Hany El-Masri, illustrator and the first Egyptian to work at Walt Disney, dies at 64

Soha Elsirgany, Tuesday 25 Aug 2015

Hany El-Masri, illustrator behind iconic Kimo ice-cream’s blue bear, and the first Egyptian to work at Walt Disney, died on Monday 24 August

Hany El-Masri
Hany El-Masry at TEDx Cairo Equilibrium (Photo: Still from TEDx Cairo's video)

Artist, illustrator and designer Hany El-Masri had a long fight with leukemia, which he eventually overcame, yet he emerged with side effects that weakened his health and led to his death at age 64.

According to El-Masri’s last post on his Facebook page dated 12 August, the artist suffered complications affecting his already weak kidneys and lungs.

“If I don’t make it don't be sad, and remember me with the laughs, the discussions, the ideas that will serve our beloved country,” he writes.

El-Masri will also be remembered for his award winning, illustrious creative career, highlighted by the character design of Kimo for the Egyptian ice-cream brand in the late 1970s, his work on a number of Disney’s feature films in the 1990s, and a wide range of projects in between.

Born in 1951, El-Masri graduated in 1974, with a major in set and stage design from the faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo.

He worked on the set design for plays including El-Eyal Kebret (The Kids Have Grown), Shahed Mashafsh Haga (A Witness Who’s Seen Nothing) and Isis.

In his early years after graduation he also worked as designer of promotional material for major hotels, and went on to be art director at the advertising agency BBDO (merger of BDO -Barton, Durstine & Osborn - and Batten Co.)

Moving to the United States in 1987, El-Masri started as a freelance graphic designer, until he was hired three years later at Walt Disney's Imagineering.

At Disneyland’s Toontown, El-Masri left his mark as the designer behind Minnie’s House and Goofy’s Bounce House. His work involved creating environments, facades and props for Disney projects, including a special exhibit centering on King Tut, and similar projects for Tokyo Disneyland.

Beginning in 1995, El-Masri’s magical worlds took to the screens, as a visual development artist for Dreamworks, designing and envisioning the world and props of the first traditionally animated feature The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Road to El-Dorado (2000), and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002).

He also worked with Warner Bros. on the animation Osmosis Jones (2001).

Aside from his work on the biggest silver screen productions, El-Masri was also the designer of smaller, quieter worlds, yet equally rich and entertaining children's books and comics.

In the late 1990s he illustrated the Sherazade Collection, The Pharaohs Bride, The Enchanted Horse, And A Thousand and One Nights and Ocean Futures, a comic book by Jean-Michel Cousteau.

The artist returned to Egypt in 2005, and was awarded by the National Council for Children's Books the title of Best Egyptian Illustrator of 2004.

El-Masri won an honors award at the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in 2006 for his illustration of the children’s book Behind the Secret Door by Yacoub El-Sharouny.

A certified Arabic calligrapher, El-Masri’s wide range of expertise include ancient world mythology, Egyptology as well as the history of architecture.

In 2014, he delivered a talk at TEDx Cairo Equilibrium titled The Egyptian, in which he reflected on identity and mortality, and the passing of the cultural torch to the next generation.

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