Here’s a brief, front-end-loaded, bio of Don Lusk.
Born October 28, 1913, Don grew up in Glendale, CA. At age 19, he first set out to become an actor. But finding that road almost impossible, he soon decided he wanted to follow the graphic arts and hopefully still be able to find a career in the motion picture business. So, he enrolled in Chouinard Art Institute1, and took classes in set and costume design.
Upon graduation, he spent weeks looking for work, only to find that all the studios were laying off people – not hiring.
Don had already given up hope. But one day he happened to be driving on Hyperion Blvd., on his was home, when he saw a sign on a building that said “Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies”. He stopped, went inside, showed his portfolio, and ended getting hired by Walt Disney Productions.
That was in 1933. Still 19 years old, he was one of the youngest employees at the cartoon studio. Like so many newbies, he found himself starting out as an “in-betweener”2, then assisting, and then, rather quickly, animating. All within a span of two years after he was hired.
When production began on Snow White, Don was a star in Animation Director Eric Larson’s unit, animating squirrels, rabbits, deer and anything else with fur and four legs. “I was the little animals guy”, Don says. But that wasn’t all he did. When the production staff on the feature ramped up, Don moved across the street to train new groups of in-betweeners2. It wasn’t the job he most wanted, but at Disney in the thirties, his artists pitched in wherever they were needed. But Don returned to animation after Snow White wrapped – again working with Eric Larson, and working again on small creatures. But this time he was one of the main animators for Cleo on Pinnochio, which led to Don heading up the animation unit that created the whirling fish in the Nutcracker Suite portion of Fantasia.
While it appeared that Don was set for a long career with Disney Studios, he was one of the staff who walked the picket line during the Disney strike in 1941. When he returned to Disney, after his war time service in the Marine Corps, he found that the choice of animation assignment had dried up considerably.
He was ultimately laid off from the studio in 1960, but he soon found a home at Hannah-Barberra Studios and then moved on and spent the next thirty years directing and animating on features, TV series and specials, before finally retiring at the age of 80 in 1993.
To learn more about Don’s incredible career and his long list of credits as an animator and director, see the Don Lusk IMDB Filmography.
1. The Chouinard Art Institute was a professional art school founded in 1921 by Nelbert Murphy Chouinard in Los Angeles, California. In 1961, Walt and Roy Disney guided the merger of the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to establish the California Institute of the Arts. source: Wikipedia
2. In-betweeners follow the animators’ key frames by adding more drawings between , tracing the animators’ work, but making slight adjustments to smooth out the action and the timing.