Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106
When Walt Disney’s “Bambi” opened in 1942, critics praised its spare, haunting visual style, vastly different from anything Disney had done before.
But what they did not know was that the film’s striking appearance had been created by a Chinese immigrant artist, who took as his inspiration the landscape paintings of the Song dynasty. The full extent of his contribution to “Bambi,” which remains a high-water mark for film animation, would not be widely known for decades.
Like the film’s title character, the artist, Tyrus Wong, weathered irrevocable separation from his mother — and, in the hope of making a life in the United States, incarceration, isolation and rigorous interrogation — all when he was still a child.
In the years that followed, he endured poverty, discrimination and chronic lack of recognition, not only for his work at Disney but also for his fine art, before finding acclaim in his 90s.
Wong died Friday at 106. A Hollywood studio artist, painter, printmaker, calligrapher, greeting-card illustrator and, in later years, maker of fantastical kites, he was one of the most celebrated Chinese-American artists of the 20th century.
But because of the marginalization to which Asian-Americans were long subject, he passed much of his career unknown to the general public.
Artistic recognition, when Wong did find it, was all the more noteworthy for the fact that among Chinese immigrant men of his generation, professional prospects were largely limited to menial jobs like houseboy and laundryman.
Trained as a painter, Wong was a leading figure in the modernist movement that flourished in California between the wars. In 1932 and again in 1934, his work was included in group shows at the Art Institute of Chicago that also featured Picasso, Matisse and Paul Klee.
As a staff artist for Hollywood studios from the 1930s to the 1960s, he drew storyboards and made vibrant paintings, as detailed as any architectural illustrations, that helped the director envision each scene before it was shot.
Over the years his work informed the look of animated pictures for Disney and live-action films for Warner Bros. and other studios, among them “The Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949), “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) and “The Wild Bunch” (1969).
多年来，他的作品为迪士尼(Disney)的动画与华纳兄弟(Warner Bros)和其他制片公司的电影赋予特色，其中包括1949年的《硫磺岛浴血战》（1949年），1955年的《无因的反叛》和1969年的《日落黄沙》(The Wild Bunch)。
But of the dozens of films on which he worked, it was for “Bambi” that Wong was — belatedly — most renowned.
“He was truly involved with every phase of production,” John Canemaker, an Oscar-winning animator and a historian of animation at New York University, said in an interview for this obituary in March. “He created an art direction that had really never been seen before in animation.”
In 2013 and 2014, Wong was the subject of “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky,” a major retrospective at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.
2013年和2014年，旧金山的迪斯尼家庭博物馆(Disney Family Museum)为黄齐耀举办了“水天一色”(Water to Paper, Paint to Sky)主题回顾展。
From the museum’s windows, which overlook San Francisco Bay, he could contemplate Angel Island, where more than nine decades earlier, as a lone 10-year-old, he had sought to gain admission to a country that adamantly did not want him.
Wong Gen Yeo (the name is sometimes Romanized Wong Gaing Yoo) was born on Oct. 25, 1910, in a farming village in Guangdong province. As a young child, he exhibited a love of drawing and was encouraged by his father.
黄齐耀（Wong Gen Yeo，这个名字有时也写作Wong Gaing Yoo）于1910年10月25日出生在广东省的一个农村。他从小就表现出对绘画的爱好，并受到父亲的鼓励。
In 1920, seeking better economic prospects, Gen Yeo and his father embarked for the United States, leaving his mother and sister behind. Gen Yeo would never see his mother again.
On Dec. 30, 1920, after a month at sea, the Wongs landed at Angel Island Immigration Station. The elder Wong was traveling as a merchant named Look Get; his son as Look Tai Yow.
1920年12月30日，经过一个月的海上航行后，黄家父子登陆天使岛移民站。黄齐耀的父亲化名为一个名叫陆吉(Look Get)的旅行商人；他的儿子化名为陆泰佑(Look Tai Yow，音)。
“Angel Island is considered to be the Ellis Island of the West Coast,” Lisa See, author of “On Gold Mountain” (1995), a nonfiction chronicle of her Chinese-American family, said in an interview this year. However, she continued:
“天使岛被认为是西海岸的埃利斯岛”，《百年金山》(On Gold Mountain，1995)一书的作者邝丽莎(Lisa See)在今年接受采访时说，该书是一本非虚构类书籍，讲述她的华裔美国人家庭史。然而，她还说：
“The goal was really very different than Ellis Island, which was supposed to be so welcoming. Angel Island opened very specifically to keep the Chinese out.”
Because Wong’s father had previously lived in the United States as Look Get, he was able to clear Immigration quickly. But as a new arrival, Gen Yeo was detained on the island for nearly a month, the only child among the immigrants being held there.
“I was scared half to death; I just cried,” Wong recalled in “Tyrus,” an award-winning documentary directed by Pamela Tom, which premiered in 2015. “Every day is just miserable — miserable. I hated that place.”
On Jan. 27, 1921, in the presence of an interpreter and a stenographer, young Gen Yeo, posing as Look Tai Yow, was interrogated by three inspectors. His father had already been questioned.
Gen Yeo was well prepared and answered without error. In Sacramento, where he joined his father, a schoolteacher Americanized “Tai Yow” to “Tyrus,” and he was known as Tyrus Wong ever after.
黄齐耀准备充分，没有答错。在萨克拉门托，他与父亲重聚，一个学校教师把“Tai Yow”美国化为“Tyrus”，之后他就被称为“Tyrus Wong”。
From 1936-38, Wong was an artist for the Works Progress Administration, creating paintings for libraries and other public spaces.
从1936年至1938年，黄齐耀在公共事业振兴署(Works Progress Administration)担任艺术家，为图书馆和其他公共空间创作绘画。
With friends, including Japanese-American artist Benji Okubo, he founded the Oriental Artists’ Group of Los Angeles, which organized exhibitions of members’ work — an unheard-of level of exposure for Asian artists at the time.
他和包括日裔美国艺术家大久保勉二（Benji Okubo，音）在内的一些朋友创立了洛杉矶东方艺术家小组(Oriental Artists’ Group of Los Angeles)，为其成员组织作品展——当时为亚洲艺术家提供了前所未有的公众曝光度。
Wong, newly married and needing steady work, joined Disney in 1938 as an “in-betweener,” creating the thousands of intermediate drawings that bring animated sequences to life.
Asians were then a novelty at Hollywood studios, and Wong was made keenly aware of the fact, first at Disney and later at Warner Bros. One co-worker flung a racial epithet at him. Another assumed on sight that he worked in the company cafeteria.
Then there was the affront of the in-betweener’s job: Painstaking, repetitive and for Wong quickly soul-numbing, it is the assembly-line work of animation — “a terrible use of his talents as a landscape artist and a painter,” Canemaker said.
A reprieve came in the late 1930s, when Wong learned that Disney was adapting “Bambi, a Life in the Woods,” the 1923 novel by Austrian writer Felix Salten about a fawn whose mother is killed by a hunter.
1930年代后期，黄齐耀得到了一个暂时获得解脱的机会，当时他得知迪士尼正在改编奥地利作家费利克斯·萨尔腾(Felix Salten)1923年的小说《斑比：丛林生灵》(Bambi, a Life in the Woods) ，小说讲述一只母亲被猎人杀死的小鹿。
In trying to animate the book, Disney had reached an impasse. The studio had enjoyed great success in 1937 with its animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” a baroque production in which every detail of the backgrounds — every petal on every flower, every leaf on every tree — was meticulously represented.
在把这本书改编为动画时，迪士尼陷入了僵局。公司在1937年凭着动画电影《白雪公主和七个小矮人》(Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)大获成功，在这部绮丽的片子里，每个背景的细节都被精心呈现，包括每朵花的每个花瓣、每棵树上的每片叶子。
In an attempt to use a similar style for “Bambi,” it found that the ornate backgrounds camouflaged the deer and other forest creatures on which the narrative centered.
Wong spied his chance.
“I said, ‘Gee, this is all outdoor scenery,'” he recalled in a video interview years afterward, adding: “I said, ‘Gee, I’m a landscape painter!'”
Invoking the exquisite landscape paintings of the Song dynasty (A.D. 960–1279), he rendered in watercolors and pastels a series of nature scenes that were moody, lyrical and atmospheric — at once lush and spare — with backgrounds subtly suggested by a stroke or two of the brush.
“Walt Disney went crazy over them,” said Canemaker, who wrote about Wong in his book “Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists” (1996). “He said, ‘I love this indefinite quality, the mysterious quality of the forest.'”
“沃尔特·迪士尼被它们迷住了，”卡内梅克在他1996年的著作《在动画开始之前：迪斯尼灵感草图艺术家的艺术与生活》(Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists)一书中写道。 “他说，我喜欢这种不确定的质感，森林的神秘质感。”
Wong was unofficially promoted to inspirational sketch artist.
“But he was more than that,” Canemaker explained. “He was the designer; he was the person they went to when they had questions about the color, about how to lay something out. He even influenced the music and the special effects: Just by the look of the drawings, he inspired people.”
Wong spent two years painting the illustrations that would inform every aspect of “Bambi.” Throughout the finished film — lent a brooding quality by its stark landscapes; misty, desaturated palette; and figures often seen in silhouette — his influence is unmistakable.
But in 1941, in the wake of a bitter employees’ strike that year, Disney fired Wong. Though he had chosen not to strike — he felt the studio had been good to him, Canemaker said — he was let go amid the lingering climate of post-strike resentments.
On “Bambi,” Wong’s name appears, quite far down in the credits, as a mere “background” artist.
Wong joined Warner Bros. in 1942, working there — and lent out on occasion to other studios — until his retirement in 1968.
The indignities he endured were not confined to the studios. Trying to buy a house, he and his wife, the former Ruth Kim, were told that each property they inquired about had just been sold. “Then in a month you’d go back there and the sign was still there,” Wong recalled in “Tyrus.”
Wong, who became a U.S. citizen in 1946, also designed Christmas cards for Hallmark and painted elegant Asian-inflected designs on dinnerware, now sought after by collectors.
A longtime resident of Sunland, California, he became, in retirement, a renowned kitemaker, designing, building and hand coloring astonishing, airworthy creations — butterflies, swallows, whole flocks of owls, centipedes more than 100 feet long — that streaked the Southern California sky like paint on blue canvas.
Wong’s death, at his home in Sunland, was confirmed by filmmaker Tom. His survivors include three daughters, Kay Fong, Tai-Ling Wong and Kim Wong; and two grandchildren.
黄齐耀在桑兰的家中去世，他的死讯获得了电影制片人汤姆的确认。他尚在世的亲人包括三个女儿，凯伊·方（Kay Fong，音），泰琳·黄（Tai-Ling Wong，音）和金·黄（Kim Wong，音），以及两个孙辈。
When his daughters were small, Wong encouraged them to make art, as his father had encouraged him. Yet he would not let them have coloring books.
The reason was simple: He did not want his children constrained, he said, by lines laid down by others.