Don Lusk did not simply animate. He created ballet with a paintbrush — transcendent reveries of motion that seemed to defy their mattes and media.
Iridescent marine creatures, flitting to the beautiful “Nutcracker Suite” and “Pastoral Symphony” in “Fantasia.” The visual symphonies of mice movement in “Cinderella.” The fishbowl pirouettes of Cleo in “Pinocchio.” Plus, the syncopated woodland dashes in “Bambi” and the elegantly trippy down-the-rabbit-hole descent of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Lusk, who died Sunday in San Clemente, Calif., at age 105, was a trailblazer and touchstone. He helped the studio innovate during its Golden Age of animation, as Disney pioneered techniques for mixing picture and sound, animating the backgrounds and achieving luminous special effects. And Lusk was the last living animator to significantly contribute to Disney’s first feature films, beginning with the landmark 1937 movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Born in Burbank in 1913, Lusk was not yet 21 when he was hired at Disney, where he spent more than two decades (his time was interrupted by his service as a Marine, when he was part of a training film unit at Quantico during World War II).
Lusk worked on most of the Disney features during that time, from “Snow White” to 1961’s “101 Dalmatians,” as well as on many shorts. His highlights at the studio included the hound chase in “Bambi,” the sly actions of the cat Figaro in “Pinocchio” and the shimmering life of the Arabian Fish Dance in “Fantasia.” Of that last scene, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s famed Nine Old Men, praised the “diaphanous and delicate” look, writing in their book, “Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life”: “No one had ever seen such a gossamer effect and very few knew how it had been achieved.”
He also notably contributed to “Peter Pan,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Lady and the Tramp.”
After Disney, Lusk went on to work on many “Peanuts” prime-time specials for Bill Melendez Productions, including the popular “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."
He also had a long and fruitful period with Hanna-Barbera that included directing more than 100 episodes of the Emmy-nominated “Smurfs.” Lusk retired from animation in 1993, at age 80.