The USC School of Cinema-Television has announced the naming of the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Art, made possible through a $5 million endowment from the John C. Hench Foundation.
Special guests who gathered in Frank Sinatra Hall Sept. 10 emphasized the importance of the endowment to the school and its students, sharing memories of the late animator who passed away in 2004 at age 95.
In addition to being a longtime 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, teaching both the faculty and students his technique and philosophy.
“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 Elizabeth M. Daley, dean of the School of Cinema-Television. “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.”
Hench started his nearly 60-year career at Disney in 1939 when he joined the studio 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).
He is a 1990 recipient of the studio’s Disney Legends Award. His creative endeavors extended to the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., and 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.
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.”
Added division chair Kathy Smith, “Animation is all about time, and this naming in perpetuity will create an enduring testament to the art form that John loved.”
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 Co. Destino took more than 50 years to reach the screen and was first storyboarded by Hench and Spanish painter Salvador Dal� 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 Disney, the 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.”
The endowment will support several key initiatives, including funding faculty and student assistant positions, obtaining state-of-the-art technology, underwriting artists-in-residence, hosting symposia and producing exhibits, animation shows, DVDs and more.
Before the evening’s reception, foundation board member Jose M. Deetjen, who was both Hench’s tax attorney and longtime personal friend, 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.