Tyrus Wong is a Disney Legend. Though his time at the Disney Studios was brief—only three years from 1938-1941—his contributions there were profound. It was Tyrus’ artistic vision that gave Disney’s Bambi it’s lush impressionistic forest backgrounds, a look that still influences and inspires artists and animators nearly 75 years after the film’s release.
Tyrus’ work on Bambi represents only a small portion of his life’s prolific artistic output. Tyrus was part of the “Orientalist” art movement popular in the U.S. in the 1930s. After leaving Disney, Tyrus would spend over 25 years at Warner Bros. as a production illustrator and concept artists on such films as The Sands of Iwo Jima, Rebel Without a Cause, Harper and The Wild Bunch. He designed menus for restaurants and greeting cards for Hallmark. Today, at 105 years old, he still creates art, most notably ornate kites that he flies once a month on the beach at Santa Monica.
Two and a half years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Tyrus Wong for an episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge. We were at the opening of an art exhibition at The Walt Disney Family Museum--Water to Paper, Paint to Sky—that celebrated Tyrus’ life’s work. Our interview remains one of my all-time favorites as I was charmed by the man’s modesty, good humor and immense talent. It was also at this exhibition where I first met filmmaker Pamela Tom, who was in the middle of shooting a documentary about Tyrus. Today, that film is complete and Pamela is my guest.
Her film, appropriately titled Tyrus, is a moving and inspiring story of a man who overcame the hardships of poverty and racism to succeed as both a popular and fine artist. Completing this film has been a labor of love for Pamela as she met Tyrus Wong and conducted her first interview with him over 15 years ago.
Pamela is an award winning producer and director who has been involved with numerous film projects on PBS including WW2: Behind Closed Doors, Wired Science and the short film Two Lies. She is a respected educator who has taught at UC Santa Barbara, Loyola Marymount and UCLA Extension.
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