January 3, 2007

Animation Dedication

John C. Hench Bequeaths $5 Million To Animation & Digital Arts

By James Tella

John C. Hench with a proud display of his Mickey Mouse portraits (2000).
The legacy of using creativity to both inspire and inform people around the globe thrives at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts, which was officially named after the great Disney artist on September 10 through a $5 million endowment gift from the John C. Hench Foundation.

Gathering that Sunday evening in the 365-seat Frank Sinatra Hall, special guests shared the importance of the endowment to the school and its students, and delighted the audience with memories of the late animator who passed away on Feb. 5, 2004 at age 95.

In addition to being a long-time supporter of the division—which offers a three-year Master’s of Fine Arts degree, a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree, as well as undergraduate minors—Hench was a frequent figure in the classroom and studio, teaching both the faculty and students his technique and philosophy. In reflecting on his own education, Hench once said that he wanted “to understand more about images and how images communicate information to people.” Thanks to the enduring support this gift provides, the school Hench loved has been uniquely strengthened to enable future generations of artists and scholars to explore the power of images as he had envisioned.

“Today we are here to celebrate and preserve the memory of a man who gave us our memories and those dreams that we grew up with,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. “John C. Hench saw the future in a way that was far beyond what any of us could see, and showed us the world in a way that we never could have seen by ourselves,” she added.

Hench started his nearly 60-year career at Disney in 1939 when he joined the company as a story artist. In addition to becoming the official portrait painter of Mickey Mouse, Hench worked on the landmark Fantasia (1940); Dumbo (1941); Peter Pan (1953); and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)—for which he shared an Academy Award for special effects; and Alice in Wonderland (1955).

A 1990 recipient of the firm’s “Disney Legend Award,” Hench’s creative endeavors also extended to the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, as well as playing an instrumental role in the architectural design of Disney’s theme parks and hotels.
Sandy  Huskins, Hench's assistant of more than 35 years and a trustee of his foundation, joins the Disney Legend with proud display of his portrait of Walt and Mickey for the Disney Gallery at Tokyo Disneyland.

Beyond his drawing, painting, animation, design, and architecture skills, Hench had a passionate interest in the sciences, particularly engineering and biology. This broad background played out in his artistry, resulting in productions that sought not merely to amuse but also to enlighten and prompt viewers to see and think in new ways.

After calling Hench “a true renaissance man and a pioneer of the art of Disney animation and theme park design,” Walt Disney Studios Chairman Richard Cook ’72 joined USC in relaying thanks to the Hench Foundation for “allowing dreams to come true for future generations of filmmakers.”

“Animation is all about time, and this naming in perpetuity will create an enduring testament to the art form that John loved,” Division Chair Kathy Smith said as she introduced a short montage of student work.

“The name to which one is linked is all too important,” said 2006 graduate Terilyn Lawson. “Anyone who is associated with the name John C. Hench embodies the definition of an interdisciplinary thinker who accomplished great things as an artist.”
Her words were echoed by Chino Wong ’05, who lauded Hench as a man “who never stopped being innovative,” and remarked that the gifts of John C. Hench will continue to encourage students to try new things. “On behalf of all those who have passed through these halls, we are indebted to the legacy and generosity of John C. Hench and his foundation,” he added.

The highlight of the evening was the screening of the animated production, Destino, which was introduced by Roy E. Disney, chairman of Shamrock Capital Advisors and director emeritus of The Walt Disney Company. Destino took over 50 years to reach the screen and was first storyboarded by Hench and Spanish painter Salvador Dalí in late 1945 and 1946. The film garnered Hench an Academy Award-nomination for Best Animated Short Film in 2004.

“John believed there was a story in everything,” recalled Roy Disney, nephew of founder Walt Disney. “Not just in film, but in paintings as well as the simple act of walking from one area within the Disney Park to another and that each one had to be told with care and love.”

Before the evening’s reception, Foundation Board Member Jose M. Deetjen, who was both Hench’s tax attorney and longtime personal friend for over 30 years, recalled Hench’s special interest in USC and how much he enjoyed visiting campus, lecturing and sharing his love of the art form with students and faculty.

Deetjen closed the celebration speaking for the foundation’s other members, Leonor Deetjen and Sandy Huskins, Hench’s assistant of more than 35 years. “We are thrilled that the name John C. Hench will be remembered for posterity as one of the greatest American artists,” Deetjen said.