102-Year-Old Artist’s Stunning Work Paints Disney In A Whole New Light

Tyrus Wong’s art influenced the visual direction of Bambi in 1941 and was “some of the most strikingly beautiful art ever produced at the Walt Disney Studios.”

Tyrus Wong will celebrate his 103rd birthday in October. Eighty years ago, he made his most famous work–the artist’s drawings were the inspiration for the look of a Disney classic, Bambi.


An exhibition and celebration of Wong’s work will appear at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco starting this week. The breathtakingly beautiful, ethereal Bambi art (see it above) looks and feels different than what we’ve come to know as Disney animation, and that, according to the Disney Museum site, is what drew Walt Disney’s eye, and what made Wong’s art so influential (though he was only at Disney for a short time).

According to the site: “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.”

But Bambi isn’t all that Wong, born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China in 1910, did in his very long creative life. As a production illustrator, his work also informed non-animated films at Warner Bros, including Rebel Without A Cause, Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Wild Bunch. He also created a number of best-selling greeting cards for Hallmark (and enjoyed a renowned hobby in his retirement as a kite maker).

The Disney exhibit includes much of his Bambi work, but also the production illustrations he did for many of the live-action films, some of his greeting cards, and even his kites. There are 150 pieces included in all–and some of the Bambi illustrations are extra certain to break your heart.

Hat tip to Cartoon Brew.


About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.