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John Wilson, British Animation Legend, RIP

British animation director, designer and studio owner John Wilson (above, left) passed away on Friday, June 21st, according to a report published by Michael Sporn. Wilson was born in 1920 in Wimbledon, London, England. Per his personal biographical notes:

He attended the Royal College of Art and was working by age 18 as a commercial artist with Willings Press Service. In WWII he served with the London Rifle Brigade in African where he was seriously wounded. Recuperating in hospital, he drew many cartoons of which several were printed. Eventually he would recover and get work at Pinewood Studios in the art department where he worked on Great Expectations and The Thief of Baghdad, among other films.

Wilson’s animation career began at the Gaumont British Animation studio in the late-1940s. He moved to the United States in the early-1950s, where he worked at UPA and Disney. His sole screen credit from this period was as a layout artist on the Disney short Pigs is Pigs (1954):

In 1954, he started his own studio Fine Arts Films. Among his well known projects from the period was a 1956 short film Petroushka that was arranged and conducted by Igor Stravinsky himself. The 16-minute film aired as part of the The Sol Hurok Music Hour, and is regarded as an early example of an animated TV special.

Wilson also directed this classic television spot voiced and written by Stan Freberg for Instant Butter-Nut Coffee (1958):

Other projects included directing the trailer for the live-action feature Irma La Douce (1963):

…directing the animated feature Shinbone Alley (1971):

…and directing the main titles for the 1978 musical film Grease:

A biography and full credit list can be found at John Wilson’s website A generous selection of his artwork is available at Michael Sporn’s website.

  • Roberto Severino

    What a prolific career and an incredible, versatile superhuman talent! John Wilson even did work for Liquid Television on MTV back in the 1990s if you read Michael Sporn’s post on him. I also had no idea that he had been responsible for doing the layouts of Disney’s “Pigs is Pigs,” directed the main titles for “Grease”, and did layouts for the trailer of Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce!”

  • SteveSegal

    He was a great artist and a true gentleman.

  • Matt Jones

    Thanks for consistently highlighting the varied careers of these unsung talents from the animation industry. It’s always a easier to discover another artist from the history of the form.

  • Jeff Missinne

    I had the pleasure of exchanging some letters with Mr. Wilson a few years ago. His animated titles and song sequences for the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and other variety series of the 1970’s were always fun.

  • Inkan1969

    Oh, my. “Shinbone Alley” is a personal favorite movie of mine. Not the best movie ever made, but I loved the characters and the style. That movie was a time capsule as to what used to be considered acceptable in a G-rated movie. :-) My condolences to John’s family.

  • Bob Logan

    Great Post! Never knew he did Grease. I love, LOVE the opening titles for Grease.