Legendary British animation director, designer and studio owner John Wilson died on Friday, June 21, according to a report on Michael Sporn’s Splog animation blog. He was 93.
According to Sporn’s biographical notes, Wilson was born in Wimbledon in 1920. He attended the Royal College of Art and was working as a commercial artist by the age of 18. During World War II, he served with the London Rifle Brigade in Africa, where he was seriously wounded. Following his recovery, Wilson secured a position in the art department at Pinewood Studios, where he worked on such films as Great Expectations and The Thief of Baghdad, among others.
Wilson’s animation career started when he was 25, in the newly-formed Gaumont British Animation studio, working under the direction of David Hand on the Animaland series starring Ginger Nut. In 1950, he moved to the United States working in layout and animation at UPA alongside the likes of Bobe Cannon, Pete Burness, Jules Engel, and Paul Julian.
Eventually he left UPA for Disney, working in Les Clark’s Tinkerbell unit on Peter Pan, and with Ward Kimball on Toot Whistle Plunk & Boom. While at Disney, Wilson tried to generate interest in his personal animation project, Tara the Stonecutter, but ended up leaving the studio, in 1955, to launch his own company, Fine Art Films, and complete the project.
This film led to his producing a version of Stravinsky’s Petroushka for NBC which aired, in 1956, as part of The Sol Hurok Music Hour. Notably, Stravinsky himself arranged and conducted the shortened version of the score using the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. The film was designed by John Wilson and Dean Spille with animation by Bill Littlejohn, Art Davis, and Phil Monroe. Chris Jenkyns, Dean Spille and Ed DeMattia designed the 16-minute show from Wilson’s storyboard.
Director Billy Wilder employed Wilson to complete a six-minute animated trailer for Irma La Douce, with artists Ron Maidenberg, Sam Weiss, Sam Cornell and Bob Curtis capturing the vivid nightlife of Paris in a sexually charged animated short that was a huge success in promoting the feature.
Watch the trailer, below:
Fine Arts Films was also responsible for many animated commercials as well as weekly music video segments for the The Sonny and Cher Show, including Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Jim Croce’s “Leroy Brown.”
Watch “Big Yellow Taxi,” below:
To learn more about Wilson’s incredible career and see some of his concept art, storyboards and stills, head over to Michael Sporn’s Splog.