Tyrus Wong, Bambi artist, dies at 106

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Monday, January 2, 2017

On Friday, Tyrus Wong, a Chinese-US painter who inspired the style of Disney animated film Bambi, died at home of natural causes in Sunland-Tujunga, Los Angeles, according to his daughter Kim Wong.

File photo of Tyrus Wong.
Image: Gwenwynne.

Born on October 25, 1910 in Guangdong province, China, Tyrus Wong left the country with his father at the age of nine under fake names "Look Tai Yow" and "Look Get". Wong's father taught him the art of calligraphy using water instead of ink on newspapers.

Wong used to work as a houseboy after school in Los Angeles earning half a dollar per day. Wong's principal in junior high school helped arrange a scholarship in Otis Art Institute for his art skills. At Otis, Wong studied Western art and graduated in 1935. In 1934, a landscape of Wong's appeared in an exhibition organised by the Art Institute of Chicago which also featured a Pablo Picasso etching, "Two Nudes". For two years, from 1934 to 1936, he worked for the Works Progress Administration to create paintings for public buildings.

In 1938, Wong began work in the Disney animation studio as an in-betweener — creating hundreds of intermediate images for the appearance of motion. Walt Disney noticed his work. Wong's forest paintings of deer strongly influenced the style of Bambi. Wong worked at Disney for only three years before he was sacked in 1941, following an employee's strike in which Wong did not participate. Next year, Wong became a Warner Bros. concept artist, drawing storyboards and set designs for live-action films. Films he drew concept art for included The Sands of Iwo Jima, Rebel Without a Cause, and The Wild Bunch. After more than a quarter century at Warner Bros., Wong retired in 1968. Wong gained US citizenship in 1946.

Wong influenced animator Andreas Deja, the creator of Lilo from Lilo & Stitch and Jafar from Aladdin. Wong also worked as a janitor, designed greeting cards, and picked asparagus during the lows in his career.

Wong was named a Disney Legend in 2001. Wong is survived by three daughters and two grandchildren.

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