Tonino Delli Colli (search), for half a century the eye behind the camera for some of Italy's best-known movies, has died at age 83, his niece said Thursday.

The renowned cinematographer was found dead in his Rome apartment Wednesday morning, Laura Delli Colli said. He had been suffering of heart problems, she said.

Delli Colli was a driving force in the birth and evolution of neo-realist cinema during the mid-1940s and 1950s. He went on to shoot over 130 movies, including such classic films as "The Name of the Rose," (search) "Once Upon a Time in America" (search) and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." (search)

"He was one of those people who love the set, the set was his real family," his niece said.

In a career spanning six decades he worked alongside directors Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini, retiring in 1997 after directing the photography for Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning "Life is Beautiful."

Working in Rome's Cinecitta studios since his teens, Delli Colli learned the art of cinematography on the job, becoming a master of black and white photography but quickly adapting to new technology when he shot Italy's first color movie — "Toto a Colori" (search) — in 1952.

Delli Colli made his name as a director of photography capable of adapting himself to the filmmaker's style, lighting up Leone's bright landscapes and helping create the surreal atmospheres of Fellini's works.

"You must know the sun and the sea, the colors and the contrasts, and we Italians are masters at this," he was quoted as saying of his job by newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Delli Colli is survived by his son Stefano. A funeral is scheduled for Friday morning at Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Rome's Piazza del Popolo.