Tyrus Wong, legendary Disney artist, was 106


Tyrus Wong, the Chinese-born visual artist whose painting inspired the early Disney masterpiece "Bambi," died today at age 106. A documentary on his work and life debuted this year. His passing was announced on the film's Facebook page about an hour ago.

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

With his passing, we have lost a brilliant artist, motion picture & animation legend, Chinese American pioneer, and hero. He survived Angel Island, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Great Depression, discrimination, and the loss of Ruth, his soul mate and beloved wife of over 50 years. Yet Tyrus always faced adversity with dignity, courage - and art. Tyrus gave us a priceless trove of breathtaking paintings, Bambi, Rebel Without a Cause, colorful kites, elegant Xmas cards, ceramics, toys, and murals. He awed us with his talent, charmed us with his boyish humor, and moved us with his humility, generosity, resilience, and BIG HEART.

Please join us in sending our condolences to his wonderful daughters Kim, Kay, Tai-Ling and his extended family. And let us know how he touched you.

Variety is first up with an obituary.

Wong was born in China before immigrating to the Bay Area at age 9. From there he went to art school on a scholarship followed by accepting a low-level animation job in 1938. After hearing about Walt Disney’s “Bambi” project he put together some paintings of deer in a forest, which impressed Disney enough to use them as inspiration for the film. The animated classic isn’t all Wong is known for though, he’s also worked on film’s like “Rebel Without a Cause, “The Green Berets,” and “The Wild Bunch.”

In 2001, Wong was named a Disney Legend, and in 2013 he had his artwork featured in the Walt Disney Family Museum. In October of this year Wong received two honors at the Asian World Film Festival. He was awarded with a lifetime achievement award on the opening day with the following day (his 106th birthday) being the screening of the documentary about him titled “Tyrus” directed by Pam Tom.

Wong was a 1930 graduate of the original Otis art school on Wilshire Boulevard at Park View. That is so long ago that the classes were still held in the first home ever built on Wilshire, for Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, who bequeathed the home for an art school.

As the Amoeba Music blog wrote in 2010, when Wong was 100 years old, "He's also worked as a landscape painter, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, designer and kite maker. Some of his well known paintings include Self Portrait, Fire, Reclining Nude, East and West." He's also renowned for his kites, so much so that in 1989 Rip Rense profiled him for the LA Times as the kite man of Sunland.

For several years, LA Observed contributing photographer Gary Leonard joined Wong for his birthday, usually on the beach in Santa Monica. Wong wasn't well enough for a birthday outing this year.


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Added: Obituaries now from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and People. Noted: the first media report of Wong's death on Friday appears to have been a tweet by John Rabe of KPCC.

LAT by Elaine Woo:

Called the film’s “most significant stylist” by animation historian John Canemaker, Wong influenced later generations of animators, including Andreas Deja, the Disney artist behind Lilo of “Lilo and Stitch” and Jafar in “Aladdin.”

“I was 12 or 13 when I saw ‘Bambi.’ It changed me,” Deja told The Times in 2015. “There was something about the way the forest was depicted that had a layer of magic to it.

“Tyrus Wong really made that film look the way it did.”

Wong worked at Disney only a few years, his employment cut short by a strike in 1941. But he quickly was picked up by Warner Bros., where for more than 25 years he drew storyboards and set designs for such movies as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “The Wild Bunch” and “Sands of Iwo Jima.”

When he retired from Warner Bros. in 1968, he continued to paint, turning some of his work into top-selling Christmas cards for Hallmark. He also channeled his artistry into kitemaking and in his 10th decade was still flying his creations — swallows, snow cranes, a 100-foot-long centipede — at Santa Monica State Beach.

NYT by Margalit Fox:

When Walt Disney’s “Bambi” opened in 1942, critics praised its spare, haunting visual style, vastly different from anything Disney had done before.

But what they did not know was that the film’s striking appearance had been created by a Chinese immigrant artist, who took as his inspiration the landscape paintings of the Song dynasty. The extent of his contribution to “Bambi,” which remains a high-water mark for film animation, would not be widely known for decades.

Like the film’s title character, the artist, Tyrus Wong, weathered irrevocable separation from his mother — and, in the hope of making a life in America, incarceration, isolation and rigorous interrogation — all when he was still a child.

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.

Mr. Wong died on Friday at 106. A Hollywood studio artist, painter, printmaker, calligrapher, greeting-card illustrator and, in later years, maker of fantastical kites, he was one of the most celebrated Chinese-American artists of the 20th century.

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