Friday, July 3, 2015

Mark Kausler - Animator

This is probably not my story to tell, but it affected me so deeply on the day that it happened that I want to share it. 

During my production management time at the Walt Disney Company, a veteran animator named Mark Kausler showed up as usual to work one morning on the production we were working on, which was a segment of “Fantasia 2000,” called, “Pomp and Circumstance.”  This was the story of Noah’s Arc, starring, Donald Duck (I love Donald Duck!).

Mark was a slender, maybe fifty-five year old man at the time, who was lean, had sandy-gray hair, and fair skin with mature facial lines.  He spoke with a plain, almost country way about him, and the first time I laid eyes on him, both his speech and his look made me think of an 1849 California gold prospector.  I liked him right away.  He was fun and humorous in social settings, but eventually he always wanted to get to the business of animating. 

Mark slipped into the Royce Building (our production building) with his seemingly consistently wind-swept hair, wearing his heavy dark blue windbreaker, and choaking the neck of his brown paper bagged lunch the way one might tote a rope that one is dragging behind.  Mark quietly settled into his cubicle with his animation light board to start his work for the day. 

A little later, I was doing my morning rounds, checking to make sure that each of my animators and clean up artists had a nice stack of scenes to work on, and as I neared Mark’s cubicle, I heard him moaning as if in pain.  As I walked into his space, I found him very upset, crying and wiping his glasses, while he was concurrently still animating on his drawing board. 

I asked him what had happened.  He said that he and his wife had needed to put their old beloved cat to seep that very morning.  I could hear the raw pain in his voice as he told me the story through his tears, which made my heart sink for him.  I said, “Mark, you can just go home and have some time for yourself if you need to.”  He said, “No, I love to animate, and I want to work today.”

I took his response as a definitive answer and told him, “Okay, but let me know if you need anything.”  He said that he would.

As I walked away, I felt empathy for the great human sadness of losing a beloved family pet, mixed with the sense of profoundness that Mark had chosen to give life to the “Pomp” animals that day with the deliberate touch of his hand on his pencil and paper, both for his love for the art, and perhaps, as part of his healing.  For, Mark is an animator. I will never forget that day.