Five Things You Should Know About Tyrus Wong

CAAMFest 2016 is coming up in San Francisco and Oakland, and the film that will have the honor of being this year’s first screening is “Tyrus,” a feature-length documentary that explores the long, fascinating life of Chinese American artist, Tyrus Wong. The documentary dwells into a number of events and experiences that he went through in his life, both good and bad. Without giving too much away, here are just five interesting points that will be covered in “Tyrus” to whet your appetite:

  1. Tyrus was held on Angel Island upon arrival from China.

Born in Guangdong, China, at the age of nine, Tyrus and his father immigrated to the United States. However, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act still being upheld at the time, the two had to go through the immigration station on Angel Island in San Francisco. Tyrus was separated from his father upon arrival and stayed on the island for about a month. Upon his release, they relocated to Sacramento before settling in Los Angeles.

  1. Tyrus began his journey as an artist in junior high.

Despite never being big on school, it was through one of his junior high school teachers who recognized Tyrus’s talent for art. Upon his teacher’s encouragement, Tyrus went out for and received a summer scholarship to the Otis Art Institute. He found the education there benefiting for him as his artistic abilities matured; which is why, with the assistance of his father, he left his junior high and became a full-time student there.

Tyrus Wong, Bambi (visual development), 1942; watercolor on paper; 10 x 11.5 in. Courtesy of Tyrus Wong Family. ©Disney
  1. Tyrus was the lead artist on “Bambi.”

Out of all his works that he has done over the decades, the one that Tyrus is best well known for is his work on the 1942 Disney animated film, “Bambi.” His lush illustrations of evergreen forest sequences and whimsy, dreamlike drawings of animal inhabitants intrigued Walt Disney; enough to where Tyrus went from cleaning up other animators’ works to being the lead artist on the film. It was also his only stint with Disney, as Tyrus was fired following the outcome of the 1941 Disney animators’ strike.

  1. Tyrus served as a storyboard artist for many live-action films.

Despite no longer working in the House of Mouse, Tyrus’s career in the film industry only grew from there. He went on to work with a lot with live-actions films, creating eloquently drawn storyboards that almost always translate precisely to how it appears in the final product. Films he served as a storyboard artist for include “Rebel Without a Cause,” “The Wild Bunch,” Wake of The Red Witch,” “The Helen Morgan Story,” and “Ice Palace.”

An exhibit on Tyrus Wong and his art at the WaltDisney Family Muesum – via
  1. Tyrus also went on to becoming skilled at making kites.

Despite his skill for illustration, Tyrus expanded his artistic scope later in life when he started making these beautiful, elaborate kites. Originally initiated by his wife who told him to “go fly a kite” (because he was getting on her nerve one day), Tyrus borrowed books on Chinese kite building from his local library and ultimately taught himself how to do it. From soaring butterflies to goldfish out of water, he always goes to the beach close to where he lives at least once a month and flies them.

Did we mention that he’s 105 years old and still kicking butt?

“Tyrus” will be kicking off CAAMFest on Thursday March 10th at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Director Pamela Tom, Tyrus himself, his family and other members of the film’s crew will be in attendance. Tickets are on sale now.


Cover image via Disney

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