Artist Tyrus Wong’s remarkable life

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    Artist Tyrus Wong’s remarkable life

    The artist Tyrus Wong died just over a week ago, at the remarkable age of 106. Remarkable as well was the contribution he made to one of the most beloved films of all time. Tracy Smith learned all about his life story firsthand:

    For decades, artist Tyrus Wong and his fantastic kites were a fixture on and above Santa Monica Beach.

    And while you might not recognize his name, a certain deer named Bambi has Wong to thank for his exquisite settings in the Walt Disney 1942 film.

    “He basically created the look of the film,” said Michael Labrie, director of collections at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He curated an exhibition of Wong’s work in 2013. “Everything you see on the screen – the other artists were trained to draw like Tyrus for that film.”

    Wong was working a tedious, entry-level job at Disney in 1938, when he heard about the studio’s plans to adapt Felix Salten’s book into a movie.

    Labrie said Wong spent weekends at home doing hundreds of drawings, “sort of like Chinese scroll paintings.”

    Walt Disney himself decided that the look of the film would be based on Wong’s drawings.


    Tyrus Wong’s preproduction paintings helped dictate the style of the Walt Disney animated film “Bambi.”
    Courtesy of Tyrus Wong Family

    The 74-year-old film is beloved by generations, including Los Angeles filmmaker Pamela Tom, says, “Tyrus really contributed to American culture.”

    She was watching “Bambi” with her daughter back in 1997, when she happened to catch Tyrus Wong’s name in the credits. “My first thought was, ‘Wait a minute, a Chinese-American working at Disney in the 1930s?’” Tom said. “I just had to find out who he was.”

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