Arts & Entertainment

Tyrus Wong, artist who designed 'Bambi,' dies at 106

Disney animator Tyrus Wong, one of the first well –known Chinese-American artists, has died. He was 106.
Disney animator Tyrus Wong, one of the first well –known Chinese-American artists, has died. He was 106.
Annie Wells/LA Times via Getty Images

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Tyrus Wong, the animator whose sketches inspired the look of Disney’s “Bambi,” has died. He was 106.

Wong’s artistic career lasted more than seven decades. He sketched concept art for dozens of successful films such as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” and “The Wild Bunch,” according to his bio on the Walt Disney Family Museum’s website. He was named a "Disney Legend" in 2001. Later in life, Wong dedicated his time to constructing ornate, colorful kites up to 100 feet long.

Wong’s ability to use light and color to evoke emotion in animated scenes has rarely, if ever, been duplicated, his friend, Charles Solomon, a lecturer in animation at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, told KPCC.

“I was very fond of Tyrus,” Solomon said. “I’m very sad and I’ll miss him.”

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Wong immigrated with his father from China to the United States when he was 9 years old. The two almost didn’t make it into the country due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law at the time prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers, according to his bio.

Wong attended the Otis Art Institute (now called the Otis College of Art and Design), leading him to his first animation job in 1938 as an "in-betweener" at Disney’s animation studios, Solomon said. As an "in-betweener," Wong was tasked with drawing the countless individual drawings that filled out movements between a key animator’s establishing poses.

“After a couple weeks, he’d come home and feel like his eyeballs where about to pop out of his head,” Solomon said. “This was the lowest position on the totem pole.”

Solomon said Wong's big break came when he  brought in some sample sketches for an upcoming film based on the book “Bambi." Key animators on the film were impressed and used his sketches as inspiration.

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“That was it,” he said. “Then he went on to become one of the great designers.”

In 2015, “TYRUS,” a feature-length documentary about Wong’s life and work premiered at the 42nd Telluride Film Festival, going on to win several film festival awards for "Best Documentary." 

Funeral arrangements and details of Wong's death were not immediately available to the public.