I knew Monty but briefly, and now I know how precious a gift our friendship was. Even in the brevity of our interactions, I felt the great qualities within him.
My introduction to Monty, like many of you, was through Haloid. When I first watched it, open-mouthed in my college dorm room, I nearly knocked my chair over in unbridled, fanboyish glee. When the credits rolled, I was doubly shocked to find it was created by a single person. An artist that shared my passions. Video games, anime, martial arts, and dancing. How had the world not found him sooner?
It wasn't until years later that I would see Monty in person. He visited IGN not long after I started there and had drawn a circle of admirers into a fervid discussion. I desperately wanted to meet him, but was equally terrified at the proposition. This was, after all, a hero of mine. Someone that truly appreciated good choreography (Aside: I'll hold to this day that the world's greatest martial arts choreographers are Yuen Woo-ping and Monty Oum, in that order. I think Monty would understand).
I nervously walked past Monty twice and couldn't bring myself to say hello. He left the office, and I regretted it for the rest of the day -- the whole week, in fact. I thought my only chance had vanished.
Again, years passed. And I marveled at Monty's work from afar, watching Dead Fantasy with an appropriate level of awe (See: tremendous), and sharing the original RWBY trailer with just about anyone in eyeshot. It wasn't until my friend and former colleague Ashley Jenkins joined the Rooster Teeth family that Monty and I were introduced over Twitter. Whether he followed me due to my reputation at IGN, or some reason else, I was elated to even garner 140 characters from him.
Time went on. Monty and I eventually exchanged numbers and we had a few phone conversations. This began my many, many attempts to play it cool whenever we spoke. He never knew (Or did he?), but I was terrified each and every time. I was enamored with his ability, his passion, and his intelligence. But I didn't want to let that adoration scare him off. This was possible to handle over the phone, but in person? A tall order.
It was PAX East, 2013. During my brief stint at Deep Silver, Monty called me, late at night during the show, and invited me out to finally spend some time together in person.
His group had secured a comfortable spot at a hotel lobby bar, which was utterly without clientele outside of their company. I pulled up a chair next to Monty and tried not to embarrass myself. Play it cool, I internalized a hundred times.
Yet talking with Monty was easier than I expected. In fact, it was effortless. Mainly, because he did most of the talking for me. I listened as his deeply philosophical thoughts rushed past me at an alarming pace, and it took all my power to keep up (and not betray the effects of the third gin and tonic occupying my coaster).
It was bliss. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't reconcile with the fact that this pleasant, soft-spoken man with an amazing fashion sense was indeed the creator of so many unforgettable films that I cherish. Even now, writing this, I'm so grateful for that meeting.
Months later, Monty called me out of the blue. I saw his name flash on my phone and my heart raced. I answered, we exchanged pleasantries, and then he explained that he had read my first story and wanted to talk about it. A small part of me died of joy in that moment. Despite his seemingly inhuman work schedule, and great artistic vision, he still took the time to appreciate something I created. Something so small and simple.
That moment, and the brief others I shared with him, gave me insight into how wonderful of a person Monty Oum was. And hearing of his tragic passing this morning, I had to fight to keep my composure until I was safely in my car and crying alongside the sound of muffled Bay Area traffic tonight. The world has been denied a lifetime of art from an individual that I loved and admired from afar for more than 10 years. I can't imagine the pain that his close friends and family suffer through, and I hope they know my heart is with them, always.
That same night after our meeting in the hotel lobby bar, Monty and I shared a cab. He dropped me off at my hotel first, and got out to bid me farewell. Playing it cool, I went in for a goodbye handshake, and he looked down at my outstretched hand in disbelief.
"What, no hug?" he said, crestfallen.
I was overjoyed, and embraced him in the crisp, night air while wondering how I was so fortunate. It was the only time we've ever hugged, or ever will.
Oh Monty. I'll miss you.