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Ken O'Connor (June 7, 1908 - May 27, 1998) was a Disney layout artist and art director. He was genius, while his gentle, self-deprecating nature and wry sense of humor made him a joy to work with. As Director T. Hee once recalled, "Ken was a charmer. Being from Australia, he'd make some crazy crack that only an Aussie can do."
"He was a bright, clever man and a man who enjoyed life. He never got upset about things, but just brushed them aside and kept on going. That made it nice for us to work together."
Fellow Disney Legend Ward Kimball, who worked with Ken on many projects, including futuristic films for Disney television shows, added, "Ken arrived at some very interesting solutions... I'd ask him for some quick sketches of, say, how an underwater restaurant would look, and he would come up with some wild ideas."
Born in Perth, Australia, on June 7, 1908, Ken studied commercial art at Melbourne Technical College and fine art at the Australian National Gallery in Melbourne. In 1930, he emigrated with his family to the United States, settling in San Francisco, where he continued his education at the California School of Art.
In 1935, he joined The Walt Disney Studios, where he worked as either art director or layout man on 13 features and nearly 100 shorts. Among the most memorable images Ken created for the screen are the magical coach in "Cinderella," the marching cards in "Alice in Wonderland," and the dancing hippos in "Fantasia." His other credits include, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," "Make Mine Music," "Melody Time," "Peter Pan," "Lady and the Tramp" and more.
During World War II, Ken worked on training and educational films that Disney produced for the U.S. government, including "Food Will Win the War," along with theatrical cartoons such as "Education for Death." Later, he provided layouts for the first 3-D cartoon "Adventures in Music: Melody." He also served as art director on three space factuals, "Man in Space," "Man and the Moon" and "Mars and Beyond," as well as the first CinemaScope cartoon "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," which won an Academy Award in 1953.
After more than 30 years with the company, Ken retired in 1978. He continued to lend his imagination and artistry, however, to such projects as the Universe of Energy at EPCOT Center and the "Back to Neverland" introduction to animation film, featured in the Animation Building at Disney-MGM Studios in Florida. Ken also taught layout and art direction at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which Walt Disney helped found.