“Gee, I’m a landscape painter!”

— Tyrus Wong, Chinese, illustrator, painter

Due to racial bias at the time of WWII he was forgotten but now celebrated (with his passing at 106) as a major inspiration for the style and look of Disney’s Bambi . He infused the film’s aesthetic with the 1000 year old painting style from the Song dynasty.

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“I love this indefinite quality, the mysterious quality of the forest.”

— Walt Disney

tyrus1Excerpt from New York times article:

In trying to animate the book, Disney had reached an impasse. The studio had enjoyed great success in 1937 with its animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” a baroque production in which every detail of the backgrounds — every petal on every flower, every leaf on every tree — was meticulously represented.

In an attempt to use a similar style for “Bambi,” it found that the ornate backgrounds camouflaged the deer and other forest creatures on which the narrative centered.

Mr. Wong spied his chance.

“I said, ‘Gee, this is all outdoor scenery,’” he recalled in a video interview years afterward, adding: “I said, ‘Gee, I’m a landscape painter!’”

Invoking the exquisite landscape paintings of the Song dynasty (A.D. 960–1279), he rendered in watercolors and pastels a series of nature scenes that were moody, lyrical and atmospheric — at once lush and spare — with backgrounds subtly suggested by a stroke or two of the brush.

“Walt Disney went crazy over them,” said Mr. Canemaker, who wrote about Mr. Wong in his book “Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists” (1996). “He said, ‘I love this indefinite quality, the mysterious quality of the forest.’”

Mr. Wong was unofficially promoted to the rank of inspirational sketch artist.

Self Portrait - Tyrus Wong
Self Portrait – Tyrus Wong

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