Eileen Moran, a driving creative force at Weta Digital and longtime visual effects executive producer for Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Joe Letteri, died in New Zealand Tuesday. At the top of her profession, Moran worked with James Cameron on Avatar, Steven Spielberg on The Adventures Of Tintin, Ridley and Tony Scott, and with Jackson on King Kong, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Lovely Bones, and the upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. She missed the Hobbit premiere last week because she was in hospital. In a note to the staff of Weta Digital, Jackson and Walsh said, “Fran and I are terribly upset at the news that we lost Eileen a couple of hours ago. She was a lovely, decent person who had great respect for all the artists she worked with. Eileen was so proud of Weta and the work all of you have done over the years. She was fiercely loyal to the company, and to Fran and I personally, and we will always be grateful for her friendship.” James Cameron offered the following remembrance: “Eileen was an integral part of building Weta Digital into the most powerful engine for imaginative imagery that ever existed, and she shepherded some of the milestone films of her generation to completion.”
Moran grew up on NY’s Long Island and attended New Paltz University drama school with dreams of becoming an actress. But she decided it was too tough. instead, she took a job as a production assistant on a commercial, working her way up to production manager. In Los Angeles, she worked for Tony Scott and ended up at Digital Domain, the special effects house then co-owned by Cameron. She worked on the award-winning Budweiser ants and frogs commercials. In 1991 she received an email about a potential gig on Lord Of The Rings in New Zealand where she interviewed with a number of other visual-effects producers. She was surprised when she got the job. She stayed in New Zealand an integral part of Peter Jackson’s team until her death. “Peter works harder than anyone and inspires people to do their best,” she once said in an interview. “You are challenged in your work in a very positive way, and there is a great team spirit surrounding his productions.” On Oscar night in 2002, Lord Of The Rings visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri thanked Moran as he accepted his Oscar. “The whole team at Weta Digital worked so hard on the films,” she said. “So it was great for all of us to get the recognition by the Academy.”
Moran’s body of work also included I Robot, X-Men: The Last Stand, Eragon, Bridge To Terabithia, Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, 30 Days Of Night, The Water Horse, Jumper, The Chronicles Of Narnia, Prince Caspian, The Day The Earth Stood Still, District 9, The A-Team, and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.