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Disney Legend John Hench Dies

Longtime Disney artist John Hench passed away on Feb. 5, 2004 after suffering heart failure after a brief illness and hospitalization at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. He was 95 years old.

"John Hench taught me and so many others about the essence of the Disney legacy. He was at Walt's side during the creation of so much classic entertainment and continued to be a vital creative force for our company right up until the end, said Michael Eisner, chairman and ceo of The Walt Disney Company. Johns creative legacy will live on in the current generation of Disney designers he nurtured and inspired. He will be greatly missed by all of us who were privileged to work with him and by everyone who cherishes Disney family entertainment."

Other than Walt Disney himself, no one symbolizes The Walt Disney Company more than John Hench, added Martin A. Sklar, vice chairman and principal creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. He was an accomplished artist, designer and stylist who had a tremendous influence not only on the movies and theme parks he worked on, but on the thousands of people he worked with during his many years with the company.

John Henchs influence will long continue at Walt Disney Imagineering through the generations of designers and artists he inspired during his career. Through his commitment to delighting visitors through his work, John embodied the essence of Imagineering, said Don Goodman, president, Walt Disney Imagineering.

Hench began his career with Disney in May 1939 in Disneys old Hyperion Studio in Los Angeles as a sketch artist on FANTASIA. After that, Hench worked as a background painter on DUMBO (1941), a layout artist on THE THREE CABALLEROS (1945) and FUN & FANCY FREE (1947), an art supervisor on MAKE MINE MUSIC (1946) and on coloring and styling for THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949), CINDERELLA (1950), ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) and PETER PAN (1953). He developed the cartoon art treatment for the combination live-action and animated feature, SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1949) and the animation effects for the TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURE THE LIVING DESERT (1953). Hench was the lead f/x man on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, which garnered an Oscar in 1954 for special effects. Hench served as the official portrait artist of Mickey Mouse.

In 1954, Hench was one of the original Disney artists to move over to WED Enterprises, which later became Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of Disney theme parks and resorts worldwide. Hench worked on the creation of Tomorrowland at Disneyland and oversaw the creation of Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971 and the addition of Epcot in 1982. He helped supervise the design of Disneys first overseas park, Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983 in Japan. Until two weeks ago, Hench came to work every day at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, where he was actively involved in the design of Disneys latest theme park in Hong Kong.

Recently, Hench stepped back in the limelight with the publishing of his book, DESIGNING DISNEY: IMAGINEERING AND THE ART OF THE SHOW, which chronicles the lessons he learned working with Walt Disney. As well, Hench was the original storyboard artist assigned to work with Salvador Dali on the film, DESTINO, which Walt Disney Feature Animation recently finished and was just nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1990, Hench was named a Disney Legend, an honor awarded to individuals who have made major contributions to the company. In 1998 he was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Themed Entertainment Association, an industry trade group. He was set to receive The Winsor McCay award in recognition of lifetime career contributions to the art of animation from ASIFA-Hollywood at the Annie Awards on Feb. 7, 2004.

Hench was born June 29, 1908, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and grew up in Southern California. He attended the Art Students League in New York City and received a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. Hench also studied at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Chouinard Institute in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, Lowry.

VFXWorld interviewed Hench in October about his work on DESTINO. It can be read here.

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