According to Variety, James Cameron’s Avatar sequels, in production across multiple studios in New Zealand, is reportedly a five-year commitment through post-production. They are currently simultaneously shooting the sequels, including parts of Avatar 4, after beginning pre-production in mid-2018.
The mega-production is being originated in 3D, utilizing visual effects and cutting-edge motion capture technology, all indoors. As the outlet notes, the sequels involve a massive commitment to New Zealand as well as from the country’s on and offscreen crew.
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“With Avatar you have to create a whole world. Nothing exists,” said producer Jon Landau. “The first time we came, we came because of the incentives. That was a huge motivating factor. What we learned on the first Avatar was the passion and the artistry that people bring their work here. Any location can get people to come. What is harder getting people to come back. We want to work with people who take pride in the overall, and also the detail, of their craft. We found we wanted to be back in New Zealand.”
The films have utilized a number of sites, including Kumeu Film Studios near downtown Auckland, the older Auckland Film Studios for pre-production, Stone Street Studios in Wellington, and a five-year lease on a large warehouse in Lower Hutt where construction is taking place outside of Wellington.
Weta Digital, the six-time Academy Award-winning facility based out of Wellington, is key for the Avatar sequels production. “We can’t wait till we finish production to turn over material to [VFX house] Weta Digital,” said Landau. “We feed them as we go along. We built breaks into the schedule, which allows us to edit.”
Landau also mentioned the growth they have seen since they filmed the first Avatar movie in New Zealand, particularly when they are willing to invest in the location and local talent: “New Zealand has crews with more experience now. The industry here is taking the right steps to support what has to happen. We are doing more with Park Road Post. We will be doing our mixes in New Zealand, which we did not do last time. We are now working with them on our dailies and our 3D… When we are not in production other people can still be using those toolsets, training, and advancing.”
Landau expects the Avatar franchise will qualify for New Zealand’s 5% uplift, a supplementary rebate scheme given only to films that leave something large behind, as they “have other things we have to deliver” from multiple commitments they made.
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The cast of the Avatar franchise includes Kate Winslet, Edie Falco, Michelle Yeoh, Vin Diesel, Jemaine Clement, and Oona Chaplin alongside a slate of young actors. Returning cast members include Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, Stephen Lang, Matt Gerald and Sigourney Weaver.
Cameron recently explained that Stephen Lang’s Colonel Miles Quaritch is coming back for all four sequels and will be the main villain throughout the story. Filming officially started on Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 on September 25, 2017.
After some shuffling of the schedule, Avatar 2 has been pushed back a full year from December 18, 2020, to December 17, 2021. Avatar 3 has been pushed back two years December 17, 2021 to December 22, 2023. Avatar 4 will open two years after that on December 19, 2025 (originally December 20, 2024) and Avatar 5 will drop on December 17, 2027 (originally December 19, 2025). Although Avatar 4 and Avatar 5 will only be released with director James Cameron’s caveat that Avatar 2 and 3 are successful at the box office.