Weta Digital has announced that it has gotten underway on the four Avatar sequels that James Cameron will direct for Fox. The Wellington, New Zealand-based visual effects facility built by Peter Jackson to make The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, takes on Cameron’s films after completing The Planet of the Apes trilogy for Fox.  Run by Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri, Weta Digital now embarks on the most ambitious — creatively and financially –project in movie history:  four sequels to Hollywood’s all-time top grossing film, pictures that will be made in sequence at an estimated collective cost exceeding $1 billion. The first film is expected in 2020. Cameron has postponed the start a couple times as he continues to push the technology barriers. To the point he bullishly said recently that he hoped audiences would be able to experience 3D without requiring special glasses by advancing the technology most notably used by Ang Lee in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

“What Joe Letteri and Weta Digital bring to these stories is impossible to quantify,” said Cameron. “Since we made Avatar, Weta continued to prove themselves as doing the best CG animation, the most human, the most alive, the most photo-realistic effects in the world. And of course, that now means I can push them to take it even further.”

Said Avatar producer Jon Landau: “The depth of talent at Weta is impressive and the culture of excellence is one that matches how we do things at Lightstorm. We also know that these next films promise to be even more ambitious than the first film. And, we know from experience that when it comes to technical innovation Weta is peerless.”

Weta’s Joe Letteri has been preparing to bring to life Cameron’s vision of Pandora for a long time, and he said they relished the challenge. “Avatar is the ideal type of film for us. Jim’s vision for the world of Pandora was always so much bigger than what we created for the first film,” said Letteri. “Helping him expand the language of cinema through new narratives set in such an expansive universe is the type of opportunity that rarely comes along twice. Projects like this allow everyone involved to push themselves to do their best work and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Though it seems unusual that Hollywood would head clear across the globe for pioneering digital effects, Avatar continues an escalation of Weta Digital’s prowess in drawing the most visually ambitious big budget films on the drawing board. “The excitement at Weta around Avatar is obvious and the fact is that we have already been working on it for a number of years,” said Weta Digital Executive Producer David Conley. “During that period we have grown the company to a size and model that allows us to expand beyond any one project. This enables us to find a mix of other films that can help us grow along with Avatar, as is the case with Alita:Battle Angel, Marvel’s Infinity War and Mortal Engines, to name a few of the other films we are currently working on.”