UPDATE with Art Directors Guild statement: Tyrus Wong, the artist whose spec drawings of a deer in the forest famously became the inspiration for the look of Disney’s Bambi, has died. He was 106. The family confirmed the news on Facebook.
According to the Disney Family Museum blog, Wong was born in China in 1910 and emigrated to the U.S. with his father in 1919, landing at the Angel Island detention center in San Francisco. He received a full scholarship from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.
In 1938 Wong was hired as an “inbetweener” at Walt Disney Studios, drawing sketches of Mickey Mouse. Then, according to the museum:
“When he heard that the studio was in pre-production on the feature film Bambi, he went home and painted several pictures of a deer in a forest. The small, but evocative sketches captured the attention of Walt Disney and became the basis for the film’s visual style. 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.”
Wong worked at Disney from 1938-1941. He then moved to Warner Bros, where he was a concept and story artist with credits including The Sands Of Iwo Jima, Rebel Without A Cause and The Wild Bunch. He retired in 1968. He was named a Disney Legend in 2001, and in 2013 the Disney Family Museum mounted an exhibition of his work Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong.
Art Directors Guild president Nelson Coates said a tribute to Wong is being planned for the upcoming ADG Awards in February.
“On behalf of the Art Directors Guild, I am very saddened to share news of the loss of our highly talented friend, Tyrus Wong,” Coates said. “His work and life inspired so many of us with his passion, originality, and creativity. Deepest condolences are extended to his family and many friends at this time.”
A 2015 documentary Tyrus, written and directed by Pamela Tom, told his life story. Here’s the trailer: