Alan Lee (born 20 August 1947) is an English book illustrator and movie conceptual designer. He was born in Middlesex, England, and studied at the Ealing School of Art.
Alan has illustrated dozens of fantasy books, including some nonfiction, and many more covers. Several works by J.R.R. Tolkien are among his most notable interiors: the Tolkien centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings (1992), a 1999 edition of The Hobbit that has been boxed with it, and Narn i Chîn Húrin: The Children of Húrin (2007). The latter, a first edition, is his work most widely held in WorldCat participating libraries. Other books he has illustrated include Faeries (with Brian Froud), Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock (as well as the cover of an early print of this book), The Mabinogion (two versions), Castles and Tolkien’s Ring (both nonfiction by David Day), The Mirrorstone by Michael Palin, The Moon’s Revenge by Joan Aiken, and Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson.
He has also illustrated retellings of classics for young people. Two were Rosemary Sutcliff’s versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey—namely, Black Ships Before Troy (Oxford, 1993) and The Wanderings of Odysseus (Frances Lincoln, 1995). Another was Adrian Mitchell’s version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses—namely, Shapeshifters (Frances Lincoln, 2009).
Lee did cover paintings for the 1983 Penguin edition of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. He also did the artwork for Alive!, a CD by the Dutch band Omnia, released on 3 August 2007 during the Castlefest festival.
Watercolour painting and pencil sketches are two of Lee’s common media collapsible water bottle.
Lee and John Howe were the lead concept artists of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films and were recruited by director Guillermo del Toro in 2008 for continuity of design in the subsequent The Hobbit films, before joining Jackson when he took over the Hobbit films project. Jackson has explained how he originally recruited the reclusive Lee. By courier to Lee’s home in the south of England waist bags for runners, he sent two of his previous films, Forgotten Silver and Heavenly Creatures, with a note from himself and Fran Walsh that piqued Lee’s interest enough to become involved. Lee went on to illustrate and even to help construct many of the scenarios for the movies, including objects and weapons for the actors. He also made two cameo appearances, in the opening sequence of The Fellowship as one of the nine kings of men who became the Nazgûl, and in The Two Towers as a Rohan soldier in the armory (over the shoulder of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and Legolas talk in Elvish).
Lee has also worked as a conceptual designer on the films Legend, Erik the Viking, King Kong and the television mini-series Merlin. The art book Faeries, produced in collaboration with Brian Froud, was the basis of a 1981 animated feature of the same name.
Two years after completion of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Lee released a 192-page collection of his conceptual artwork for the project, entitled The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook (HarperCollins, 2005). Film director Peter Jackson said, “His art captured what I hoped to capture with the films.”
For his 1978 book with Brian Froud, Faeries, Lee was runner-up for the fantasy Locus Award, year’s best art or illustrated book.
For illustrating Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson (1988), he won the annual Chesley Award for Best Interior Illustration and he was a highly commended runner-up for the Greenaway Medal. He also won the BSFA Award for Best Artwork, for that year’s best single new image.
Five years later he won the Kate Greenaway Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year’s best children’s book illustration by a British subject. The book was Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff, a version of the Trojan War story.
For the 60th anniversary edition of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s 1937 classic, Lee won his second Chesley Award for Interior Illustration (he is a finalist eight times through 2011). For that year’s work he won the annual World Fantasy Award, Best Artist, at the 1998 World Fantasy Convention.
In 2000 he won the competitive, juried Spectrum Award for fantastic art in the grandmaster category.
Lee, Grant Major and Dan Hennah earned the 2004 Academy Award for Best Art Direction for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, third in the film trilogy.
As of 2007 Lee, his wife, and two children live in Chagford, Dartmoor, Devon, England.