TYRUS WONG, the Disney Legend who died two years ago, would scarcely have received the attention he deserved had he not lived till 106.
It took the better part of a century for people outside the animation and graphic arts industries to begin to truly appreciate his genius. To think how much sooner he might have been celebrated, had the obstacles not been so numerous.
Fortunately, today, Google salutes his life and artistic legacy with a home-page birthday Doodle, by team illustrator Sophie Diao, that reflects his lush brushwork — a style inspired by Song Dynasty artists that brimmed with life in his paintings and prints and storyboards, as well as his ethereal visions for the Disney classic “Bambi.”
“Tyrus painted feelings, not objects,” Pixar co-founder John Lasseter once said, adding: “Tyrus Wong’s sophistication of expression was a gigantic leap forward for the medium. Where other films were literal … 'Bambi’ was expressive and emotional.”
“I tried to keep it very, very simple and create the atmosphere, the feeling of the forest,” Wong once said of his influential work on “Bambi,” which remains some of the most elegant art ever to grace a Disney film.
Born Wong Gen Yeo on this day in 1910, in southern China’s Guangdong Province, Wong landed in the United States as a 9-year-old; traveling with his father, he reportedly never saw his mother and sister again.
Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, young Tyrus and his father were separated and interrogated during the long immigration process — nearly a century before the nation’s current border crisis involving caged children — and held at the Bay Area’s Angel Island.
Tyrus and his father made their way to Sacramento and then Los Angeles. Money was tight, so his dad encouraged his calligraphy using water and newspapers.
Wong’s raw talent elevated his opportunities, as he received a full-time scholarship to Otis Art Institute as a teenager that helped launch him into a career in Hollywood. For decades, he created concept art for Disney and designed sets and storyboards for Warner Bros. features, including such classics as “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild Bunch.”
In the 1930s, the Art Institute of Chicago exhibited Wong’s art alongside such greats as Pablo Picasso — who shares a birthday with Wong.
Wong was named a Disney Legend in 2001. And when he was 102, the Walt Disney Family Museum mounted the retrospective “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong,” featuring more than 150 works by the painter, ceramicist, muralist and lithographer.
Today’s Doodle also pays tribute to Wong’s gifts as a designer of elaborate, often animal-themed kites, which he used to fly monthly along the Santa Monica coast.
His wealth of graceful art hovers still, its towering influence ever present in the cultural air.
“Tyrus was an inspiration, as an artist and a human being,” Pixar filmmaker Pete Docter (“Up,” “Inside Out”) tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. "I met him when he was 99, and at that time he’d been retired for longer than I’d been alive.
“He’d been so prolific and innovative in his artwork, in spite of the obstacles life threw at him,” Docter adds. "What an example to artists everywhere.”