Guillermo Del Toro Exits ‘The Hobbit' Director's Chair

Guillermo del Toro has stepped down from the director's chair of "The Hobbit," he announced to fan site on Sunday.

"In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming 'The Hobbit,' I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," he told the site. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien's Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures… The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project."

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The long-gestating project, slated to be split into two films, has been fraught with issues — ranging from a lawsuit from author J.R.R. Tolkien's estate to the financial troubles of MGM Studios, which is sharing production with New Line.

According to executive producer Peter Jackson, who directed the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and is co-writing the "Hobbit" scripts, del Toro will continue to assist with the writing process over the next few months.

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"We feel very sad to see Guillermo leave 'The Hobbit,' but he has kept us fully in the loop and we understand how the protracted development time on these two films, due to reasons beyond anyone's control – has compromised his commitment to other long term projects," Jackson told the site. "The bottom line is that Guillermo just didn't feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years."

Del Toro proved his fantasy chops on such films as "Pan's Labyrinth" and the "Hellboy" series prior to being brought in to helm "The Hobbit."

In March, Sir Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in the Jackson-directed "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, wrote on his Web site that filming would begin this summer, though a New Line spokesperson announced at the time that no date had been set.

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The two films, set prior to the events of "Lord of the Rings," are currently scheduled for December 2012 and December 2013.

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