Animation Art Disney Documentary

Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Production Designer, Dies at 106

In an excerpt from a video included in his career retrospective at the Museum of Chinese in America, artist Tyrus Wong and others discuss the visual style Mr. Wong brought to Disney’s “Bambi.” Photo/Video: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

By Amid Amidi From Cartoon Brew

Tyrus Wong, the Chinese-American artist who was the production designer of Disney’s classic feature Bambi (1942), passed away today at the age of 106.

Wong had a brief career in animation, working at Disney only between 1938 and 1941, but made an outsized contribution to animation history with his innovative production design of Bambi. He was working as an entry-level inbetweener at Disney when he showed art director Tom Codrick his atmospheric pastel ideas for Bambi. that provided a solution to Bambi’s backgrounds by suggesting the atmosphere of a forest without describing every leaf and branch.

Codrick showed them to Walt Disney, who was equally excited by the approach. “Looks like we put you in the wrong department,” Codrick told the young artist. Wong was offered the opportunity to “key the whole picture from beginning to end, to make a painting that sets the mood.”

Wong received credit on the film only as a background painter, but wasn’t recognized for his role as the production designer of the film until many years later. Despite the low pay he received, Wong stayed inside the studio with all the veteran artists during the 1941 strike—”I was being a good boy”—but that didn’t matter. He was let go from the studio a year before Bambi was released. “I don’t feel bitter toward Disney at all, except for a few guys who I know to this day kinda resent me,” he told historian John Canemaker.tyruswong_rip_hReflecting on his work on Bambi, Wong said, “The script would say, ‘Early morning: the deer goes out onto the meadow.’ I would try to create the atmosphere of that meadow, the fog on it and so forth . . . mood sketches. My painting has always been very poetic—that’s the Chinese influence. In Chinese art, the poet is a painter and the painter is a poet. The object isn’t to reproduce photographic reality, as it is in Western painting, but to capture a feeling.”

Wong himself considered animation to be “a minor, very small part” of his artistic life, which also included twenty-six years as a live-action production designer at Warner Bros. where he worked on classic films like Rebel Without a Cause, Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Wild Bunch. He also enjoyed a long career as a greeting card designer, and in his spare time, created murals, ceramics, lithographs, and kites.

A production design painting that Wong produced for the Warner Bros. film "The Wild Bunch" (1969).
A production design painting that Wong produced for the Warner Bros. film “The Wild Bunch” (1969).

Born in Guangzhou, China, Wong came to the United States at the age of 9, where he lived with his father, a laborer. A surprisingly in-depth New York Times obituary offers some fascinating details on Wong’s early years.

Wong’s father encouraged him to practice calligraphy every night, but they were so poor that they couldn’t afford ink. “We can’t afford ink or rice paper,” Wong once said. “But he made me do it with water. That’s a good training.”

In the final decades of his life, Wong received significant attention, starting with a chapter in John Canemaker’s book Before the Animation Begins (1996). More recently, in 2014, Wong had a major retrospective “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong” at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

A feature-length documentary about Wong’s life, Tyrus, was recently completed by Pamela Tom. Here is the trailer:

Wong is survived by his daughters Kim, Kay, and Tai-Ling.

Tributes have been pouring in from around the industry, including from Frozen’s head of story Paul Briggs, Zootopia director Rich Moore, Inside Out co-director Ronnie del Carmen, and visual development artist Claire Keane, among others:

Here are a few of Wong’s iconic pastel concepts for Bambi:

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Beginning in the 1960s, Wong started creating kites that he would fly on weekends at Los Angeles area beaches. Here are a few examples:


From CBS Sunday Morning. Tracy Smith learned all about his life story firsthand:

Here is a Walt Disney Family Museum exhibition from a few years ago.

From August 15, 2013 to February 3, 2014, The Walt Disney Family Museum will present the exhibition Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. Organized by Michael Labrie, the museum’s director of collections, the exhibition will focus on the life and work of Chinese-American artist Tyrus Wong—a celebrated painter, muralist, kite maker, lithographer, Hollywood sketch artist, calligrapher, ceramicist, and Disney Legend. At age 102, Wong is still a practicing artist today.

Tyrus Wong
Tyrus Wong at home in Sunland, CA, ca. 2004.

This retrospective features more than 150 works including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, painted scarves, kites, and more. Although he never met Walt Disney, it was the ethereal beauty of Wong’s Eastern influenced paintings that caught Walt’s eye and became the inspiration for the animated feature Bambi, which changed the way animation art was presented, and continues to be an inspiration to contemporary artists.Overcoming adversity, poverty, and racial discrimination, Wong used his passion and interpretation of the bold art of the Sung dynasty, and his experience working as a Depression- era muralist, California watercolorist, and film production illustrator, to become one of the bohemian artists whose creativity and drive helped shape the cultural, artistic life of Los Angeles during the 1930s and 40s

Bambi visual development by Tyrus Wong

In 1938, Wong took a job at the Walt Disney Studios as an inbetweener, one who goes through the tedious process of making “in-between” drawings that filled out the movement of the characters between the animators’ key drawings. He recalled “At the end of the day, I thought my eyes were going to pop out,” as he flipped through countless drawings of Mickey Mouse and stared at the light in the drawing board. When he heard that Disney’s next feature-length film was going to be Bambi, he saw an opportunity to present his work.

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.

In 2001, Wong was named a Disney Legend, and his work continues to inspire and influence the leading animators of today.

The exhibition also includes paintings, hand painted ceramics and silk scarves, original greeting cards, works on paper, and his latest work including handmade and hand-painted kites, which range in size from six inches to 100 feet.

About Tyrus Wong

Wong was born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China in 1910. In 1919, he and his father immigrated to America leaving behind Wong’s mother and sister, whom they never saw again. Arriving in the United States, they were initially held on Angel Island because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After their release from Angel Island, they settled in Sacramento, later moving to Los Angeles’s Chinatown neighborhood.

Early Years

Tyrus Wong, self portrait

Wong’s interest in painting and drawing emerged at an early age. Though they were poor, his father encouraged his talents by having him practice calligraphy by dipping his brushes in water and “painting” on newspaper. Indifferent to school, he dropped out of Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Pasadena, CA to attend the Otis Art Institute on a full scholarship. There he received formal western art training while studying the art of the Sung Dynasty at the Los Angeles Central Library in his free time.

Despite graduating in the midst of the Depression, Wong led an active life as an artist. He exhibited work throughout the country, including a 1932 group exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute that featured Pablo Picasso. Wong and other young Asian artists including Hideo Date and Benji Okubo gained recognition by exhibiting as the “Orientalists.” Wong was also hired as part of the Federal Arts Project, a branch of the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA). His work during this period was heavily influenced by his friend, the highly regarded modernist painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright, best known for his use of rich harmonious colors (a style referred to as “synchrony”) and his integration of Chinese compositions.

The Dragon’s Den

Though he exhibited regularly, Wong and his fellow artists struggled to survive. Their answer was the Dragon’s Den, a subterranean, trendy, Chinatown restaurant that attracted Hollywood stars such as Peter Lorre, Anna Mae Wong, and Sydney Greenstreet. It stood out among the chop suey joints of Chinatown and was the brainchild of close friend Eddy See. It boasted wall to wall to murals and hand painted menus by Wong and his fellow artists. It was there that he met Ruth Kim, his future wife.

Bambi visual development by Tyrus Wong

Walt Disney Studios

In 1938, following his marriage and birth of his first daughter, Wong said he “needed a job.” It was at that time he began at Disney as an “inbetweener,” drawing hundreds of sketches of Mickey Mouse. He found the work tedious and numbing. When he heard that the studio was in pre-production on the feature film Bambi, he went home and painted several pictures of a deer in a forest. These small, but evocative sketches captured the attention of Walt Disney and became the basis for the film’s visual style.

Warner Brothers

Preproduction illustration for The Wild Bunch

From Disney, Wong headed to nearby Warner Brothers, where he switched from fantasy to realism. He was hired as a production illustrator and sketch artist where he painted and sketched concept art for hundreds of live-action films, including Rebel Without A Cause, Calamity Jane, Harper, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima, Auntie Mame, April in Paris, and PT 109. He was frequently loaned out to Republic Pictures where he worked on many John Wayne westerns, a genre that would become a favorite of his. He stayed at Warner Bros. for the next 26 years until his retirement in 1968.

Throughout his years at the studio, Wong continued to paint and exhibit his fine art. In 1954, he was featured in a short film produced by Eliot O’Hara demonstrating Oriental brushwork techniques. His commercial work included designing greeting cards for over 20 years, illustrating magazine covers and children’s books, and painting calligraphic style designs on Winfield ceramic ware that sold in high-end department stores.

Kite Building


After retiring, he turned his attention to designing and building hand-made kites. His dozens of designs include multi-colored 100-foot centipedes, flocks of swallow, butterflies, and panda bears. In 1990, he and his kites were featured in the short film, Flights of Fancy. To this day, Wong flies his kites every month in Santa Monica.

You can buy the book here.


Animation Art Documentary

Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully painted feature-length film about Vincent Van Gogh

Telling the story of Van Gogh’s life through fictional interviews with the characters in the artist’s works, Loving Vincent will use a new oil painting for each shot, with movement added from one frame to the next by a painter’s brush. Producer and co-director Hugh Welchman, who won an Academy Award six years ago for Peter and the Wolf, plans to employ 42 painters to make the animation, recreating Van Gogh’s life using workstations designed for ‘stop-motion painting’.

The painters will be allocated landscapes or portraits to work on in a process that the studio has created from scratch. “No one had set up an infrastructure to make painting animation at scale,” says Welchman. “Disney did this for 2D, Pixar for 3D, and Aardman for stop motion – but no one has done it for painting animation.”

Using an approach that mirrors the master-apprentice workshops of Michelangelo, Rubens – and, today, Damien Hirst – the workshop will have a prolific output, producing each frame in just 40 minutes. But it won’t be a canvas sweatshop. “Some painters will be part-time because of personal limits of concentration,” says Welchman. “Some of our best painters find that five hours of intense painting is enough for one day.”

Welchman is keen to use the technique again, and says that the studio’s painters will be showing animations on giant screens in London this June. After the film is completed, a quarter of the paintings will be selected for a touring exhibition; the rest will be sold off.

Drawing its plot from 800 letters written by the painter, Loving Vincent is a fresh take on someone whose life has been well documented – and it might be more fitting than a conventional biography. In his last letter, Van Gogh said: “Well, the truth is, we cannot speak other than by our paintings.”

By Fiona Macdonald

Images from Colossal

More from Visual News


Animation Art Disney Filmmaking Technology

Dali-Disney exhibition uses Virtual Reality

Visitors to a new exhibition at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg won’t just be looking at art. Thanks to virtual reality, they’ll be exploring a Dali painting in a dreamy, three-dimensional world that turns art appreciation into an unforgettable, immersive experience.

The new exhibition, Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination, tells the story of the relationship between Salvador Dali, the surrealist artist, and Walt Disney, the great American animator and theme-park pioneer.

But the museum exhibition’s highlight comes after visitors have seen the Disney-Dali show’s paintings, story sketches, correspondence, photos and other artifacts. As visitors leave the exhibition area, they’ll be invited to don a headset to try the virtual reality experience.

Called “Dreams of Dali,” the VR experience takes viewers inside Dali’s 1935 painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus.’ The painting depicts two towering stone figures along with tiny human figures in a bare landscape with a moody sky. Users can move around inside the painting, using Oculus Rift headsets to navigate a trippy three-dimensional environment that includes motifs from other Dali works like elephants, birds, ants and his Lobster Telephone sculpture.

Accompanied by a haunting piano soundtrack punctuated by bird cries, the VR visuals also include a crescent moon, a stone tunnel and even an image of rocker Alice Cooper, whom Dali featured in a hologram he created in 1973.

“You actually have a three-dimensional feeling that you’re inside a painting,” said Jeff Goodby, whose firm Goodby Silverstein & Partners created the VR experience. “It’s not just like you’re inside a sphere with things being projected. It’s actually like there are objects closer and further away and you’re walking amidst them. It’s a vulnerable feeling you give yourself up to.”

Disney and Dali met in the 1940s in Hollywood, according to museum director Hank Hine. “Their sensibilities were very connected,” Hine said. “They wanted to take art off the palette, out of the canvas and into the world.” The exhibition looks at the castle motif that became a symbol of Disney parks, along with Dali’s Dream of Venus pavilion from the 1939 World’s Fair, which some consider a precursor of contemporary installation art.

Disneyland castle

This 1955 design for Disneyland castle is explored in a new exhibition at The Dali Museum about artist Salvador Dali’s friendship with Walt Disney. Walt Disney Imagineering Dali Museum.

Disney and Dali also collaborated on a short animated movie, Destino, (below) that was eventually completed by Disney Studios. The six-minute movie, which can be found on YouTube, features a dancing girl with long dark hair, a sundial motif and a song with the line, “You came along out of a dream. … You are my destino.” Clips will be played within the gallery for the Disney-Dali exhibition and the full short will be shown at the museum’s theater.

Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus,” 1933–35, Salvador Dalí. Photo: © Salvador Dalí/Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali/Artist Rights Society (ARS), 2015
Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus,” 1933–35, Salvador Dalí.
Photo: © Salvador Dalí/Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali/Artist Rights Society (ARS), 2015

The show also displays the Dali painting that inspired the VR experience, Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus.’


Virtual Reality Trailer:Dreams of Dali,”

“Dreams of Dali” is part of the museum’s new exhibit, Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination, running Jan. 23 through June 12. For more on the virtual reality experience, visit

Virtual tour of the Dali Museum.



Animation Art Design Technology

Watch: How Andy Warhol’s Lost Computer Art Was Finally Found

Andy Warhol with Debbie Harry at the 1985 Amiga Launch at Lincoln Center. Photo Computer History Museum

From Warhol & The Computer.

In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he describes Sean Lennon’s ninth birthday party at the Dakota Apartments in New York. Dozens of significant figures in the arts and entertainment industry were there to attend the birthday of the son of the late John Lennon, including artists Louise Nevelson and Keith Haring. Warhol was in attendance, as he was at a great many New York society parties, but a slightly surprising guest was Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer. Jobs brought with him a Macintosh computer. At first, Warhol and Haring watched as Jobs showed Sean how to work with the machine. After a while, Warhol took Sean’s place in front of the Mac while Jobs tried to explain how to use a mouse. It took a while, but finally Warhol used the Pencil tool to draw.

“Look! Keith! I drew a circle!” Warhol said to Haring.

This was Warhol’s introduction to creating art with computers, though Jobs had called him previously trying to give him a Macintosh. Warhol had never returned his calls, seeing no reason to consider computers.

From  Lost and Found: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Artworks at the Computer History Museum.

Scattered on floppy disks and hard drives around the world, there may be millions of works of art created on now-archaic computer systems. Most of these are personal treasures, perhaps of value only to their creators or to their immediate circle of friends and family. Some computer art is of interest to researchers as an example of the progression of artistic tools that were used at a given time. Still others are just bad art, best forgotten.

What happens when a major figure in the art world has created works on a system that is decades-old and whose images are stored on potentially unreadable media? That was exactly the problem that faced a team of student researchers, curators, and perhaps most significantly, artist Cory Arcangel, in relation to the files created by the legendary Pop Artist Andy Warhol on the Amiga.

One of the forty-one disks disks containing Andy Warhol's Amiga files.
One of the forty-one disks disks containing Andy Warhol’s Amiga files.

Cory Arcangel describes himself as an ‘Acolyte of Andy Warhol.’ “Between DuChamp and Warhol, those are the two big influences for the kind of art I make,” says Arcangel.  Arcangel’s works span both physical and digital realms, as well as static and moving pieces, much like Warhol’s own works. Videos such asA couple of thousand short films about Glenn Gould and Sans Simon, as well as web-based works like Punk Rock 101, and even Nintendo cartridge hacks like Super Mario Clouds, make arcangel a multi-dimensional artist whose works can be seen as inhabiting areas that Warhol himself likely would have waded into had he not died in 1987.

Arcangel noted Warhol’s influence, “…when I first moved to New York and started becoming an artist, you know, I read his diaries, and for me, they were really helpful because they taught me, in a way, how to be an artist. Not in the poetic sense, but in the day-to-day sense, like ‘I went to work today. I made three paintings. Then I went to an opening.’ like a real kind of ‘this is what you do if you’re an artist. The life of an artist’”

Warhol’s interaction with the Amiga started with the introduction of the Amiga 1000 computer in 1985. He took part in a launch event at New York’s Lincoln Center, creating a piece of very Warholian art, using a scanned image of Debbie Harry of the New Wave act Blondie. “I’m going to do this ‘How to Paint’ thing that this computer company wants me to do,” Warhol noted in his diaries. It was a video of the event uploaded to YouTube, along with the mention in the Warhol diaries, that caught the attention of arcangel, who has used obsolete technology in many of his works. He became interested in Warhol’s work with the Amiga, in particular, whether any of Warhol’s floppy disks had survived. He contacted the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in a quest to find out more about the condition of Warhol’s Amiga works and equipment.

Commodore Amiga computer equipment used by Andy Warhol 1985-86
Commodore Amiga computer equipment used by Andy Warhol 1985-86.

Warhol was given at least one full Amiga 1000 system with a drawing pad, camera, and various pieces of drawing software. He created several works on the Amiga, often using familiar subjects such as Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans, but giving them a new sensibility harnessing the techniques that the Amiga provided. Using the GraphiCraft painting system and other software, for example, Warhol created images that emulated techniques similar to his silkscreen creations of the 1960s, such as bright colors layered over black and white photos of celebrities and newspaper photos.

After his death, Warhol’s works, as well as a great deal of other material, eventually went to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Commenting on this massive amount of material, Arcangel told Themed for Your Pleasure podcast host Vanessa Applegate, “Warhol was a hoarder. A maximum, a hundred and twenty percent hoarder, so the amount of material that the Warhol Museum has is mind-boggling.” This led to much of the material being little examined; not lost, but over-looked among hundreds and thousands of other items relating to Warhol’s life and art.

“The (Warhol) museum has so much stuff, they’re still going through it.” Arcangel noted. Among the items were 41 floppy disks, Warhol used to store the works he created on the Amiga. These disks contained many pieces, and while Museum archivist Matt Wrbican knew of their existence, no attempt had been made to read the disks or recover the images.

Wrbican noted, “Really, we didn’t have any clue what was on the disks. At that point, I only knew of two images that Warhol had made (on the Amiga). I assumed there were lots of other images because Andy’s assistant Jay (Shriver) told me that he had played around with the images for a while, but exactly what those images were I had no idea.”

The two images Wrbican had seen, the Debby Harry photo manipulation done at the Amiga Launch and a self-portrait created for the cover of Amiga World Magazine, were widely-known, but no one was certain about the contents of the disks the museum held.”They were as well taken-care of as they could be. They were in incredible shape,” arcangel noted.

In 2011, Arcangel connected with the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club, known for a great many retro-technology feats. Working with Arcangel, Wrbican and others, members of  the club began reading the disks, using the best digital archival practices. The Kryoflux, an interface that allowed them to read disks from the Amiga and bring the files into a modern PC, way key. One rule was that each disk should only be handled and read only once. “They were like ‘we need to do it with the Kryoflux. We need to do it at the lowest level. They were the people pushing, making sure everything was at a very high level, [an] archival preservation project. I can’t say enough nice things about the Carnegie Computer Club,” arcangel said, “there is nothing cooler than a retro-computing hacking club in my mind! Especially at a place like Carnegie Mellon.”

By the end of 2013, the club had read all of the disks and began working on recovering the individual files using emulators running on modern PCs. The recovered images were definitely Warhol creations, and while rather small by today’s standards (200 x 300 pixels), they show Warhol’s famous style. Using techniques and tools like the paint bucket and fill, he created images that felt like the silkscreened photograph-based works that have become beloved and highly collectable in the years since. A self-portrait, called Andy 2, features a photo of Warhol that has had fields of textured color layered over it. The effect is right in line with his self-portraits of the 1960s and 70s. “…They were really amazing,” arcangel says. “There’s one of Marilyn Monroe that he had sort of splashed all over… Fantastic!” and “he couldn’t have done any better.”

age: Andy Warhol, Campbell’s, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Andy Warhol, Andy 2, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Not all of the pieces recovered were intended to be artworks. Some were test pieces used to discover the capabilities of the Amiga. In much the same way a painter may hone brush technique through practice on works never intended to see the light of day, Warhol apparently created similar images to allow himself to experiment with the Amiga environment.

Arcangel commented, “what is amazing to me is that he seemed to get it really quick, really quick… how to work with the computer, and how to work with the paint bucket. You can see a couple of them where he’s trying to learn the copy/paste [function] and he’s learning to use the paint bucket, and then all of a sudden, there are a couple that are just amazing.”

He also created images from scratch, including a Campbell’s soup can–the iconic image of his days as Pop Art’s leading practitioner and art world Bad Boy.  The mainstream art establishment had been slowly embracing works done with the aid of computers since the 1960s, but these works were created with large computers—including mainframes and supercomputers. Steve Jobs had made it something of a mission to bring the Macintosh to artists. The artist Keith Haring had been introduced to the Apple Macintosh computer at the same time as Warhol, but integrated it into his work much more. Graphic artists had also gravitated towards the Mac, but the Amiga was billed as a ‘Multi-Media Computer,” and that may have drawn Warhol towards it.“The thing that I like most about doing art on the computer is that it looks like my work.” Warhol once said.

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Arcangel’s passion for the project, the skill and technological know-how of the CMU Computer Club, and the background of the archivists and curators at the Andy Warhol Museum, all led to the extraction of twenty images. The disks, along with Andy’s Amiga 1000 computer, his software, graphics tablet, camera–as well as the images that the Carnegie Mellon Computer Club extracted from the disks–are in the permanent collection of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. A documentary, The Invisible Photograph: Part II (Trapped), chronicles the interactions between the Warhol Museum, the CMU Computer Club, and Arcangel, as well as the Warhol-Harry portion of the Amiga product launch. These materials show how one of the most significant artists of the 20th century expressed his artistic vision using one of the most important tools ever created, the computer. They also represent some of Warhol’s final art pieces, created over the last eighteen months of his life.

Click to enlarge.