According to reports, the Sydneysider suffered a heart attack on Monday. "We have been advised of the sudden death of Andrew," said a spokesman from the Australian Cinematographers Society, adding that the family would issue an official statement in due course.
Born in New South Wales in 1956, two decades before the emergence of the Australian film industry, Lesnie studied film and television in his home city before launching his career as a camera assistant for the ABC, Australia's equivalent of the BBC. From there he would go on to refine his skills across a variety of media, including short films, music videos, documentaries and commercials.
But it will be for his work on feature films that Lesnie will be best remembered, and specifically his work with Peter Jackson across both the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit trilogies. The New Zealander, an admirer of his work on Babe (1995) and its sequel, spotted an approach – a shared sensibility – in Lesnie's work that he felt perfect for the unique demands of Lord Of The Rings' mix of location and green screen work. "I'd never worked with him or even met him before," said Jackson, "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," explained Jackson in 2004. "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 added. "Every country is slightly different in that way, and I immediately thought of Andrew."
That special collaboration helped Lesnie score the Achievement in Cinematography Oscar in 2001 for his work on The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. In between his J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations he also built an impressive body of work, specialising in lighting films that combined computer generated imagery and real world environments like I Am Legend (2007), The Last Airbender (2010) and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011).
Russell Crowe, who turned to Lesnie to shoot his directorial debut feature The Water Diviner (2014), led tributes via Twitter.
Devastating news from home. The master of the light, genius Andrew Lesnie has passed on .
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) April 28, 2015
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."
Billy Elliot (2000) star Jamie Bell, who worked with the cinematographer on King Kong (2005), added: "Andrew Lesnie was a treat to work with. I am blown away by all he achieved. He'll be missed greatly. RIP."
Peter Jackson, meanwhile, posted this touching tribute via his Facebook page:
Being an only child, I grew up wondering what it would be like to have a brother. It wasn't until today, in trying to deal with the terrible news of Andrew's passing, that I came to realise how much he had become that person for me – someone I could intrinsically love and trust – which I know now means someone who is up for all the good and the bad. Andrew was an irreplaceable part of my family and I am in total disbelief that I'll never again hear his infectious laugh, nor benefit from his quiet wisdom, or enjoy his generous praise. Andrew created unforgettable, beautiful images on screen, and he did this time and again, because he only ever served what he believed in – he was his own artist, separate from me, but always working generously to make what we were trying to create together better. On set we developed an ability to work together using a minimum of words – a rare meeting of minds. I will always remember turning up, countless times, at five in the morning – all those quiet moments I had with him when I could step on to set and know he was there – unfazed, ready, listening, interested, more importantly – ready to catch me if I faltered. He always had my back. The more anxious I became, the more calm he would be. A solid rock in the unpredictable world we both chose to work in. After 17 years and 8 movies together, the loss of Andrew is very hard to bear.
My heart goes out to Jack and Sam, of whom he was enormously proud and to Marce, who gave him so much happiness.
Dearest Andrew, you never sought nor wanted praise – you never needed to hear how good you were, you only ever cared about doing great work and respecting the work of others. But on behalf of all those who were lucky enough to collaborate with you, love you and in turn, respect your mastery of story, of light and of cinema magic – you are one of the great cinematographers of our time.
Rest in Peace, my friend.
Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.