“If you can do a painting with five strokes instead of ten, you can make your painting sing”
2016 was a sad year for the entertainment world. We lost too many legends, including Tyrus Wong at 106 years old.
On 25th October, Google released its classic doodle to celebrate the 108th birthday of Tyrus Wong. Wong had been one of those artists whose influence has been known mostly through his work, rather than his name. That is, even today, people might resonate with his characters but might not know a thing about the person behind them. So, today, in our tribute piece, we give you an introduction to an artist who lived for his art and will forever be known for it.
Who Was Tyrus Wong?
Born Wong Gen Yeo in Guangdong Province (China), Wong immigrated to the United States with his father when he was just 9 years old. After a series of hardships, he finally settled in Los Angeles. Wong continued to make his mark as an artist and eventually entered Otis Art Institute. Throughout his career as an artist, Wong had worked as a muralist, animator, kite maker, and the greeting card designer. As explained by Independent in one of their articles,
“It was his watercolor paintings, inspired by the Song Dynasty that inspired much of the backdrop for the 1942 animated film. However, his only credit came in the form of a background artist.”
In the year 2001, Disney named Wong as the Disney Legend for his phenomenal contribution to the entertainment industry. As reported by CNN,
“In 2013, Disney released a retrospective “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky,” at the family museum in San Francisco, and two years later Wong was presented the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) award for lifetime achievement.” “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky” was an exhibition that showcased and celebrated the art and life of the artist and the animator.
But the fact of the matter is that even though Wong worked in the industry and contributed his talent to works like Around the World in Eighty Days, he remained unnamed for the major part of his career in the industry. For young people who have been enamored and moved by Bambi would have hardly known about the artist. Wong in that sense was literally the “behind-the-scenes” man.
Wong and the Saga of “Bambi”
Late Mr. Wong had a unique way to present his narrative on the canvas. As an artist working with watercolor illustrations, his strokes, on a superficial level, seemed effortless but a closer look showcased multiple stories within each layer. Following the school of impressionism, Wong’s works relied heavily on the “creative use of colors” and lighting. His art had an Eastern influence and he shared the Song Dynasty as one of the inspirations behind his work.
In their piece on the exhibition released in honor of Wong, Disney shared Wong’s idea behind his sketches for Bambi and Tom Codrick’s impression of them:
“Wong read Felix Salten’s Bambi and, “thought the story was very, very nice—the feeling—you could almost smell the pine,” and made sample sketches creating the lush mountain and forest settings, inspired by Sung dynasty landscape paintings. He had a different approach and one that had never been seen before in an animated film. He explained, “I tried to keep it very, very simple and create the atmosphere, the feeling of the forest.” Tom Codrick, the film’s art director, was impressed with his sensitive style, which was vastly different from the more ornate style of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which preceded it. Tyrus’s Chinese-inspired sketches and paintings set the look and tone for Bambi, and were some of the most strikingly beautiful art ever produced at the Walt Disney Studios.”
His “lush pastels” became the inspiration for Disney and the whole narrative of the classic “Bambi” was created around it. As shared by CNN, “The animated film influenced and shaped global opinion around the medium and led to hit Disney movies “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King.”
In case, you are still exploring the Disney World, Bambi is an animated movie by Disney based on Felix Salten’s book “Bambi, A Life In the Woods”. While the movie did not make a profit during its first release, it turned out to be a must watch over the period of time. As noted in Wikipedia, Bambi is France’s 24th biggest film of all time in terms of admissions with 10.7 million tickets sold.
Wong became one of the most influential Asian-American artists in the world but even after overcoming his financial and social hardships, Wong remained a hidden figure. Tyrus The Movie is an attempt to put forth his life in the limelight. Here’s the trailer for the movie that was first released in April 2018: