Peter Jackson is predicting production of “The Hobbit” films will start in the middle of next summer, a few months later than expected.

Jackson made the projection in a recent interview with a German web site to promote “The Lovely Bones,” which he directed and produced.

Jackson explained he’s hoping to complete the second “Hobbit” script — written with Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and director Guillermo del Toro — by the beginning of next year, which would trigger calculation of the budget and setting a start for lensing in New Zealand. “The Hobbit” films are being exec produced by Jackson and Walsh with MGM and New Line co-financing.

No castings have been announced and it’s unclear whether “The Hobbit” films will keep their previously announced release dates of December 2011 and December 2012. New Line parent Warner Bros. will handle domestic and MGM will have international.

Tolkien’s book, published in 1937, follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece for “The Lord of the Rings.”

Following the success of the “Rings” trilogy, Jackson sued New Line over profits from the first film. Though they settled in 2007, that slowed development of “The Hobbit.”

New Line was then sued last year by Tolkien’s heirs and HarperCollins over allegations that the Tolkien Estate had not been the 7.5% of profits to which it was entitled from the three films. The suit, which demanded $220 million in compensation, was settled in September with the terms not disclosed and the heirs asserting that production could go ahead unimpeded.