Production of three “Avatar” sequels in New Zealand has been put on hold as a precaution against the coronavirus outbreak.
Sources at the New Zealand Film Commission confirmed a postponement “until further notice” after local reports emerged Tuesday that crew members had received emails from the producers announcing an immediate suspension of production.
The film’s executive team had been due to fly from Los Angeles to New Zealand on Friday, and to resume a block of shooting at the Stone Street Studios in Wellington. They will now remain in the U.S. It is not known if that group included director James Cameron.
“We’ve delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here (in Los Angeles), and come down there a little bit later than we’d planned,” producer Jon Landau told the New Zealand Herald newspaper
“We’re in the midst of a global crisis and this is not about the film industry. I think everybody needs to do now whatever we can do, as we say here, to flatten the [coronavirus] curve.”
Since the middle of last year, the shooting has alternated between studios at Kumeu near Auckland and Stone Street in Wellington, in order that sets can be built at one studio while filming goes ahead at the other facility. Landau previously told Variety that the current production schedule spans two and a half movies. The alternating production schedule also means that post-production and visual effects — much of which is headed for Wellington’s Park Road Post and Weta Digital — can be started without waiting for the entire lensing process to be completed.
Being shot in stereoscopic 3D, the film uses large amounts of motion capture footage and visual effects. There is no natural exterior filming.
New release dates for the four Avatar sequels were announced last month: “Avatar 2” is set for Dec. 17, 2021; “Avatar 3” is scheduled for Dec. 2023; “Avatar 4” is set for Dec. 2025; and “Avatar 5” is scheduled for Dec. 2027.
In the last few days, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced some of the world’s strictest virus-inspired travel restrictions. Effective from last Sunday, all international visitors to New Zealand must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, with the exception of those from Pacific island nations. Ardern called the measures “unprecedented and far-reaching.”
With confirmation of three new cases on Tuesday, New Zealand now has 12 incidences of coronavirus infection. To date there have been no fatalities.