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Alan Lee - The Art of Middle-Earth

Updated on January 8, 2015
Mirkwood - Art by Alan Lee
Mirkwood - Art by Alan Lee
Galadriel's Mirror - Art by Alan Lee
Galadriel's Mirror - Art by Alan Lee

A tribute to Alan Lee, best known as the illustrator of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Alan Lee was born in London in 1947. Studying graphic art and design, Lee was fascinated by myth and folklore from a very young age.

Alan found work in book illustration, following in the footsteps of popular 19th century illustrators Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham.

Lee worked in London until the mid-seventies when he moved to Dartmoor with his wife Marja Lee Kruvt, also an artist.

In 1978 Lee and fellow artist Brian Froud designed and illustrated the book Faeries which became a bestseller.

Alan Lee soon became known as one of Britain’s best book illustrators. Among his works are Black Ships BeforeTroy - The Story of the Iliad, Merlin Dreams, The Mabinogion and special lavishly illustrated anniversary editions of The Lord of the Rings in 1991 and The Hobbit in 1997.

Alan Lee worked as conceptual designer for Ridley Scott’s film Legend (1985), he also provided design work for Terry Jones comedy fantasy Erik the Viking (1989). In 1998 he worked as illustrator on the Hallmark TV epic Merlin (1998).

The Taming of Smeagol - Art by Alan Lee
The Taming of Smeagol - Art by Alan Lee
Smaug - Art by Alan Lee
Smaug - Art by Alan Lee
Bilbo and Gandalf - Art by Alan Lee
Bilbo and Gandalf - Art by Alan Lee
Orcs - Art by Alan Lee
Orcs - Art by Alan Lee

In November 1997 Alan Lee was contacted by Peter Jackson who told him he was a big fan of his work and if he would like to work on his latest project – The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Three weeks later Lee flew to New Zealand where he joined fellow artist John Howe and the design team at Weta.

The three movies were massively successful and Lee shared an Oscar win for Art direction on Return of the King, and shared a nomination for Art Direction on The Two Towers.

Lee was among the winners for The Two Towers Art Direction presented by the Visual Effects Society. Lee remained in New Zealand for six years before returning to Dartmoor.

Lee can be spotted right at the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring as one of the nine Kings of Men in the prologue. And he was also one of the men of Rohan at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.

Alan Lee has also worked as concept designer on Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) and concept painter on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005).

Lee has illustrated many Tolkien calendars and a Tolkien Diary. And his book The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook Portfolio was published in 2001 which contains 150 sketches and 20 full colour paintings. The foreword is by Sir Ian McKellen.

He is currently working as concept designer on Peter Jackson’s three upcoming Hobbit movies – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (2014).

The Black Gate - Art by Alan Lee
The Black Gate - Art by Alan Lee
Fangorn Forest - Art by Alan Lee
Fangorn Forest - Art by Alan Lee
Bilbo and the Dwarves - Art by Alan Lee
Bilbo and the Dwarves - Art by Alan Lee
The Stone Trolls - Art by Alan Lee
The Stone Trolls - Art by Alan Lee
The Battle of the Hornburg - Art by Alan Lee
The Battle of the Hornburg - Art by Alan Lee
Siege of Gondor - Art by Alan Lee
Siege of Gondor - Art by Alan Lee
Gollum and Council of Elrond - Art by Alan Lee
Gollum and Council of Elrond - Art by Alan Lee
Shelob's Lair - Art by Alan Lee
Shelob's Lair - Art by Alan Lee

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    • Steve Lensman profile image
      Author

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Not sure if they do have archived newspapers for Kindle Jools, you'd have to use the zoom function a lot I guess. I picked up hundreds of old movie reviews from the NYT's movie archive years ago and recently converted and transferred them all to Kindle. A fascinating read.

      Thanks for touring my arty hubs, Bob Peak is a legend. My most viewed art hub by far is the one I did on Chris Foss, a sci-fi artist. It's been googled all over the world.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 6 years ago from North-East UK

      oooh...do they have loads of archived newspapers, I love all that stuff. I'm doing my family history so I like to read papers from when my ancestors were alive to see the kinds of things they were living through. My local paper is the oldest 'local' paper in the UK and I've spent many a happy hour gazing at microfiched editions of it, I'd love them to be put out there for the Kindle. I've read all of your artwork hubs today, so far I like Lee and Bob Peak the best.

    • Steve Lensman profile image
      Author

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Welcome to Middle-Earth Jools! Fancy a stroll thru Fangorn forest? Oh look there's Treebeard! And there's a troll taking a stroll. :)

      I have the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit on my Kindle. I'm currently reading NY Times film reviews of the 1930s on the Kindle. Someone has to!

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 6 years ago from North-East UK

      Steve, I just love this stuff. His attention to detail is amazing and the scale is amazing. I can't even pick a favourite because they're all so good. Like Cogerson, watching the LOTR movies will be a different experience for me the next time I see them. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Hobbit movies at the cinema, even though it's a year away. I am downloading The Hobbit to my Kindle this afternoon.

    • Steve Lensman profile image
      Author

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Bruce I really appreciate that. I knew Alan Lee's work before the movies came out and so I was happy when I read that Peter Jackson had asked for him and John Howe, another great fantasy artist.

      I'm really looking forward to the The Hobbit I and II. Tolkien purists will be up in arms again since Jackson will have to expand and add to the book to make two big films out of it.

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 6 years ago from Virginia

      Great information on this hub. I was not aware that Adam Lee even existed much less was so influential on The Lord of the Rings movies. Maybe I should have paid more attention on the DVD commentaries as I am sure Mr. Jackson must have mentioned Mr. Lee' contributions more than one time. Great photos....and I will be looking for Alan Lee the next time I watch the Lord of the Ring movies. Thanks for increasing my movie knowledge. Voted up and useful and beautiful.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I zipped past it. :)

    • Steve Lensman profile image
      Author

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Strangely enough I became a fan of the books after I saw Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings at the cinema in 1978. I enjoyed that version but it didn't complete the story, the ring wasn't destroyed. So I had no choice but to read the books and get the whole picture, been a fan ever since.

      Thanks for posting Rob.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Beautiful artwork. I love the whole Middle Earth mythology. I hope the upcoming Hobbit films are as good as the last three were. I've seen them all several times and read the books more than once. It's very Hobbit-forming. (Ouch!)

      Rob

    • Steve Lensman profile image
      Author

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Let's see... Peter Benchley appeared in Jaws as a reporter and Michael Crichton was a surgeon in The Andromeda Strain. I can't think of any more right now. Oh yes Arthur C. Clarke in front of the White House in the movie 2010.

      Thanks for posting Flora, glad that big spider in the last picture didn't scare you off. :)

      Alan Lee captured the rich atmosphere of Middle-Earth extremely well, those paintings were completed long before the films came out.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      Mr. Lee's artwork is beautiful. I didn't know he appeared in any movies. Ian Fleming appeared in From Russia With love and Colin Dexter appeared in all the Morse episodes with John thaw as the detective, but I've never heard of an artist appearing in his own films. There must be other examples I simply do not know.

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