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t must have been readily apparent from earliest childhood, the career path John David Wilson would choose. The renowned Wimbledon born artist, animation director, producer, and animator cannot remember a time when he didn’t have a pencil in one hand and a sketch pad in the other. He attended Watford Grammar, where Sir Robin Darwin taught him art. Later he became a student at Harrow Art School, and then at the Royal College of Art. His first published cartoon appeared in the Territorial Army Magazine “Defence”, and at the age of eighteen he landed a job as a commercial artist with Willings Press Service.

When World War II started in 1939, Wilson was called up almost immediately, and served with the London Rifle Brigade in the African campaign. He was seriously injured in 1941; and while recovering in a Cairo hospital; he passed the time by drawing cartoons, some of which were published. His work came to the attention of a Durban printer, who offered him a job. Because of the seriousness of the injury, Wilson was discharged from the Army, and he accepted the employment offer.

He returned to the United Kingdom in 1944. After working for a London art agency, he applied for a job in the art department of Pinewood Studios, and his new career began. He contributed his talents in Art Direction to such films as "Great Expectations" and "The Thief of Bagdad." While at Pinewood, he saw a hand-written flyer recruiting artists for a new British venture. This was GB Animation, financed by J. Arthur Rank. He was one of a score of artists who joined GBA at its headquarters at Moor Hall, Cookham, Berkshire. There under the tutelage of former Disney animation director David Hand ("Snow White”, "Bambi"), Wilson learned the art of animation. Between 1945 and 1950, when the studio closed, he worked on a number of popular cartoon shorts such as "Animaland" and "Musical Paintbox."

In 1950, John Wilson, with his wife and young son, immigrated to the United States, and joined the Walt Disney Studios. He worked on such classic films as “Peter Pan” and “Lady and the Tramp”, as well as the Academy Award winning short “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom”. He also animated many of the Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck cartoons. During this period, he also worked for UPA on such projects as “Mr. Magoo”, and with Hanna-Barbera on “The Flintstones”. This period saw Wilson also find the time to join Bob Hope’s 1953 USO tour to entertain troops stationed in Korea, including those on the front lines, where he willingly spent hours drawing caricatures for the fighting men. His hospital visits to the wounded brought smiles to many faces.

In 1955, Wilson founded his own animation company, Fine Arts Films. The company’s first cartoon short, “Tara, the Stonecutter”, was a great success when it was shown in movie theatre. Wilson followed this with “Petroushka”, which was adapted from Igor Stravinsky’s famous ballet. Stravinsky himself conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for the cartoon film, which debuted in primetime on American television. “Petroushka” went on to become the first animated film ever accepted by the Venice Film Festival. It also won six international festival awards. It was the first fully animated television special airing as a segment of the Sol Hurok Music Hour on NBC in 1956.

Wilson’s company was dedicated to presenting children’s entertainment that was also educational and enlightening. His film shorts for NBC-TV’s “Exploring” series helped it to win the prestigious Peabody Award. Wilson also has seven Golden Eagle Awards for his work.

After being asked by Australian television to establish an animation studio in Melbourne, Wilson returned to the U.S. and began work on the animated feature film, “Shinbone Alley”, which was based on the hit Broadway musical of the 1950’s. He brought together an incredible array of talent including Carol Channing as mehitabel, John Carradine as Tyrone T. Tattersoll, and Eddie Bracken recreating his Broadway role as archie the cockroach. The film won the Grand Prize Golden Phoenix Award at the 1970 Atlanta Film Festival, beating 900 films, including live action features, for the top prize.

Some of Wilson’s other credits include the animated opening sequence for “Grease - The Movie”, the animated trailer for Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce”, and the ABC-TV half hour animated special, “Stanley, the Ugly Duckling”. He directed “The Seventh Brother” for Family Films, Utah, and worked on Fox-TV’s “Peter Pan and the Pirates”, Marvel’s “Fraggle Rock”, “Muppet Babies”, and “Jem”, as well as “The Specialists” for MTV.

In 1960, using the latest technology, he created “Journey to the Stars” for the NASA Space Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair. The Cinerama film was seen by over seven million visitors, and was the first IMAX presentation.

Wilson is the creator of the conceptual music video, and his five minute animated shorts, featuring the most popular music of the 1970’s were highlights on the weekly CBS-TV “Sonny and Cher Show.” Songs included Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”, and Jim Croce's “Leroy Brown.”

A painter as well as an animator, Wilson’s oil paintings, watercolours and pastels has been exhibited worldwide. His paintings have hung in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Wilson is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, having served on the Animated Shorts Committee. He was also a founding member of ASIFA Hollywood. He is married, and the father of six children. He currently resides in Northwest England.




Read John Wilson's personal account in:
The Animated Revolution




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© 2006 Fine Arts Films, Inc.



Read John Wilson's personal account in:
The Animated Revolution




Rfn. John Wilson in North Africa, 1941.

John entertaining the troops during the
Korean War, 1953.

John Wilson and Igor Stravinsky review
the 'Petroushka' score circa 1955.

Carol Channing and John Wilson rehearse
a scene from 'Shinbone Alley' circa 1968.

ASIFA Hollywood Panel with (l to r):
John Wilson, Les Goldman, Ralph Bakshi, Woolie Reitherman, circa 1970's.

Wilson today in his studio in England.