Andrew Lesnie, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, died Monday night of a reported heart attack. He was 59.
Throughout his nearly 40-year career, the Australian cinematographer was best known for innovative camera work that saw him collaborate with not only Peter Jackson, but M. Night Shyamalan, Francis Lawrence, and Rupert Wyatt. He had humble beginnings, finding his footing in low-budget short films, music videos, and assisting on documentaries, features, and commercials.
Peter Jackson first sought out Lesnie after he saw his work on Babe (1995) and its 1998 sequel. The whimsical films were of Australian make and followed a pig and other animals on a farm. It featured impressive visual effects and performed well in worldwide box offices.
“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.”
Larger-than-life certainly described the way Lesnie took on the Rings trilogy. His camerawork managed to capture the epic feel of Tolkien’s most nuanced locales with a striking depth. Lesnie originally took a few days to agree to Jackson’s proposal to join the production, believing that a cinematic adaptation of the trilogy wouldn’t be possible. His hard work paid off with an Oscar in 2002 for his work on The Fellowship of the Ring. He was later passed over for nominations for The Two Towers and the 11-Oscar winner Return of the King despite both being as visually stunning and part of the same story. He was inducted into the Australian Cinematographers Society Hall of Fame in 2002.
In addition to the Middle-earth trilogies, Lesnie worked as director of photography for Babe, I am Legend, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Last Airbender. His most recent film was Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner, which opened this past week in American cinemas.
Lesnie’s family is expected to make an official statement at a later time.
Below you can watch a video showcasing some of the innovative techniques Lesnie used while working on Rings, as well as his Oscar acceptance speech from 2002.