105-year-old lead artist for 'Bambi' honored at SF museum

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A 105-year-old animator who's best known for creating the classic imagery seen in Walt Disney's "Bambi" was honored at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum on Wednesday.

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"I just think he's the most amazing person I've met in my life," said Michael Labrie with the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Tyrus Wong is an artist.

"I love to paint. Anything else, I'm no good at all," he said in a film about him directed by filmmaker Pamela Tom called "Tyrus" that's premiering at San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre. But you probably know him from a different film.

Wong was the lead artist for "Bambi."

"The background is basic Chinese brush painting," said Asian Art Museum Commissioner David Lei. "A few strokes, colors, to show emotion, and that really transformed animation."

It wasn't an easy road.

As a child entering the U.S., Wong was detained for a month on Angel Island and separated from his father.

"You know, every day I stayed there was just miserable, miserable. I hated that place," he said in the documentary.

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But then he went to art school -- working to pay his way.

"They seem to like my painting, so I stayed there day and night," said Wong. "At night I was the janitor."

He sketched, sculpted, and of course, painted. But one of his works was almost lost.

"This painting really shocked me," said Lei.

He found the 80-year-old painting in the attic of a church. It's called "Chinese Jesus." But the artist never signed it.

Lei searched high and low before he got ahold of Wong's children.

"So he flew up at the age of 103 to confirm that this is his painting," said Lei.

And finally, to sign it before displaying it publicly at the Asian Art Museum.

Wong said he wished his father could be there to see it.

Of course, his own presence here is amazing enough.

"He's like the Eveready battery," said Labrie. "He just keeps going and going."
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