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  • Writer's pictureLoren Javier

PROFILE: Tyrus Wong

Continuing with our profiles for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we look at Tyrus "Ty" Wong who's short career at Disney still is the stuff of legends.

Born in 1910 in Taishan, China, Wong traveled with his father to the United States at the age of nine. He won a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles where he honed his painting skills. After graduating, he exhibited his work for the W.P.A. project, which was established by during the Great Depression. One of the paintings was of two stags fighting which caught the eye of Walt Disney.

Disney wanted something different with Bambi. Instead of the ultra realistic renderings of a forest, he wanted a lighter impressionistic feel for which Wong's work was perfect. “He set the color schemes along with the appearance of the forest in painting after painting, hundreds of them, depicting Bambi’s world in an unforgettable way,” said Ollie Johnston and Frank Tomas in their book Walt Disney's Bambi, The Story and The Film. “Here at last was the beauty of [Felix] Salten’s writing, created not in script or with character development, but in paintings that captured the poetic feeling that had eluded us for so long…The remarkable paintings of Ty Wong not only inspired the other visual artists, but created a standard that was met by musicians and special effects, too.”

Wong was at Disney from 1938 to 1941, but left before Bambi was released due to the animators strike.

Wong's artwork was shown in a retrospective exhibit entitled Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art Of Tyrus Wong at The Walt Disney Family Museum. His work is also on display at the Art of Animation at Hong Kong Disneyland.

In 2001, Wong was inducted into the Disney Legends. During the ceremony, Roy Disney said of Wong, “He only worked at the studio for three years and during that time, devoted himself to just one movie, Bambi. But what a film it was.”

He passed away on December 30, 2016 at 106 years old. A year after his death, a documentary entitled Tyrus as part of PBS American Masters showcased Wong's work.

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