Peter Jackson (search) completed his epic journey from obscure low-budget filmmaker to Oscar winner Sunday, collecting the best-director Academy Award for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

"Wow," Jackson told the Kodak Theatre audience from the stage where his film won all 11 categories in which it was nominated, including best picture. "You're giving us an incredibly overwhelming night."

Before he left the stage, he recalled how he began making films as a little boy, and in a touching moment he thanked his parents, both of whom died before they could see his Oscar triumph.

The New Zealand native spent seven years making the "Lord of the Rings" (search) trilogy, which most studios passed on before New Line Cinema agreed to shoot all three films simultaneously.

Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seemed to take a wait-and-see approach to the project, holding off on major awards until the very end to recognize the overall accomplishment. Jackson was nominated for directing the first film in the series, "The Fellowship of the Ring," but Academy voters passed him over last year for the follow-up, "The Two Towers."

This time, he seemed like a lock from the get-go.

The movies -- based on the J.R.R. Tolkien books (search) from the mid-1950s about wizards, warlocks and a group of diminutive hobbits on a quest to destroy a malevolent ring -- have collected more than $1 billion at the domestic box office alone.

They also became critical smashes, attracting the kind of praise unheard of for most fantasy movies. The Oscar is proof of the respect Jackson has earned -- not even the "Star Wars" movies earned any major Oscars.

At the beginning of Jackson's career, he was known -- if at all -- for extremely low-budget, comically gruesome splatter flicks like "Bad Taste" and "Dead Alive."

He made one art-house movie, "Heavenly Creatures," (search) a haunting 1994 tragedy that starred Kate Winslet and as a teenage girl whose relationship with a girlfriend leads to tragedy. And there was one Hollywood comedy-thriller, 1996's "The Frighteners," with Michael J. Fox as a psychic who befriends mischievous ghosts.

Then New Line Cinema agreed to finance the "Rings" movies -- at a total cost of about $300 million, according to the studio. It was a dangerous gamble that could have sunk the studio that made its name on the "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, but instead "The Lord of the Rings" provided a major dose of the power and prestige it lacked.

While filming, Jackson oversaw 114 speaking roles and 20,602 background actors wielding 48,000 assorted swords, axes, shields and other weaponry, in addition to supervising the production of numerous miniature sets and special-effects creations -- including Gollum, the computer-animated villain whose motions and voice were performed by Andy Serkis.

Next up for the filmmaker: a big-budget remake of "King Kong." (search