Tyrus Wong, the artist who created Bambi’s iconic landscapes and design, passed away on Friday at the age of 106. He leaves behind a legacy as one of the most celebrated Chinese-American artists in history, but his own story is filled with discrimination and bigotry.
Wong was a famed studio artist, painter, printmaker, calligrapher, and illustrator, working in Hollywood for years. But he didn’t receive acclaim for his work until he was in his 90s, as intolerance against Chinese immigrants meant he wasn’t allowed to take credit for his work. During his career, Wong drew storyboards for dozens of films between the 1930s and 1960s, including Rebel Without a Cause and The Sands of Iwo Jima. However, Bambi was truly his magnum opus.
Wong was responsible for the film’s surreal forest appearance, inspired by the landscape paintings of the Song dynasty. Walt Disney immediately fell in love with Wong’s designs, and personally selected him to be the (unofficial) inspirational sketch artist for the film. But Wong was fired in the wake of a strike in 1941, even though he hadn’t participated. And when Bambi opened in 1942, a movie praised for its gorgeous and haunting design, the man who created it was only given a near-bottom credit of background artist.
Since then, Disney has opened up about Wong’s contribution, even debuting a retrospective about his work at the Disney Family Museum called “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky” in 2013. He’s also been the subject of numerous exhibitions and documentaries, including one at the Museum of Chinese in America. And his legacy as one of the most iconic Disney artists of all time remains.