Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench


Designing Disneyby John Hench is one of my favorite books in my personal library.

The book is divided into four main areas: the Art of Show, the Art of Visual Storytelling, the Art of Character and the Art of Color. Mr. Hench does an amazing job of breaking down these areas by providing concrete examples through artwork, concept art, DSC00489 photographs, stories and personal recollections. One of of the amazing concept art shots is of the proposed Mickey Mouse Hotel. Mr. Hench briefly discusses using forms and symbols that are immediately recognizable to the viewer. Of course, the Mickey Mouse hotel was never built; the original idea was for it to be on the monorail line between the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom.

DSC00490Mr. Hench was also the concept artists for the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. You can see from the picture that he was very much into color and the moods and feelings associated with color. He would use color to set the scene, invite guests further into the attraction or to simply set a mood. Mr. Hench refers to the concept art as enhanced reality. He also talks about the original iteration of the Enchanted Tiki Room. Walt wanted it to be a dining establishment with a dinner show. Once they started planning and designing, they realized that it would limit the audience capacity too much. So, Mr. Hench added the center fountain and created a theater in the round. The rest is history!

DSC00491The most stunning part of the book is the Art of Color section. Actually, I consider it the most interesting and eye-opening part. Not only does Mr. Hench discuss the different properties of color as they would appear in the different theme park locales; but he tackles how the same color will have drastically different effects depending on the sunlight. Disneyland Paris has a colder sun while Walt Disney World has a much brighter sun. Therefore, the color palette has to be very carefully chosen. In planning the Polynesian Hotel, they wanted to make sure that all of the details and the warmth were accessible in the day or evening. To me, the Art of Color is something that I can apply in my life. Whether it is the color of the bedroom walls, the floor tiles in the bathroom or open sky-blue of my children’s bedroom.

I started writing this post with just the quote below. Then I started flipping through the book and I realized that there was simply too much inside the pages to leave it as is. I hoped to whet your appetite with three very minor parts of the work. This is not a book review, by any means–it is just one friend telling another friend about an incredible read. I urge you to get a copy of this book. You will never look at Disney the same after devouring reading it. This will be the next book that I loan to Disney Geek Andrew. Only if he promises to not eat Dorito’s and ice cream while reading it!

DSC00487When I am asked, “What is your greatest achievement?” I answer, “Disneyland is our greatest achievement. Disneyland was first and set the pattern for others to follow.” Disneyland has been an example for many enterprises in the entertainment industry, and its design principles have been embraced by other industries as well. The concept of “themed” environments–places designed so that every element contributes to telling a story–was developed and popularized by Walt Disney. Its influence has been extraordinarily widespread, and can be seen today in many aspects of our daily experience–in shops and shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, museums, airports, offices, even people’s homes.

–John Hench, page 1.

Hench, John Designing Disney Imagineering and the Art of the Show. New York: Disney Editions, 2003.


One thought on “Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench

  1. Great review – I’ve just added it to my wish list over at Amazon… I think it’s out of print though so the copies are looking pricey don’t suppose you fancy lending yours out to your readers ;0)

    I wonder if they have it at the library…

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