Andrew Lesnie, the Australian cinematographer who helped define the cinematic look of Middle-earth and changed blockbusters forever alongside his friend and collaborator Peter Jackson, passed away Monday after suffering a heart attack. He was 59.
A Sydney native, Lesnie began his career in filmmaking as an assistant camera operator and cameraman before transitioning to work as a cinematographer in the mid-'80s. His international break came in 1995 with Babe, the family film about a sheep-herding pig co-written and produced by fellow Australian and Mad Max creator George Miller. The film was a box-office hit and received nearly unanimous critical acclaim. Miller and Lesnie re-teamed for the sequel Babe: Pig in the City, and for some live-action work on Miller's Oscar-winning animated film, Happy Feet.
After the success of Babe, Lesnie began what would become more than a decade of collaboration with Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Lesnie won an Oscar for The Fellowship of the Ring and a BAFTA for The Return of the King but was somehow not nominated for an Oscar when The Return of the King made its historic 11-award sweep. The films changed epic moviemaking forever, became worldwide hits and earned massive critical acclaim. Jackson is usually thought of as the visionary force behind the whole thing, but all those beautiful visuals you remember, all that dramatic light and those sweeping vistas ... that was Lesnie's artistry at work.
His Lord of the Rings success made Lesnie a very sought-after cinematographer. He continued to collaborate with Jackson on every film the director shot after The Lord of the Rings, including King Kong and The Lovely Bones, but he also showed his talents on a number of other blockbusters. In the last decade of his career his credits included I Am Legend, The Last Airbender and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and he even briefly returned to his duties as a camerman to shoot Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert film Shine a Light. His most recent film was Russell Crowe's directorial debut, The Water Diviner.
Lesnie wasn't a household name, but he was a massive talent who contributed amazing work to some amazing films. He was also, as anyone who's watched the hours and hours of Lord of the Rings documentary footage (as I have) can see, a good man. To highlight that, we'll let Jackson have the last word on his friend and collaborator: