John Hench
Hench (left) with Walt Disney
BornJune 29, 1908
DiedFebruary 5, 2004 (aged 95)
Occupation(s)Artist, designer, director
Years active1939–2004
EmployerWalt Disney Imagineering
SpouseLowry Hench (m. 1939)

John Hench (June 29, 1908 – February 5, 2004) was an American artist, designer and director at The Walt Disney Company. For 65 years, he helped design and develop various Disney attractions and theme parks.[1]

Early life

Hench was born on June 29, 1908, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and raised in Southern California. He attended the Los Angeles Art Students' League. Hench attended further art and creative schools in the United States, including the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles,[2] the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, and the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.[3]


In 1939, Hench started as a story artist in the animation department working in areas including backgrounds, layout and art direction, effects animation and special effects. Hench was respected by Walt Disney as one of the studio's most gifted artists and worked him and Salvador Dalí on the animated short Destino, a project which began in 1945 and not completed until 2003.[4]

Afterwards, he moved to WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering). In 1954, Hench was in the studio's live action department, as lead developer of the hydraulic giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The film won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1954.[3] Hench was also Disney's official portrait artist of Mickey Mouse, painting the company's portraits for Mickey's 25th, 50th, 60th, 70th, and 75th birthdays.[5]

Hench led the design for various attractions: Tomorrowland, the Adventureland buildings and walkways, New Orleans Square and the Snow White Grotto. He also designed Space Mountain, and Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland. He also contributed to attractions such as the Mickey Mouse Revue, Carousel of Progress and It's a Small World.[6] Hench was often mistaken as Walt Disney, therefore, theme parks guests would often ask him for an autograph or photo.[7]

One of Hench's most recognizable work is his design for the Olympic Torch for the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, California, which subsequent torches have been based on.[8] The design is modeled after the torches of the 1948 and 1956 Olympiads.[9][10] In 1990, he received the Disney Legend award, the company's highest honor, presented by then-CEO Michael Eisner. Hench remained at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California, until 2004.

Personal life

Hench and his wife were longtime devotees of the Hindu saint Ramakrishna, were initiated by Swami Prabhavananda, and were members of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, Hench serving as the society's board president for a short time.[11][12]

Death and legacy

Hench died of heart failure on February 5, 2004, after a brief hospitalization in Burbank, California.[13]

The John Hench School of Animation at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, California is named in his honor. He was a major contributor to the animation school. The school motto, "Art Makes Us Human", is a quote from Hench when he visited the school to inspire students.

Selected works

Year Title Role
1940 Fantasia Artist
1941 Dumbo
1945 The Three Caballeros
1946 Make Mine Music Art Supervisor
1947 Fun & Fancy Free Artist
1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Art Supervisor
So Dear to My Heart Animation Effects
1950 Cinderella Art Supervisor
1951 Alice in Wonderland
1953 Peter Pan
True-Life Adventure The Living Desert Animation Effects
1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Special Effects
1957 Our Friend the Atom Art Supervisor
1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Special Effects
2003 Destino Story
Architect / Designer
Year Attraction
Disneyland Tomorrowland
1971 Walt Disney World
1982 EPCOT Center
1983 Tokyo Disneyland


Further reading


  1. ^ a b "John Hench". D23.
  2. ^ "John Hench". Otis College of Art and Design. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Holland, Steve (February 13, 2004). "Obituary: John Hench". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  4. ^ "Walt Disney's wild ride with surrealist Salvador Dali". Gulf News. June 11, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  5. ^ "John Hench". Designing Disney. March 22, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  6. ^ Solomon, Charles (February 6, 2004). "John Hench, 95; Disney Artist Helped Design Theme Parks". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  7. ^ "The Minds Who Built Disney: John Hench". The Main Street Mouse. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  8. ^ "John Hench". The Independent. February 12, 2004. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  9. ^ "Digital Hen recycling – Uk 13424048".
  10. ^ "Look Closer: The Olympic Torch | the Walt Disney Family Museum". Archived from the original on May 27, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  11. ^ Schindler, William (February 13, 2016). God's Dog:Memories, Confessions, Dreams & Revelations of a Modern Mystic. ISBN 9781329901131.
  12. ^ Stavig, Gopal. "Ramakrishna-Vedanta in Southern California: From Swami Vivekananda to the Present" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Disney Legend John Hench Dies".
  14. ^ "Thea Recipients | Themed Entertainment Association (TEA)". Archived from the original on May 2, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  15. ^ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  16. ^ "Walt Disney Studios Wins Special Effects: 1955 Oscars – YouTube". YouTube.