'Close Encounters' cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond dies at 85

Story highlights

  • Vilmos Zsigmond won an Oscar for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"
  • The much-lauded cinematographer worked with Altman, DePalma, Woody Allen

(CNN)Vilmos Zsigmond, the Oscar-winning cinematographer whose varied work included "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Deer Hunter," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Deliverance," has died. He was 85.

Zsigmond died in Big Sur, California, on January 1, according to business partner Yuri Neyman.
"He died in his summer house in Big Sur," Neyman told CNN in an email. "His wife and daughter were with him."
    Zsigmond and Neyman founded the Global Cinematography Institute.
    Vilmos Zsigmond was nominated for four Oscars, winning one.
    The Hungarian-born cinematographer got his start in cheap sci-fi and exploitation films, including serving as a cameraman on 1964's marvelously titled "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?" He got his major-feature break with director Robert Altman's 1971 film "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," a revisionist Western starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
    Zsigmond's deliberately washed-out images, reminiscent of old photographs found in an attic, have been praised for their "dreamy, melancholic beauty."
    "I did everything I could to destroy the image! It's all due to Altman, who was very adventurous," he told the American Society of Cinematographers.
    Zsigmond's striking work earned him gigs on such classic '70s films as 1972's "Deliverance," directed by John Boorman; 1976's "Obsession," helmed by Brian DePalma; and 1974's "The Sugarland Express," Steven Spielberg's first theatrical feature.
    Three years later, he teamed up with Spielberg again for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Zsigmond's brilliant imagery -- whether highlighting the drama of the alien landing site at Devils Tower or the nervous clutter of Richard Dreyfuss' suburban house -- won him an Oscar.
    He was nominated for his work on three other films: 1978's "The Deer Hunter," 1984's "The River" and 2006's "The Black Dahlia."
    In recent years, Zsigmond's filmography included miniseries such as 1992's "Stalin," which won him an Emmy, a handful of Woody Allen films and several episodes of "The Mindy Project." He had several other projects lined up at the time of his death.
    Three of his films made American Cinematographer's list of the top 50 best-shot films from 1950-97.
    He received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1998.