Some of the famous faces of The Hobbit appeared before the media for the first time in New Zealand on Friday, but without director Sir Peter Jackson.
The actors have been in Wellington for about four weeks practising stunt fighting, horse riding and their Elvish.
Sir Peter passed on his apologies, saying he was still under a medical form of "house arrest" after undergoing an emergency operation for a perforated stomach ulcer in January.
Despite a bankruptcy, a defecting director, an industrial dispute and a stomach ulcer, the $660 million production is finally getting off the ground.
British actor Martin Freeman, who plays the lead Bilbo Baggins, Irish actor James Nesbitt and an entourage of dwarves were at the launch on Friday.
Freeman, best known for his role in The Office, told media the dramas of last year are not lost on him.
"There are some bits of bad luck to do with it that are almost comical, I suppose, but we're all very optimistic about, we're all ready to go."
Last year, Sir Peter threatened to move filming overseas after a row broke out between local actors and producers over employment conditions.
Cold Feet star Nesbitt plays Bofur and says New Zealand is the right place to make the Lord of the Rings prequels.
"I think it would have been very odd for the whole production not to be here. We're thrilled to be here in such an already established sense of Middle Earth."
Nesbitt plans to be in New Zealand for up to two years and has moved his young family here.
The Actors Equity union has promised there will be no industrial action during production, which could take up to two years for both movies.
Shooting starts in the studio on 21 March and later in the year will move to Hobbiton near Matamata in Waikato to film the outdoor scenes.