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Sunday, June 12, 2011

WDFM – The Art of Tyrus Wong

The session today (June 11, 2011) at the Walt Disney Family Museum was “The Art of Tyrus Wong.”  While Tyrus’ tenure at the Disney Brothers’ Studio, later to become the Walt Disney Studio, was short, it has had a lasting impact on artists and animators to this day.

Disney Legend Tyrus Wong was born on October 25, 1910, and we are fortunate that he is still with us today at 100.  So fortunate, so, that we were actually graced with his presences at today presentation.  While waiting outside the Museum theater, waiting for the afternoon program to start, those of us who arrive early to secure good seats – actually there are no bad seats at this venue, but we do like to get down front – were treated to an early appearance by Mr. Wong as he entered the theater.  Crowd of a about a dozen and half people erupted in applause has Tyrus enter lobby to theater.  At 100, he walked in with the help of a cane, but walking just the same.  Alert and attentive Tyrus, seeming somewhat surprised by this show of affection, stopped momentarily to acknowledge this small crowd before enter the theater proper.  I hope that I am lucky enough at age 70, an event that is not too far off for me, to be as vital as Tyrus appears at 100.  All I can say is, “WOW!!!”  For a little more in-depth profile of Tyrus Wong; Tyrus worked at the Disney Studio for a very short time (1938 to 1941), with his primary contribution being the inspiration artist for the “Bambi” feature.  He started at studio as an Inbetweener.  Inbetweeners will draw in whatever frames are still missing in between the other animators' drawings, and Tyrus noted during an earlier interview with Charles, that he did not enjoy this work.  But, after one of the other animators saw some of Tyrus artwork and took it to Walt, Walt decided that this was exactly the look he wanted for Bambi which was currently in production.  Interestingly, Tyrus was no recollection of ever actually meeting Walt.  After leaving Disney, Tyrus went on to design greeting and Christmas cards, and worked at Warner Bros. from 1942 to 1968 as a production illustrator drawing set designs and storyboard for several movies. Including a few John Wayne movies, which will no doubt please my youngest daughter.  I will repeat what I say earlier;  at 100 Tyrus is an amazingly alert and vibrant individual, the only thing I can say is WOW!!!

Waiting for the theater to open, I got the opportunity to visit with some of the friend I’ve made as a Museum member, like Jeff from Mousetalgia.  Jeff was the 25% of the Mousetalgia crew who made it to this session, as the other 75%, Dave, Becky, and Kristen were at a meet-up at Disneyland.  Thank you Jeff for penning me for the second time, Kristen will always be my first, but, yours’ is just as special.  But to make our wait in line even better, I discovered that the gentleman standing right beside me in line was none other than Disney authority Don Peri, author of such books as Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists, Walt Disney's First Lady of Imagineering Harriet Burns with Harriet’s daughter Pam Burns-Clair, and most recently, Working with Disney: Interviews with Animators, Producers, and Artists.  Getting the chance to spend time talking with a Disney authority of Don’s caliber was just one more amazing opportunity in what has become a seeming less string of amazing opportunities.  Thanks Don for spending a few minutes few me, and thank you Michael for introducing me.

The afternoon’s presentation started off with, the Museum’s Director of Visitor Experience and Interpretation, Donna Tuggle introducing the session Moderation, Charles Solomon, and announcing to the audience – for those not lucky enough to be in the lobby early – that Tyrus Wong and his daughter were special attendees for today’s session.  Charles Solomon is a prominent critic and authority on Animation and its history, and considered a notable and very knowledgeable Disney authority.  We had the honor of attending another session moderated by Charles, where Disney Legends Alice Davis and Marge Champion this last December.

After his foreword; Charles proceeded to introduce the two guest panelists, joining him on the dais – Ralph Eggleston, and Paul Felix.  While you may not recognize the names, I am sure you will be acquainted with their works.  These are two truly talented artist.

Ralph’s filmography includes such Pixar productions as:
·   Up (2009 - Art Director)
·   WALL-E (2008 - Art Director / Production Designer)
·   The Incredibles (2004 - Art Director)
·   Finding Nemo (2003 - Production Designer)
·   Monsters, Inc. (2001 - Visual Development / Story)
·   For the Birds (2000 - Director / voice of Bird)
·   Toy Story (1995 - Art Director)

Paul worked in animation at the Disney Channel, his credits include such programs as:
·   Aladdin (TV series)
·   The Little Mermaid (TV series)
·   Darkwing Duck (TV series)
·   TaleSpin (TV series)
And in Features Animation at Disney, his credits include:
·   Winnie the Pooh (2011 - Art Director)
·   Bolt (2008 – Art Director)
·   Lilo & Stitch (2002 – Production Designer)
·   Brother Bear (2003 - Visual Development Artist)
·   The Emperor's New Groove (2000 – Production Designer)
·   Tarzan (1999 - Principal Location Designer)
·   Mulan (1998 - Character Designer/Visual Development) 

Charles started the session, talking about some of Tyrus’ inspiration as an artist, and show some slides of the Chinese art.  This is where writing becomes difficult; it is a challenge to describe for you the breath taking images that appeared on the screen throughout this session.  I have always been a fan of the Oriental art forms, there is, for me, a natural serenity in the images portrayed, images that emphasize nature and the environment and minimize the importance or dominance of humankind in nature.  Charles went on to display some of Tyrus’ drawings, and any attempt by me to sufficiently describe these works, would be feeble at best.  While these images that, at first blush, may appear to be simple and lacking in detail, they are full of color, depth, and action, with your eye draw right to artist’s desired location in the frame.  It is a truly amazing talent and even more amazing to me, the effect on one’s mind as you observe these creations.  But, instead of this meager attempt to describe this man’s art, I’ve managed to find a web link for Tyrus Wong images where you can see it for yourself.

As the presentation proceeded, Ralph and Paul both spoke of Tyrus’ use of color (warm and cold) and framing a scene to perfection with the use of voids and negative space.  They have both been inspired by Tyrus in their own art, and display examples of where they were inspired.  Ralph even relate how he, and his director of photography on Finding Nemo, made many Xerox copies of Tyrus’ Bambi drawings and hung this all round their office.  They were not sure how they were going to show their underwater world, and studied these Bambi drawings trying to figure out how Tyrus conveyed his images.  Ralph then show us some of his drawings and clips from Nemo, demonstrating how he tried (quite successfully IMO) to emulate Ty’s work.  Paul showed us some of his work, including a watercolor of his from Lilo and Stitch.  Charles pointed out how, when using watercolors or pastels, one wrong stroke and you have to start over.  These are not easy mediums to work in, and again, these are two truly talented artists, as well as the amazing Tyrus Wong.

I believe I have said this before, but it bears repeating;  I now watch animated features and cartoons with a completely new appreciation, know the real effort and talent it takes to bring them to us.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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