Avatar sequels to shoot in Wellington

Make room Middle-earth, here comes Pandora.

Wellington is set to become the new home of the fictional planet after director James Cameron all but confirmed sequels to Avatar will be made in the capital.

The Hollywood film-maker told the New York Times two sequels to the blockbuster hit will "almost certainly" be shot in Sir Peter Jackson's Miramar production studios, with visual effects completed at nearby Weta Digital.

And while Cameron said he was not coming to "compete" with Jackson, he was considering emulating him by building film facilities, possibly in Auckland.

The news has been met with huge interest from industry groups, who say the films will cement Wellington's status as one of the world's most desirable film- making hubs.

"It's pretty exciting for the region," said Film Wellington manager Nicci Lock. "It means a lot really. It's more jobs, it's more money into the economy, and it just adds to our reputation as a screen destination."

Avatar was made with Weta Digital, which provided the visual effects for the film and won an Oscar for its work. Weta also provided the conceptual design, specialty costumes, props and weapons.

Ms Lock said it was always thought the company would reprise those roles for any sequels, but news that shooting would take place in Wellington was a surprise.

"I think that's the most interesting part. Obviously Weta Digital has been involved before, but this is new."

Weta Digital did not respond to an inquiry from The Dominion Post yesterday.

About $362 million was spent in New Zealand making the first Avatar 3-D film, employing hundreds of digital animators in Wellington for years on the complex computer-generated images.

The film employed more than 1500 people in New Zealand and injected about $100m into the Wellington economy alone.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce president Richard Stone said continued activity was crucial for the local film industry.

'Wellington needs a boost and this announcement comes at a good time. As well as the direct impact, the production [will] have positive spinoffs from the increased exposure it provides."

Harry Harrison, of Film Auckland, said it was exciting to be "on James Cameron's radar".

"If he was to pursue any film infrastructure development in Auckland it would undoubtedly have an enormously positive impact on the industry here."

In January, Cameron paid about $20m for a 817 hectare property in remote South Wairarapa, called Pounui, and a 250ha dairy farm.

He has since added three neighbouring lifestyle blocks and a 13-hectare site containing several buildings.

He was quoted in the New York Times as saying he will turn a recently purchased wedding reception hall into his "workshop", go scuba-diving in Lake Pounui, and convert the dairy farm to sustainable cropping.

Cameron will arrive in the spring to continue writing the Avatar scripts as well as letting his family "acclimatise" to the place where they intend to spend at least half the year.

Yesterday, neighbours said lights had been on at Pounui for "a few weeks now", with helicopters coming and going from the property. It is believed Cameron's American property manager is preparing the place for the family's arrival.

Cameron and wife Suzy Amis have said they want to raise their children, 10-year-old twins Claire and Quinn, and Elizabeth Rose, 5, "close to the land and with a strong work ethic".

Cameron said Avatar 2 was set for release in 2015.

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Email: seamus.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

The Dominion Post