Top Visual Effects Producer Eileen Moran Dies in New Zealand; Worked on 'Avatar,' 'The Hobbit'

Eileen Moran - P 2012

An executive producer at Weta Digital, she worked on James Cameron's "Avatar" and with Peter Jackson on such films as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “King Kong” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Eileen Moran, one of the industry’s top visual effects producers and a longtime confidant of director Peter Jackson, died Tuesday in New Zealand. She was believed to be in her mid-50s. No other details of her death were immediately available.

Jackson and his partner, producer Fran Walsh, broke the news about Moran’s death in a note to staffers at Weta Digital. Moran joined the company from Digital Domain in 2001.

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“Fran and I are terribly upset at the news that we lost Eileen a couple of hours ago,” Jackson and Walsh said in their note. “She was a lovely, decent person who had great respect for all the artists she worked with. Eileen was so proud of Weta and the work all of you have done over the years. She was fiercely loyal to the company, and to Fran and I personally, and we will always be grateful for her friendship.”

Moran was a co-producer on Jackson’s latest epic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. She was in the hospital and unable to attend the world premiere of the film on Nov. 28 in New Zealand.

She also was leader on the Weta Digital team from Wellington that won the best visual effects Oscar for James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).

“Eileen was an integral part of building Weta Digital into the most powerful engine for imaginative imagery that ever existed,” Cameron said, “and she shepherded some of the milestone films of her generation to completion."

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Moran won an award from the Visual Effects Society for her work on King Kong (2005) and two more for Avatar. Last year, she was nominated for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin.

Her body of work also includes the three Lord of the Rings films, Fight Club (1999), Lake Placid (1999), EDtv (1999), I, Robot (2004), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Eragon (2006), Bridge to Terabithia (2007), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), 30 Days of Night (2007), The Water Horse (2007), Jumper (2008), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), District 9 (2009), The Lovely Bones (2009), The A-Team (2010), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Prometheus (2012).

Moran grew up on Long Island and attended the State University of New York at New Paltz with the intention of becoming an actor. Her classmates included John Turturro.

After college, Moran moved to New York City and worked off-Broadway but then took a job as a production assistant on a commercial, working her way up to production manager.

She moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for the late director Tony Scott, dabbled in music videos and ended up at Digital Domain, the special-effects house owned by Cameron. There, she attracted attention for her work on a pair of acclaimed Budweiser commercials that featured digital ants, lizards and frogs.

Survivors include her children, Jack and Ava.