Tyrus Wong, the artist that inspired the creation of “Bambi” and other animated films, died of natural causes on Friday morning in his Sunland home at 106 years old. The news was published on his Facebook page.

Wong was born in Guangdong, China, in 1910 and at his nine years old he emigrated with his father to California. After his travel, he never was able to contact his mother or sister, and that separation was very difficult to endure for Wong, the Walt Disney Museum said in an official statement.

tyrus wong
“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,” the Facebook publication stated. Image credit: Living New Deal.

Wong’s life and work

He started studying in the Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Pasadena where his teachers realized that he had a great artistic talent. After that realization, he was able to get a summer scholarship from the Otis Art Institute, where he later started studying full time.

Despite working as a janitor and walking miles every day to get to the Institute, Wong graduated in 1930 and immediately began working in Hollywood. He then joined the Depression-era Federal Arts Project, where he drew artwork intended to public libraries and federal constructions.

Wong started his work in the Walt Disney Company as an “inbetweener,” where he spent hours just crafting different Mickey Mouse’s drawings. When he was at the company, he heard that there was an upcoming animated project and he was automatically interested.

After Wong heard that the history was centered on a deer, he started making several drawings of the character in the forest. These drawings got Walt Disney’s attention and he then used those sketches as the principal inspiration for the famous “Bambi” film that premiered in 1942. Wong was let go by the company in 1942, because of the animators’ strike situation.

After leaving the Disney Company, he went to Warner Brothers Studios where he worked for 20 years as a film production illustrator before retiring in 1968. He was in charge of making storyboards and set designs for movies like “Rebel Without a Cause,” “The Wild Bunch” and “Sands of Iwo Jima.”

He then worked for Hallmark as a greeting card designer, with some of his Christmas cards being sold over 1 million times worldwide.

One of Wong’s father favorite hobbies was to create colorful and creative kites. Tyrus honored him with doing the same after his retirement. He was talented for creating amazing animal kites (pandas, goldfish, etc). He then flew his creations in the Santa Monica State Beach where he was a famous character.

In 2001, Wong received the Historymakers Award in the Art category, by the Chinese American Museum. His work has been presented at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Grand Lobby Gallery, The Walt Disney Family Museum, the Museum of Chinese in America, among other important places that acknowledge the life and work of this fantastic painter, kite maker, father, and artist.

Source: LA Times