How To Be A Creative Genius: Lessons From Disney Legend John Hench (Part 1)
John Hench was an amazing man. In many ways he became the creative right hand of Walt Disney himself. John Hench’s incredible career with Disney started in 1939 when he joined the company as a sketch artist. Here is part of a brief summary of his career at Disney according to the Disney Legends web-page:
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.
I first learned about John Hench as I was exploring an Orlando Borders Books. I came across the book “Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show” by John Hench. In his book, Mr. Hench elaborates on the design principles that make the Disney Parks such magical places. There are so many lessons to be gleaned from this book that I will be sharing them in subsequent posts. One of Mr. Hench’s most important contributions at Disney was his feel for color. He used color to tell stories in both 2D animation and in 3D buildings and architecture. More on that later.
In terms of his creative genius, I found the Forward of the book illuminating. According to Marty Sklar, Vice Chairman and Principle Creative Executive of Walt Disney Imagineering:
When I was still settling into my new responsibilities as the new creative head of imagineering in the mid-1970’s, I asked John’s long-time assistant Sandy Huskins to bring all the books and periodicals John took home for his weekend reading to me on Monday. Sandy kept bringing in material and eventually brought in 35 items. I still recall the magazines ranged from Women’s Wear Daily to Scientific American. If I hadn’t known it before (I had!), I certainly knew it that Monday morning: I could never hope to catch up, or keep up, with John Hench.
He read voraciously! This is how he was able to find the inspiration to go from being a sketch artist to designing entire theme park wings, costumes, animated movies, World’s Fair attractions and more. One of the keys to being a creative genius is being a sponge. You have to fill yourself with knowledge and inspiration. Part of Mr. Hench’s genius came from combining ideas and subjects that people never combined before. Learn about the world around you, be inspired, and let your creativity flow!