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Tyrus Wong (1910 - 2016)

Getty Images / Los Angeles Times / Photo by Annie Wells

Tyrus Wong (1910 - 2016)

Tyrus Wong, the artist whose drawings provided the visual inspiration for the Disney classic “Bambi,” died Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, according to multiple news sources. He was 106.

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

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


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Wong was born Oct. 25, 1910, in China. In 1920, at age 9, Wong and his father immigrated to the United States. He never again came in contact with his mother or his sister. He and his father settled in Los Angeles.

While he was in junior high school, teachers noticed that Wong had a gift for art. He was awarded a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute. After graduating, he started work in Hollywood.

Wong was working as a sketch artist at Disney when he heard about Walt Disney’s “Bambi” project, and he did some paintings of deer in the forest. The Walt Disney Family Museum said, "Walt Disney saw that Tyrus was able to produce exquisite artwork that did not necessarily look like the forest – but rather, felt like the forest. Walt's vision for Bambi and use of Tyrus' work still influences films today."

The extent of his contribution to the striking visuals of “Bambi” would not be known for decades. The museum stated that "his influence on the artistic composition of the animated feature 'Bambi' cannot be overstated."

The artist left Disney shortly after finishing “Bambi” and went to work for years for Warner Brothers as a concept artist. He worked on such movies as “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild Bunch.” He also designed greeting cards for Hallmark. 

Wong overcame discrimination and lack of recognition and found his greatest fame when he reached his 90s. He is considered to be one of the most influential Chinese-American artists in history. The first solo exhibition of his work happened in 2004, when he was 93, at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. He also was known for his elaborate bamboo kite designs. He would also fly his kite creations and could frequently be seen flying them on the beach near the Santa Monica pier.

He was named a Disney Legend in 2001. A documentary about his life, titled “Tyrus,” was released in 2015.

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