Serkis' face and use it as a model to design the face of the character. Since Gollum retained Serkis' facial characteristics the