The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong

Bambi watercolor by Tyrus Wong

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' new exhibition, “The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong,” opens on Friday, September 28, in the Academy's Grand Lobby Gallery in Beverly Hills. Admission is free.

Featuring more than 110 color and black-and-white storyboards, sketches and watercolor renderings – including those for the production of Bambi (above, 1942), The Birds (1963), The Graduate (below, 1967), Dick Tracy (1990) – “The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator” will showcase the illustrator's rarely publicized role.

As per the Academy's press release, “motion picture artists sketched and painted countless scenes for each film, drew hundreds of pages of storyboards, and illustrated key sets: they enabled production designers to convey their ideas to directors, facilitated set construction, and helped directors and cinematographers alike visualize their most important shots.”

The Graduate watercolor by Bill Major

Major and Wong attended Otis Art Institute, while Michelson studied at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute in New York. Both Major and Michelson worked in the Paramount art department on Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956). Major was to spend thirty years at Paramount, and later had a brief stint at Universal before his death in 2002 (according to a relative, as seen in the comments below, and not in 1991 as originally reported).

The Two Jakes sketch by Harold Michelson

Michelson became an art director and production designer starting in the late 1960s, earning Academy Award nominations for Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979) and Terms of Endearment (1983). He continued to accept illustration assignments throughout his career. He died in March 2007. (Above, Michelson's sketch for The Two Jakes, 1990.)

Wong worked for three years at Disney, where his watercolor style shaped the look of Bambi (1942). He then went to Warner Bros., where he worked as an illustrator for three decades. He continues “his personal artistic pursuits” to this day.

“The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator” will be on display through Sunday, December 16. The Academy's galleries, located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, are open Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends, noon to 6 p.m. The Academy will be closed during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend – Thursday, November 22 through Sunday, November 25. For more information call (310) 247-3600.

Images: Courtesy of Suzanne Bravender (The Graduate watercolor by William B. Major), Lillian Michelson (Two Jakes sketch by Harold Michelson), Tyrus Wong (Bambi watercolor)

The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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1 Comment to The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong

  1. Donna Vis

    The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong article incorrectly states the year William B. Major passed away. Rather than 1991 it was 2002. He is my uncle. By the way, the show at the Academy was fabulous. Thank you, Donna Vis