Saturday, December 31, 2016

RIP Tyrus Wong: Legendary Chinese American artist dies at 106

Tyrus Wong, 1910-2016

LEGENDARY Disney artist Tyrus Wong has died at the age of 106.

Wong is best known for his work on the classic Disney film Bambi. In 1938, Wong heard that Disney was in preproduction on the film and went home to sketch pictures of deer in the forest. The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco says those sketches caught the attention of Walt Disney himself and became the basis for the film’s artistry, in particular how he rendered the forest background and the play of light through the trees.

As legendary animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston point out in their book about the making of the motion picture, “He set the color schemes along with the appearance of the forest in painting after painting. Paintings that captured the poetic feeling that had eluded us [artists] for so long. Ty Wong not only inspired the other visual artists, but he created a standard that was met by musicians and special effects too.”

Tyrus Wong's renderings inspired the style and mood of the animated classic 'Bambi.

Wong's background work allowed the woodland
characters Bambie and Thumper stand out.
Although he only worked for Disney for three years until 1941, the studio recognized him with its Disney Legends Award. The honor is given to a select few who made an extraordinary and integral contribution to the Walt Disney Company.

The Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles held an exhibition of Wong’s work in 2004. Among the work showcased were his colorful kites. The museum awarded Wong its CAM Historymakers Award in 2001.

Wong worked at the Warner Bros. studio from 1942 to 1968, creating concept images for many films including Rebel Without a Cause [1955] and The Wild Bunch [1969].

Wong’s life was documented by filmmaker Pamela Tom in the documentary Tyrus in 2015. The film played at numerous film festivals. 

He was born in Canton, China in 1910. He immigrated with his father in 1920, and never saw his mother and sister again.

After successfully passing a brutal interrogation on Angel Island, Wong joined his father in Sacramento, California. 

"In the years that followed, he endured poverty, discrimination and chronic lack of recognition, not only for his work at Disney but also for his fine art, before finding acclaim in his 90s," wrote the New York Times in his obituary.

Wong’s death was announced Friday, Dec. 30 
on his Facebook page.

“With heavy hearts, we announce the passing of Tyrus Wong,” the post read. “Tyrus died peacefully at his home surrounded by his loving daughters Kim, Kay and Tai-Ling. He was 106 years old." 


Pixar artist Ronnie del Carmen adds his comments below. (Views from the Edge contributed to this report)