Remembering Tyrus Wong (1910-2016)

Tyrus Wong in front of mural.It is with a heavy heart we heard of the passing of Disney Legend, Tyrus Wong. Tyrus Wong was 106 years old. Legendary Disney artist, Tyrus Wong had a gift for evoking incredible feeling in his art with simple, gestural composition. Though Tyrus worked at The Walt Disney Studios only three years, between 1938 and 1941; his influence on the artistic composition of the animated feature Bambi cannot be overstated.

Born in Canton, China in 1910, Tyrus and his father immigrated to America leaving behind his mother and sister, whom they never saw again. Ty’s interest in painting and drawing emerged at an early age. His father encouraged his talents by having him practice calligraphy by dipping his brushes in water and “painting” on newspaper. He attended the Otis Art Institute on a full scholarship.

In 1938, Wong said he “needed a job.” It was at that time he began at Disney as an “inbetweener,” drawing hundreds of sketches of Mickey Mouse. 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.  

From Disney, he headed to nearby Warner Brothers, where he worked as a concept and story artist for the next 26 years until retiring in 1968. After retirement he began designing and building hand-made kites. In 2001, Tyrus was named a Disney Legend, and his work has continued to inspire and influence the leading animators of today.  

The Walt Disney Family Museum honored Tyrus Wong in 2013 by celebrating his work in the exhibition Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. Tyrus has been a friend to the museum and participated in many special events honoring him and his contributions for animation and art. Tyrus’ lively spirit will be missed. Our condolences are with his family and friends at this time. 

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