Alan Lee was born and raised in London, and studied graphic art and design at the Ealing School of Art. Having first read The Lord of the Rings aged 17, Middle-earth has had a profound impact on his professional career.
He came to prominence among the Tolkien community when commissioned by HarperCollins to illustrate a special edition of The Lord of the Rings to mark the centenary of Tolkien’s birth in 1992. In addition to calendars and a sketchbook, he illustrated an edition of The Hobbit in 1997 and The Children of Húrin a decade later.
His work caught the attention of director Peter Jackson, and in 1997 he was persuaded to move to New Zealand as the pre-production for the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings started in earnest. Together with fellow Tolkien illustrator John Howe, he became a lead conceptual artist for the project and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Art Direction in 2004. He later went back to New Zealand to work on The Hobbit films. Upon returning to England he worked on illustrations for Beren and Lúthien published in 2017, and The Fall of Gondolin published in 2018.