July 3, 2013

Work: John David Wilson

The recently deceased John David Wilson was a pioneering inventive animator from England who made his way into the animation world in the pre-Disney era. Wilson was a contributor to many popular ground breaking animation pieces like Lady and the Tramp, Grease and music videos for the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Here’s a very brief history of John Wilson’s incredible work across the spectra of animation. Keep in mind the timeline as this work was produced way before most of us were.

 Wilson broke in with his production house Fine Art Films in 1955 with his first animated short, Tara the Stone Cutter which started it all for him. The film’s style was so clearly unique and Japanese decorative papers were used in the backgrounds and costumes of the characters.

Tarathestonecutter storyboard

 Wilson’s storyboard for Tara the Stone Cutter(1955)

Soon he worked on Petroushka which happened to be the first animated film to enter the Venice Film Festival and won various other accolades. Then came in his path breaking work, Journey to the Stars for the United States Science exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair which was projected on a hemispherical 360-degree, 75 ft screen and was shown more than 6,000 times before a total audience of 4.5 million people. He worked with Hanna-Barbera on some of the beloved highly re-watched cartoons from our childhood like The Flinstones and Mr Magoo. And he also worked with Disney along with veteran David Hand (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Bambi) on various animated series and films like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy cartoons, the features Peter Pan(1953) and Lady and the Tramp (1955).

Lady and the Tramp spaghetti sequence(1952)

The pasta, Wilson said, was a challenge; though long and thin, it needed to be given weight to look convincing. In 1953, Wilson assisted in the Academy award winning film Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom which is a short on musical instruments taken over by a very aptly articulate director who happens to be an owl. To view the whole short, click hereJump to 1970 where Wilson adapted Shinebone Alley, a jazz opera into an animated format which featured the voices of Carol Channing and Eddie Bracken which focuses on a poet, Archy who gets trans-migrated into a cockroach where not long ago he was a poet who felt like a cockroach and now he’s a cockroach who feels like a poet!

Shinebone Alley(1971), directed and produced by Wilson(part one)

One of Wilson’s most coveted pieces of work happens to be the title sequence of the 1978 musical featuring snarky caricatures of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. He was also credited as the father of conceptual music videos as he created these almost a decade before the advent of Mtv.

Intro: Grease(1978)

Wilson: Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi for the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour

A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and a founding member of ASIFA Hollywood (the home of the Annie Awards), Wilson was a painter in oils, watercolors and pastels whose work has hung in the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

For more information on John David Wilson, visit the official website of his production house, Fine Arts Films.

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