An independent animation production
company, established in 1955, founded
on the principle of elevating the
role of animation as an art form.

John David Wilson, a British-born artist and animator, discovered his passion early in life.

Despite a serious WWII injury, Wilson had a thriving animation career, working with top studios and Fine Arts Films. His diverse work in TV, film, music videos, and painting focused on inspiring audiences. Wilson's internationally recognized works and support of the animation industry, co-founding ASIFA, left a lasting impact.


It must have been readily apparent from his earliest childhood which 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.” At the age of eighteen, he landed a job as a commercial artist with Willings Press Service.

London Rifle Bridge, World War II

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. Thus 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 Art Direction talents 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."

“Great Expectations,” feature film, 1946
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 projects such 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 visits to wounded soldiers in the hospital helped lift the mood.

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 theatres. Wilson followed this with "Petroushka," which was adapted from Igor Stravinsky's famous ballet.

Petroushka” character models, 1956
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 presented educational and enlightening children's entertainment. His film shorts for NBC-TV's “Exploring” series helped it to win the prestigious Peabody Award. He also has seven Golden Eagle Awards for his work.

After being asked by Australian television to establish an animation studio in Melbourne, he 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 1950s. 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.

“Shinbone Alley,” feature film, 1970
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. Seen by over seven million visitors, the Cinerama film set a precedent for the mega-screen formats that inspired IMAX.

Wilson is noted as the creator of the conceptual music video, and his five-minute animated shorts featuring the most popular music of the 1970s 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." He also innovated the use of characterization for voice actors, rendering their likenesses as character models.

A painter as well as an animator, Wilson's oil paintings, watercolours, and pastels have been exhibited in galleries worldwide and featured in the prestigious Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Wilson was 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 was married to Annabelle Wilson, with whom he had six children: David, Deborah, Michael, Victoria, Peter and Andrew. He was later married to Angele Woolery and Fabian Craig. He passed away in Northwest England in 2013 at the age of 93.

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2024 Fine Arts Films, Inc. / The Wilson Family Trust