Eileen Moran, 60, visual effects whiz for ‘Lord of the Rings’

Eileen Moran received an award for her work on “Avatar.”
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images/File 2010
Eileen Moran received an award for her work on “Avatar.”

NEW YORK — Eileen Moran — a visual effects producer who helped create the look of a bevy of blockbuster movies, from the ethereal world of ‘‘Avatar’’ down to King Kong’s 460 billion strands of wind-rustled specially lighted fur — died Sunday in Wellington, New Zealand. She was 60.

The cause was cancer, her sister Janet Hamill said.

Ms. Moran worked closely with the director James Cameron on ‘‘Avatar’’ and with the director Peter Jackson on the ‘‘Lord of the Rings’’ trilogy and ‘‘The Hobbit,’’ which is to be released this month.


She had set out to be an actress, but that brought her only nonpaying jobs in off-off-Broadway plays, so she became an assistant on a commercial, then moved up to production manager. She found her way to Hollywood, where she was hired by Digital Domain, a special effects house partly owned by Cameron. There she worked on award-winning Budweiser ads, including the one in which an army of ants lug a bottle of Bud down an ant hole.

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In 2001 she joined Weta Digital, a visual effects company partly owned by Jackson. She was a leader of the team that won an Academy Award for best achievement in visual effects for Cameron’s ‘‘Avatar.’’

Cameron said Tuesday that Ms. Moran had ‘‘shepherded some of the milestone films of her generation to completion.’’

Ms. Moran was a coproducer of ‘‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’’ the first of three planned films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book ‘‘The Hobbit.’’ Illness prevented her from attending the film’s world premiere Nov. 28 in New Zealand.

She helped ride herd on the team of hundreds that did the visual effects for Jackson’s ‘‘Lord of the Rings’’ trilogy: ‘‘The Fellowship of the Ring’’ (2001), ‘‘The Two Towers’’ (2002), and ‘‘The Return of the King’’ (2003). Among the other films to which she contributed are ‘‘The Adventures of Tintin’’ (2011), ‘‘Fight Club’’ (1999), ‘‘I, Robot’’ (2004), ‘‘X-Men: The Last Stand’’ (2006), ‘‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’’ (2011), and Jackson’s ‘‘King Kong’’ (2005).


‘‘King Kong’’ involved more than attention to each strand of fur. To replicate the New York City of more than 70 years earlier, all buildings built after 1933 had to be removed by means of advanced computer trickery and replaced with 3-D images of the buildings that stood at the time. In a 2005 inter­view with The Gold Coast Bulletin, an Australian newspaper, Ms. Moran said, ‘‘We had great aerial reference photographs taken in the 1930s, and we matched our 3-D city exactly.”

Each of more than 90,000 buildings was unique, down to smoking chimneys, fire escapes, and door knobs.

Ms. Moran’s role was broad. ‘‘I oversee the visual effects production of the film,’’ she told The Daily News in 2006. ‘‘I oversee the crew, review the work with the director and visual effects supervisor, oversee recruiting, attend the visual effects reviews with the team, review assignments and work, troubleshoot, communicate with each department, ensure delivery, manage the budget.’’

Eileen Mary Moran was born in Queens and grew up in Lindenhurst, on Long Island. After studying drama at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she returned to New York City to try acting ­before switching to commercial production. Her sister said Ms. ­Moran had delighted in the Budweiser creatures she helped create: beer-loving ants; three frogs who croaked, in turn, ‘‘Bud,’’ “Weis,’’ and ‘‘Er”; and, of course, Larry the Lizard.

When a friend e-mailed her about a job on ‘‘Lord of the Rings,’’ she went to New Zealand for an interview and, she later said, was surprised to be offered a job. She quickly became essential in necessary tasks like ensuring that trolls had credible dirt beneath their fingernails and that the eyes of Gollum were appropriately bloodshot, Jackson told Onfilm, a New Zealand magazine


Ms. Moran described the ­moment that Gollum sprang to computer-generated life: ‘‘It was hit or miss for a while, and then one day he was there on screen and you just knew we ­finally had him and everything was going to be OK.’’

Ms. Moran, a single mother, lived with her two children, Jack and Ava, in a Victorian house in ­Wellington overlooking the Pacific. In addition, she leaves her father, John G. Moran, and three sisters.

Her favorite commercial was one made for Guinness in 1996, based on the feminist slogan ‘‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.’’ Her team scanned a real fish into the computer to get the scaly texture right.

‘‘Afterward,’’ she said, ‘‘we made a great meal from the trout.’’