The announcement came Thursday afternoon from exec producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, New Line president Toby Emmerich, and Mary Parent, newly named chief of MGM's Worldwide Motion Picture Group.
Del Toro will be moving to New Zealand for the next four years, directing the two films back to back. The sequel will follow the 60-year period between "The Hobbit" and "The Fellowship of the Ring, "which was the first film of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "The Hobbit" will focus on the story of Bilbo Baggins taking the Ring of Power from Gollum.
Peter Jackson's WETA stages, post-production, and visual effects facilities -- built for "The Lord of the Rings" will be used to create both films, and New Zealand will also be home to "Middle Earth".
It was thought that Sam Raimi would be the front-runner as director, but del Toro had surfaced recently as the likely choice.