Tyrus Wong, the artist whose paintings became a visual inspiration for Disney’s animated classic Bambi, died Friday. He was 106.
Wong’s death was announced on his Facebook page, saying, “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 painter was born in China in 1910 before immigrating to California at age 9 with his father, leaving his mother and sister behind, according to a statement by the Walt Disney Museum. He attended the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles on a scholarship and, later, accepted a low-level animation job in 1938.
Wong, who worked at Walt Disney Studios for three years, was an “inbetweener” for the company, according to their statement, “drawing hundreds of sketches of Mickey Mouse,” until he heard of a film in pre-production centered around a deer.
When Wong heard about Bambi, he dedicated himself to drawing several pictures of the character in a forest. They captured Walt Disney’s attention, and the legend used them as inspiration for the classic 1942 film.
After leaving Disney, Wong worked as a concept and story artist for Warner Brothers for two decades before retiring in 1968. In his retirement, he continued to create art, cards for Hallmark, ceramics, toys, murals and kites. A documentary about him, Tyrus, was directed by Pam Tom and released in 2014.
He is survived by his daughters and extended family.