Film facts: Disney's Pete's Dragon

Check out some of the curious facts from the sets of Disney's Pete's Dragon.

A reimagining of the 1977 Disney classic, Pete’s Dragon is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon. 

The film is directed by David Lowery and stars Bryce Dallas Howard ('Jurassic World'), rising young star Oakes Fegley ('This is Where I Leave You'), Wes Bentley ('The Hunger Games'), New Zealander Karl Urban ('Star Trek'), Oona Laurence ('Southpaw') and Oscar® winner Robert Redford ('Captain America: The Winter Soldier'). 

Filming stats - Disney’s Pete’s Dragon

  • 100% filmed in New Zealand
  • 74 days principal filming in New Zealand
  • 1040 crew (810 New Zealanders) 
  • 40 cast  (31 New Zealanders)
  • Pete’s Dragon is the first feature film to successfully secure the 5% uplift of the New Zealand Screen Production Grant.  

Disney’s Pete’s Dragon location facts 

Tapanui - West Otago
Pop: 900
Filming duration: 4.5 weeks 

Tapanui was transformed into the town of Millhaven, Douglas County (located somewhere in the US state of Oregon). Filming took place in and around Tapanui and at Conical Hill sawmill. Tapanui’s main street was closed off for a week for filming 

There was limited accommodation and many local residents leased their homes to the movie production company. 

Approximately 55 houses were made available.

The local pub closed its 120-seat restaurant and turned it into the wardrobe department. 

The Licensing Trust which controls the Forest Lodge Hotel said in the month of production their revenue increased by NZ$100,000. They sold more bottles of Moet & Chandon in one night than they would in a year. 

Rotorua / Tokoroa: Bay of Plenty
Filming duration: 4.5 weeks

The forest scenes for Pete’s Dragon were shot in a forestry area near Rotorua and Tokoroa. The forest was home to a number of giant Californian Redwoods, which made it the perfect double for America. 

Three days was also spent filming in a house on the outskirts of Rotorua (Ngongotaha).  

The cast and crew were based largely in Rotorua.   

Wellington
Filming duration: 4 weeks

Production for Pete’s Dragon began at Wellington’s Stone Street Studios in Miramar, Wellington’s film hub. 

Two weeks were spent filming in the studio; other locations included Hutt Hospital, Heretanga, Rata Rd, Hutt River, Battle Hill Farm Park. 

Weta Digital, beside Stone St Studios - the visual effects company founded by filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor - utilised the latest in digital effects to bring Elliot the dragon to life.  

  • Initial sketches / concepts began in 2014
  • 150 WETA Digital staff involved (30 core)
  • 20 million CGI hairs created for Elliot (20x more than King Kong)
  • Most shots took two days to render