John Hench (June 29, 1908 – February 5, 2004) was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended the Art Students' League in New York City and received a scholarship to Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He also attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1939, he joined Disney as a sketch artist in the story department working on Fantasia.
Always eager to learn, John accepted a variety of tasks over the years, including painting backgrounds on Dumbo and layouts for The Three Caballeros. His other film credits include art supervision on Make Mine Music, cartoon art treatments for So Dear to My Heart color and styling for Peter Pan, and animation effects for The Living Desert. In 1954, his special effects work on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea won an Oscar.
That same year, John left the Studio to work at what is today known as Walt Disney Imagineering, where his first assignment was to design attractions for the original Tomorrowland in Disneyland. Later in 1960, John worked closely with Walt in developing the pageantry, opening and closing ceremonies and daily presentations for the VIII Winter Olympic Games at Squaw Valley, as well as attractions for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. He later helped master plan Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland and develop ideas for theme parks, including Disney's California Adventure, Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo DisneySea.
John is also Mickey Mouse's official corporate portrait artist, having painted Mickey's portrait for his 25th (1953), 50th (1978), 60th (1988), and most recently, 70th (1998) birthdays. In 1999, John Hench celebrated his 60th year with the company. John Hench died February 5, 2004, in Burbank.
He recalled one of those lessons, "Walt always said, 'You get down to Disneyland at least twice a month and you walk in the front entrance, don't walk in through the back. Eat with the people. Watch how they react to the work you've done down there.' This made an enormous difference in how we approached our work."
An eternal flame-bearer and senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, John has carried on Walt's ideals and standards. His assistant and confidante for the past 25 years, Sandy Huskins said, "Sometimes John says, 'Tomorrow, we're going to the Park,' and we'll go down, stand in line and pretend we're guests. I always come back with a full load of notes."