Stars of The Hobbit reunited with Sir Peter Jackson to unveil a giant, New Zealand-themed pop-up book in Beverly Hills last night.

Spanning the size of almost two tennis courts, "The Book of New Zealand" features four walk-through sets highlighting principal filming locations in the trilogy's second instalment, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The installation, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, will host the film's five-day media junket and coincides with the Los Angeles premiere.

After joking that there were still "a few corners of New Zealand" he is saving for a fourth Hobbit film, Jackson and cast members including Evangeline Lilly, Martin Freeman, Dean O'Gorman and Richard Armitage spoke of their experiences filming in New Zealand.


"I keep saying that New Zealand is like if you took everything spectacular in the great expanse of Canada and compressed it into two tiny little islands," said Lilly. "You go from one amazing thing to the next and you just never stop seeing amazing things.

"Lake Pukaki and everything we saw on the South Island blew the North Island away - sorry Peter!

"But the most important thing is the people and what you see in the landscape is reflected in the hearts of Kiwis. They're rugged, raw, kind, gracious and beautiful."

Around 200 media and special guests were served New Zealand lamb, salmon, cheese and wine while exploring the book, which features original set pieces and props used in the film.

The multi-media installation promotes Tourism New Zealand's "100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand" campaign, a three-year marketing strategy around the Hobbit films.

Hobbit trilogy production designer Dan Hennah led the installation, which was built in Wellington then shipped to Los Angeles.

"We want to show that the huge, epic sweeping backgrounds in the movie are real places, not computer-generated backgrounds," said Hennah.

The depicted locations include Lake Pukaki (Lake-town), Paradise (Beorn's House) and Marlborough's Pelorus River, where the movie's highly-anticipated barrel scene was filmed.

In it, the dwarves escape the elves by riding down a raging river inside barrels.

"It's the most fun I've ever had in my entire life," said Aidan Turner, who plays Kili. "I'm just waiting for the theme park ride to open up somewhere.''

Jackson also took the opportunity to promote New Zealand as a filming location.

"The wonderful thing about New Zealand is that it's so compact that you really can go from a relatively desert environment to an alpine environment in a three-hour drive. You're always close to a city. It's remote yet compact, which makes it incredibly user-friendly for film-making."

Added Lilly: "Remote yet compact - like this guy!"

Giant eagles at Wellington Airport

Two giant eagles, one giving Gandalf the wizard a ride, have been unveiled at Wellington's airport today.

The massive creations, which were made by Weta Workshop, accompany an enormous Gollum in welcoming visitors to the capital. The latest features each weigh a tonne and have a wingspan of 15m.

Weta head Sir Richard Taylor said the team took three months to build them.

The wings were complex, with each needing to be individually moulded, he said.

The installations are part of publicity for the second film in the Hobbit trilogy The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug which has its international premiere in Los Angeles this week.

Latest Hobbit-themed plane revealed

Sir Peter Jackson's mythical Dragon Smaug has been revealed today.

Air New Zealand's newly painted Hobbit-themed plane. Photo / Richard Robinson
Air New Zealand's newly painted Hobbit-themed plane. Photo / Richard Robinson

A Boeing 777-300 aircraft with the 54 metre dragon emblazoned on both sides was unveiled in Auckland this morning, making New Zealanders the first in the world to see it.

The airline had been in discussions for some time around permission to feature Smaug on the "flying billboard" ahead of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug's official release, Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said.

"For our partners to allow Air New Zealand to reveal their star to the world is a huge privilege. We worked with Weta Digital, which designed the graphic especially for us for this purpose."

Hobbit director, Sir Peter, said the enormous scale of the dragon running the entire length of the aircraft was "awe inspiring".

"To see Smaug fly off the big screen and into the skies like this is pretty exciting. We're proud to debut him here in New Zealand, where our team has worked so hard to bring him to life."

The aircraft will head to Los Angeles this evening, to arrive just in time for the premiere tonight local time.

Sneak Peek from today's livestream from Peter Jackson of the latest trailer from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. courtesy Facebook/The Hobbit.