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Book Review: Designing Disney

hench_bookReading John Hench’s Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show reminded me a bit of my trip to Las Vegas last December. Although we usually think of Imagineering in terms of Disney theme parks, the core ideas of the job apply to most anywhere people gather to relax and have fun. In that respect, Vegas must be the biggest example of Imagineering on Earth. While exploring the various casinos, I was very aware of how everything was designed in a way to create a world away from the world, preferably to get patrons plopped down at the slots. While some casinos treat this idea as an afterthought, the immersive themeing of places like New York New York or Paris, Las Vegas (where even the men’s bathrooms have a quaint “Paris in 1900” aura) never failed to impress. It made me wish that everything in my life was Imagineered.

Which brings me to this book! Amongst Disney Imagineers, John Hench had the most durability (having served at Disney for an astonishing 65 years) and was the one whose ambition and scope most resembled Walt Disney’s own. He’s the one responsible for conceptualizing much of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland (original and 1967 remodel), the Enchanted Tiki Room and Main Street U.S.A. Beautiful achievements all, and all the more impressive when one realizes the work encompasses architecture, signage, interior design, costumes and even the floors below guests’ feet. The proof of this is displayed throughout the book in fabulous renderings that called to mind the work of Syd Mead. Check out the costume designs below — wonderful!

The renderings are really what makes this book special. Unfortunately the great imagery is offset with lousy, unprofessional looking fonts. Hench’s text itself (co-authored with Peggy Van Pelt) is rather rudimentary and textbook-like; I would picture the ideal audience for this book as young would-be Imagineers in their teens. Despite those disappointments, there are a lot of great anecdotes in here. I was especially fascinated with how Hench and his fellow Imagineers explored color possibilities for a hotel exterior in Disneyland Paris by factoring in the area’s climate and lack of sunlight at various times of the day. Tiny details like that are something that an ordinary theme park guest would never consider, but added together they complete the immersive experience. All in a day’s work for Mr. Hench.


Related: Justin Jorgensen’s memories of working with Hench.

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