Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, whose career spanned nearly 40 years and included all of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films, died of a heart attack on Monday. He was 59.
Born in Sydney, the prolific filmmaker had suffered from a serious heart condition for the past six months, according to Ron Johanson, president of the Cinematographers Society in Australia.
“Words cannot express the absolute feeling of loss, particularly for his immediate family,” Johanson wrote.
In addition to lensing J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series for director Peter Jackson, Lesnie worked his magic on blockbusters like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and Will Smith’s “I Am Legend.”
In 2002, he won his first and only Oscar for shooting the original “Lord of the Rings” pic, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do a trilogy,” he joked at the time.
After the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, Lesnie continued to work alongside Jackson on “King Kong,” 2009’s “The Lovely Bones” and most recently, “The Hobbit” trilogy.
Jackson has yet to release an official statement on Lesnie’s passing, but the staff at his New Zealand production house, Weta Digital, said they were “saddened” by the news.
“Our memories of Andrew will always be of a wonderful and caring person who looked out for the technicians around him, was keen to have a good laugh and keep everyone jollied along even when things were at the most stressful for everyone,” Weta founders Richard and Tania Taylor wrote on Facebook.
“What an incredible man and we are very fortunate to have had the chance to work with him on so many wonderful projects.”
Lesnie’s final work was Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner,” which opened this past weekend in limited release.
Crowe, also a native of Sydney, took to Twitter late Monday to express his condolences, writing, “Devastating news from home. The master of the light, genius Andrew Lesnie has passed on.”
Lesnie began his career as a camera assistant on the horror film “Patrick” in 1978 and made a 1980 documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to bodybuilding in Australia. Lesnie shot music videos in the 1980s for INXS, UB40 and Mental As Anything.
After studying film at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, he later became a frequent collaborator of director George Miller’s. Lesnie worked on a documentary about Miller’s “Mad Max: Road Warrior,” which led to his being hired to make the family-friendly “Babe” movies.
Jackson, from New Zealand, later hired Lesnie for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy after seeing his work on “Babe.”
“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. “‘Babe’ had that larger-than-life feel about it that I wanted.”
When he won the Oscar in 2002, Lesnie thanked the “sensational” Peter Jackson, and dedicated his prize to his partner, Bronwen, and his sons Jack and Sam.
In addition to winning an Oscar, Lesnie was feted in 2003 at the BAFTA Awards for his work on the “Lord of the Rings” finale “Return of the King,” and in 1997, he received AFI’s cinematography award for “Doing Time For Patsy Cline.”
Dave McNary contributed to this report.