'Hobbit' filming to start in July: Ian McKellen

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Shooting of Peter Jackson's long-awaited movies based on the JRR Tolkein fantasy "The Hobbit" is due to start in July in New Zealand, star Ian McKellen said.

The two-part film to be produced by Jackson, who directed the Oscar-winning trilogy of Tolkein's "The Lord of The Rings", will take over a year, McKellen said on his website.

"Casting in Los Angeles, New York City and London has started," said the British actor, who will again play the wizard Gandalf.

"The script too proceeds. The first draft is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth."

The Hobbit films will be directed by Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro, who is already living in Wellington, where Jackson's studio is based.

Jackson's studio has not confirmed the timing of the new movies, and has also not confirmed whether they will be shot in 3D, following the trend of recent hits "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland".

The adaptation of Tolkein's book "The Hobbit" is set to be spread over two films, which are scheduled to be shot simultaneously, co-distributors New Line and MGM said when the films were announced in late 2007.

The Hobbit films will be prequels to the wildly successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, which won a total of 17 Oscars, including best picture for the final instalment "The Return of the King".