Pioneering and award-winning wildlife cinematographer Jim Frazier dies, but his legacy lives on

Pioneering and award-winning wildlife filmmaker Jim Frazier has died at the age of 82.

He is one of Australia’s most awarded cinematographers and his legacy will live on through his passionate work to protect the environment.

Mr. Frazier was best known for his work on Sir David Attenborough documentaries and for inventing the groundbreaking Frazier lens system that revolutionized the motion picture industry.

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It allowed the foreground and background of an image to be in focus simultaneously and earned it an Oscar in the late 1990s.

He has also received at least 40 other national and international awards, including an Emmy, as well as an honorary doctorate and an OAM.

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A man with a camera photographs a snake in a tree.
Jim Frazier worked on wildlife documentaries around the world for decades.(Delivered: Jim Frazier)

He died on September 17 after a short illness surrounded by his family on the NSW Mid North Coast.

Mr. Frazier was passionate about promoting the need for greater environmental protection and for the last few decades happily lived with his wife Helen on a property in Bootawa near Taree where they created a habitat for birds and butterflies.

He described it as a “place of peace and quiet” where he wanted to spend the last years of his life.

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Jim Frazier speaks at his Bootawa estate in 2021(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

His wish was granted – the property had only recently been sold to an environmentally enthusiastic couple when he died.

Christine Calabria, who edited Mr Frazier’s autobiography Through the Lens a Macro View of Jim Frazier in 2021, said his achievements will not be forgotten.

Two men stand together and talk outdoors, they wear shirts.
Jim Frazier and David Attenborough have collaborated on many documentaries.(Delivered: Jim Frazier)

“He was an innovative genius,” said Ms. Calabria.

“His life and work will outlive him and will be an enduring legacy of his vision, innovative creations, love of the environment and efforts to improve it.”

Mr. Frazier was inducted into the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) Hall of Fame in 1998 in recognition of his work and contribution to the industry.

“He was an exceptional cinematographer, he was an inventor and he was a naturalist,” said ACS President Erika Addis.

Ms Addis described his Frazier Lens System as “revolutionary”.

“The thing about Jim is that he made the impossible possible,” she said.

“He designed this lens that can do what no other lens can do.”

life behind the lens

A woman is holding a camera and is sitting next to a man with a close-up of an insect in the foreground.
Densey Clyne with Jim Frazier – the couple worked together for many years.(Delivered: Jim Frazier)

Mr. Frazier’s camera career took off unexpectedly through a collaboration with author and naturalist Densey Clyne, whom he met in the 1960’s.

Together they made an award-winning film about spiders that wowed the BBC and opened doors.

Two men and a woman sit at a table, laughing.
Jim Frazier enjoyed working with Richard Attenborough and Densey Clyne for many years.(Delivered: Jim Frazier)
A man in a bush area bends behind a video camera, another man stands in front of the camera.
Jim Frazier collaborated with David Attenborough on the series Life on Earth and The Living Planet.(Delivered: Jim Frazier)

It eventually led to a long-term business partnership with David Attenborough, including work on his Life on Earth and The Living Planet series.

It was his work in this area that inspired Frazier to develop the Panavision Frazier lens system and the equipment would later be used in many international blockbusters including Titanic and Mission Impossible, Godzilla, Green Mile, Tomorrow Never Dies and Stuart Little 2.

Symphony of the Earth

A man sits on a makeshift platform in a tree while a camera is set up.
Jim Frazier said he often had to improvise when filming wildlife in the field.(Delivered: Jim Frazier)

At the time of his death, Mr. Frazier was working on a feature film project, Symphony of the Earth.

“Jim came to me many years ago and shared with me a vision he had for the earth: to give every animal on earth a voice,” said director Rachel Dunn.

“He wanted to create an incredible feature film that would highlight all the voices in the world. Jim and I have worked together for many years to refine this story.

“It’s hard to believe he’s not here yet.”

The team behind Symphony of the Earth will continue to develop the film in Mr. Frazier’s legacy.

Ms Calabria said Mr Frazier was very pleased to see it was nearing completion.

An elderly man sits with a group of people in a house.
Jim Frazier with his wife Helen (bottom left) and the Symphony of the Earth group including director Rachel Dunn (back right).(Delivered: Jim Frazier)

“Jim was excited because they filmed a trailer for Symphony of the Earth just a few weeks ago and it looks like it’s taking off,” she said.

“It’s almost as if Jim thought, ‘This is my job, I made it.’

“His ultimate goal was the Symphony of the Earth… and I think that’s why he died peacefully, knowing he had achieved what he set out to do.”

An elderly man is sitting outside on a lounge chair looking at old photos.
Jim Frazier combed through decades of photos and memories for his autobiography.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

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