Andrew Lesnie, Lord of the Rings cinematographer, dies

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Andrew LesnieImage source, Getty Images
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Lesnie won an Oscar for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Andrew Lesnie, Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer of the Lord of the Rings films, has died at the age of 59.

The Sydney native, who won an Oscar in 2002 for his work on the first Lord of the Rings film, is believed to have suffered a heart attack on Monday.

Russell Crowe, who recently worked with Leslie on his directorial debut The Water Diviner, was among the first to react to the news.

"The master of the light, genius Andrew Lesnie has passed on," he tweeted.

Film critic Harry Knowles, who got to know Lesnie on the set of Lord Of The Rings, also paid tribute, recalling his "many great memories with that man".

"In the 14 days I was on set of the original LOTR shoot, I swear I never saw Andrew Lesnie not smiling huge and making others feel the same," Knowles tweeted.

"Andrew Lesnie and Peter Jackson would giggle behind the camera together like the most mischievous pair of movie masters that I've seen."

Image source, New Line Cinema
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Lesnie's work on Lord of the Rings set the visual tone for the series

A spokesman from the Australian Cinematographers Society said: "We have been advised of the sudden death of Andrew," adding that the film-maker's family would provide an official statement later.

Jackson hired Lesnie for his Lord of the Rings trilogy after seeing his work on Babe, the Australian film about a talking pig.

"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."

Over the 12-year span of making the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, Lesnie was also the director of photography on Jackson's remake of King Kong and the crime drama The Lovely Bones.

His other credits included Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, and The Last Airbender directed M Night Shyamalan.

Jackson has yet to release an official statement, but staff at Weta Workshop, which produced props and special effects for Lord of the Rings, said they were "saddened to hear the news" of Lesnie's sudden death.

"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," said owners Richard and Tania Taylor 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."

Music videos

Lesnie began his career as a camera assistant on the low-budget horror film Patrick in 1978, while still a student at the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

He later worked as a freelance cameraman for TV station ABC, and made a 1980 documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to bodybuilding in Australia.

Image source, Rex Features
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The cinematographer worked side-by-side with Peter Jackson for more than a decade

Throughout the 1980s, he shot music videos for the likes of INXS, UB40 and Mental As Anything.

A behind-the-scenes documentary on Mad Max 2 proved to be his big break into film, establishing a long working relationship with director George Miller - with whom he shot the Babe movies and the animated film Happy Feet.

But it was his work on Lord of the Rings that cemented his career, earning him an Oscar in 2002.

Accepting his award from Jodie Foster, Lesnie thanked the "sensational" Peter Jackson, and dedicated his prize to his partner, Bronwen and his sons Jack and Sam.

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

Image source, Rex Features
Image caption,
Lesnie's final film was The Water Diviner, on which he worked with director Russell Crowe

Antony Ginnane, an Australian producer who worked with Lesnie on Patrick and the crocodile horror film Dark Age, described the cinematographer as "energetic, enthusiastic [and] agile".

"He had no fear and he had a wonderful eye," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Magda Szubanski, who played the farmer's wife Esme in Babe, said Lesnie had made the film look "golden".

"[He] was just a really lovely guy," she wrote on Twitter. "Heart goes out to his family."

Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell, who worked with the cinematographer on King Kong, added: "Andrew Lesnie was a treat to work with. I am blown away by all he achieved. He'll be missed greatly. RIP."