'Happy Feet 2' gets legs in Sydney

Robin Williams, Elijah Wood at work in Oz

SYDNEY -- Production on "Happy Feet 2" is under way, and George Miller couldn't be, well, happier.

Miller confirmed that actors Robin Williams, Elijah Wood and Hank Azaria arrived in Sydney this week to start voicing their roles but wasn't giving away many other details about the film at a press call in Sydney on Thursday.

"It's a different story. A lot of the same characters, but it's a different story with a lot of new characters," he said.

Miller has long championed the local film industry, but has bemoaned its output on a number of levels in recent years, compared to the prolific and world-class output of neighboring New Zealand.

It has become a familiar refrain from the creator of "Happy Feet," the 2006 Oscar winner for best animated feature, but, while the depth of New Zealand talent is still producing films like "Avatar," Australia is starting to make its mark as a digital filmmaking center, Miller said.

"This is an absolutely wonderful moment to be in the industry. Everyone thought cinema was dead and then we get the kind of movies you're seeing now. And we've got the ability to make them," he said.

New motion capture studios at Sydney's inner city CarriageWorks are "world class" and after 20-year of complacency, the industry is starting to reach a sustainable level.

"There have been moments of brilliance, but those moments have been unsustained. Wellington is a tenth the size of Sydney, 400,000 people. We go down there to get work done. That can be done here," Miller said.

"Now we have the most advanced motion capture studio in the world down at CarriageWorks -- it is huge. There will be a huge amount of production going through there, if we can keep it in this country," he added.

New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally said production on "Happy Feet 2" would provide over 500 jobs and a boost for NSW coffers.

"Like so many industries, the local film industry has been doing it tough as a result of the global financial crisis and 500 jobs to our local industry over the three years is a very welcome boost," she said.

Keneally said that in the final six months of 2009, an investment of AUS$5.7 million ($5.13 million) towards 34 local film and television projects generated $62 million in expenditure.

"It's a good return on investment, growing this industry in NSW," she said.

Warner Bros. has scheduled "Happy Feet 2" for release in 2011.