Don Lusk has passed away at age 105.
Born in Burbank, California on October 28, 1913, he died Sunday at a retirement home in San Clemente, California.
Lusk’s passing is not just the death of a great animator, but the closing of an era in American animation history. He was the last living Disney animator who had made significant contributions to the original animated features produced by Walt Disney, starting with the company’s very first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.
Of the seventeen Disney animated features between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and 101 Dalmatians, Lusk was an animator on 13 of them. He animated Cleo and Figaro in Pinocchio, the Arabian Fish Dance in the “Nutcracker Suite” of Fantasia, Alice falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, Flora and Merryweather throwing pink and blue pixie dust at each other in Sleeping Beauty, and the nanny in 101 Dalmatians running out into the streets and yelling for help after the puppies are stolen.
Other Disney credits include Bambi, Song of the South, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp. In 1941, Lusk was one of 334 employees who walked out on strike over working conditions at the studio. He was one of a small handful of strikers to have a long career at the Disney studio afterward, though he told me that his advancement opportunities at the company were limited because of his participation in the strike.
Shortly after returning to the studio after the strike, he was drafted to serve as a Marine in World War II. Lusk was assigned to the training film unit in Quantico, Virginia, where he spent a few years working alongside other enlisted animation artists including Carl Fallberg, Tom Codrick, and Pete Alvarado. He again returned to Disney after the war ended.
After leaving Disney in 1960, Lusk worked at UPA, Walter Lantz, DePatie-Freleng, and Bill Melendez Productions; at the latter studio, he animated on at least ten of the Peanuts specials and features. But he spent most of his post-Disney career at Hanna-Barbera, the studio where he said he was treated best and whose management he respected the most. At Hanna-Barbera, he directed over 100 episodes of The Smurfs and dozens of other series including A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, Yo Yogi!, Gravedale High, Jonny Quest, The Flintstone Kids, Challenge of the GoBots, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Snorks, and The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. Lusk retired from the animation industry in 1993 at the age of 80.
When writing about someone like Lusk, listing his credits seems wholly inadequate in capturing the impact that he made on the art form. He started at Disney in 1933, four years before the studio produced the first U.S. animated feature. Lusk wasn’t simply an artist in the animation industry; he was a true pioneer of the art form, helping to develop the art form of animation in ways that continue to have immeasurable impact on all of the artists who have followed in his footsteps.
When we think of Disney animators, we think of the Nine Old Men, but they were supported by other elite animators who never received the same kind of credit or recognition, and Lusk was key among those figures. The fact that he worked side-by-side with the Nine Old Men for over 20 years is a testament to his skill and talent.
Lusk is survived by his son Skip and daughter Marilyn; grandchildren Jason and Erica; and great-grandchildren Kyler, Catalina, Conner, and Kayla.
He received the Winsor McCay Award from ASIFA-Hollywood for his lifetime contributions to animation in 2015: