Andrew Lesnie, Cinematographer for 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Hobbit' Films, Dies at 59

Lesnie shows off his Oscar at the 2002 ceremony.
AP Images

He worked with director Peter Jackson on eight films in all; his credits also include 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' and 'The Water Diviner.'

Andrew Lesnie, the Oscar-winning cinematographer who spent more than a decade collaborating with director Peter Jackson on the six Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, has died. He was 59.

The Sydney native, who also worked with New Zealander Jackson on the remake of King Kong (2005) and The Lovely Bones (2009), suffered a heart attack Monday.

Said a spokesman from the Australian Cinematographers Society: “We have been advised of the sudden death of Andrew,” adding that his family would provide an official statement later.

Known for balancing technology with artistic considerations, Lesnie also shot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), directed by Rupert Wyatt.

The cinematographer recently polished off The Water Diviner, the directorial debut of Russell Crowe, another New Zealand native. That movie opened Friday in U.S. theaters.

Said Crowe on Twitter: “Devastating news from home. The master of the light, genius Andrew Lesnie has passed on.”

Lesnie won his Oscar for his work on the first of the fabled Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). His knack for getting the right feel of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s most foreboding locales was remarkable.

For the inaugural Lord of the Rings film, Jackson reached out to Lesnie after seeing his work on Babe (1995) and its 1998 sequel. Those Australian films, revolving around a pig and other animals, featured impressive visual effects and proved to be big hits at the worldwide box office.

“I’d never worked with him or even met him before, but he’d shot the Babe films and I thought they looked amazing, the way he’d used backlight and the sun and natural light to create a very magical effect,” Jackson said in a 2004 interview. “And Babe had that larger-than-life feel about it that I wanted.

“So when we began looking for DPs in early 1999, I first decided to get either an Australian or New Zealand DP, as they’d be used to the way we make films," Jackson continued. "Every country is slightly different in that way, and I immediately thought of Andrew. “

Lesnie’s impressive body of work also includes the post-apocalyptic science fiction film I Am Legend (2007), directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Will Smith; The Last Airbender (2010), from M. Night Shyamalan; and Healing (2014), helmed by Craig Monahan.

He was inducted into the Australian Cinematographers Society Hall of Fame in 2002.

Lesnie studied film and television at TAFE (a provider of vocational education) and at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School before joining the Australian Broadcasting Corp. as a camera assistant.

He honed his craft on low-budget short films and music videos and assisted on documentaries, features and commercials. He then spent several months on Wonder World, a children’s afternoon magazine-style show.

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