By Samantha Hayes and NZN
Air New Zealand unveiled its latest flying billboard today - a Boeing 777-300 covered in an enormous decal featuring The Hobbit characters.
Chief executive Rob Fyfe, at a function at the airline's Auckland technical operations base, paid tribute to the special project team that had worked hard "getting the plane looking as spectacular as it does".
It took the team 400 hours to install the graphic, which at 830sq m is the largest ever applied to an aircraft.
The 73m Boeing, the longest in the airline's fleet, is now off to London via Los Angeles, returning in time to play a "starring role" in the global premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington on Wednesday.
Mr Fyfe said the effort and passion that had gone into the aircraft reflected "a real sense of connection that we have with the magical world of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit". The airline has dubbed itself the "Airline of Middle Earth".
He said another Hobbit-inspired 777 would be unveiled in November next year ahead of the second Hobbit movie.
“You've got to make sure there are no air bubbles,” says Mr Fyfe. “You've got to make sure when it's applied to the aircraft and it's flying through the air, the wind doesn't get underneath it and peel it. It's incredibly complex.”
The extra layer weighs only as much as one passenger, so won't require extra fuel, and began as an A3-sized drawing by Weta Workshop, which didn't accommodate windows.
“We had a window over an eye at one point and someone whose ears were windows, but, no, it looks fantastic,” says Wingnut Films spokesman Matt Drivinski.
It is impressive enough for the big guns, Warner Bros.
“Breathtaking,” says senior vice president of worldwide promotions at Warner Bros Gene Garlock. “Amazing. We're Hollywood and this is what we do for a business, and I did say to Rob, ‘this is as good as Hollywood would do it’.”
The Mr Garlock told 3 News New Zealand was a character in the film.
“I don't think anyone’s going to be able to see the movie without probably wanting to take a trip to New Zealand and see it for themselves. [It is] just beautiful cinematography and great, great, great scenery. I'm excited to be back.”
With that the interview was over, with Warner preferring to forget its threat to take the movie offshore if the Government didn't change labour laws.
Meanwhile in Wellington, hundreds streamed into the Hobbit Artisan Market, taking in some music, merchandise and watching behind-the-scenes footage from Sir Peter.
And capitalising on the fantasy fans in town, there is an exhibition by a Weta Workshop sculptor, which features more than 40 hobbits, trolls, and goblins.
“I'd work for six months at Weta and then use the money I saved from that to fund myself for the next six months to work on this,” says artist Johnny Fraser-Allen. “And then I got so addicted to this that the last two years I’ve just taken off completely to finish the project.”
The sculptures aren't directly related to Tolkien’s books, but are certainly inspired by them.
Fans of The Hobbit will get to see Air New Zealand’s special 777-300 when it does a flyover at just 1000ft above the premiere in Wellington.