John Wilson, a British-born animator who worked with Walt Disney, David Lean, Igor Stravinsky, and Billy Wilder in the course of a remarkably long and varied career, has died at the age of 93. Wilson’s first published work consisted of cartoons he had scribbled down while in a Cairo hospital, recuperating from wounds sustained while serving with the London Rifle Brigade during World War II. Discharged from the Army, he moved to London and eventually took a job in the art department at Pinewood Studios, working on such films as Lean’s Great Expectations (1946) and the lavish fantasy The Thief Of Bagdad (1940).
Wilson’s career in animation began in 1946, when he left Pinewood to join Gaumont British Animation, a new company set up by J. Arthur Rank and animator David Hand, who’d served as supervising director on Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Bambi. Wilson made his first animated shorts at GB, including The Cuckoo (1948), Ginger Nutt’s Christmas Circus (1949), and The Ostrich (1949).
In 1950, the year that GB shut down after failing to secure American distribution for its films, Wilson moved his family to the U. S. and went to work for Disney. There he contributed to several cartoon shorts, including the Oscar-nominated Pigs Is Pigs (1954), and worked on the famous spaghetti scene in Lady And The Tramp (1955).
In 1955, Wilson struck out on his own, founding Fine Arts Films and directing the eight-minute short Tara The Stone Cutter. He followed it up with Petroushka, an adaptation of a Stravinsky ballet. (Stravnsky agreed to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the score, despite his feelings at having been burned years earlier on Disney’s Fantasia.) The film won several awards at festivals around the world and was shown on TV as part of the Sol Hurok Music Hour. The company also made several shorts for the Peabody Award-winning children’s program Exploring. In 1960, Wilson created the Cinerama film Journey To The Stars, part of the NASA Space Pavillion exhibit at the Seattle World’s Fair. At Billy Wilder’s request, Wilson also directed a celebrated animated trailer for Wilder’s 1963 hit movie Irma La Douche.
In 1971, Wilson directed Shinbone Alley, an ambitious animated feature derived from Don Marquis’ “Archy and Mehitabel” stories. In the early ‘70s, he produced animations for The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour, The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, and Bill Cosby’s short-lived 1976 variety show, and directed a handful of pre-MTV animated music videos, for such songs as Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,” and Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby.” In 1978, he became part of a lasting cultural phenomenon by creating the animated opening credits sequence for Grease.
He also did work for UPA and Hanna-Barbera, did the credits for The Private Eyes (1980), and directed the 1982 TV film Stanley, The Ugly Duckling. Wilson's last credit was Jean-Francois Laguionie’s 1999 feature, A Monkey’s Tale.