Nine figures of the New Zealand film industry awoke this morning to find they were Oscar nominees.

For many - like Peter Jackson who is nominated as the producer of best picture candidate District 9 - it was a familiar feeling.

For all, it was due to their work on the sci-fi hits Avatar and District 9. The movies competing against each other in the best picture, editing and visual effects categories.

For Avatar, the Weta Digital team of Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum Richard Baneham and Andrew R Jones are collectively nominated for best visual effects.

While Weta colleague Matt Aitken represents the internationally shared vfx work on District 9, a film initiated by Jackson and partner Fran Walsh after production on a planned film of hit videogame Halo fell apart due to Hollywood studio politics.

Other New Zealanders to feature in Avatar's haul of Oscar nods include veteran sound recordist Tony Johnson and set decorator Kim Sinclair who feature in the team nominations for best sound mixing and best art direction respectively. It's Johnson's second nomination after his one for his work on 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The prominence of District 9 - produced by Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham - in today's nominations was one of the surprises to today's announcement.

The edgy, violent, low-budget South African-set alien movie's best picture nod is likely the result of the category's expansion this year to 10 nominations.

If South African-born director Neill Blomkamp doesn't figure in the five-strong best director division, he and co-writer Terri Tatchell are up for best adapted screenplay (the film having reworked the idea from a previous Blomkamp short) among the film's four nods.

Avatar - partially shot in Wellington and largely constructed on Weta's mainframe - shares a total of nine nominations with The Hurt Locker, the Iraq war film directed by James Cameron's former wife Kathryn Bigelow, and possibly its greatest threat to winning best picture.

Jackson's own The Lovely Bones only figures in one category - a best supporting actor nomination for Stanley Tucci, who played the film's serial killer.

Likewise, The acclaim for New Zealand director Jane Campion's Bright Star hasn't translated into much Oscar attention, its one nomination is for best costume design for Australian Janet Patterson.