I assume that by now, every geek online has heard of Monty Oum’s passing. The famed animator died on Febuary 2nd, 2015 at the age of thirty three years. What follows are my thoughts on the man, both good and ill.
I recall watching the Haloid video back in, oh, I think it was 2007. That was Monty’s first claim to fame. The video features what he became known for, which is taking existing character models from video games and repurposing them for a video filled with super-stylized fight choreography. It was flashy, it was impressive… and it honestly did not leave much of a mark on me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it is certainly an impressive spectacle but it is little more than that.
That opinion holds for much of his early work. The Dead Fantasy videos are of similar style. They include character models from the Dead or Alive games and the verses Final Fantasy games, and I think some Kingdom Hearts gets mixed in there later. There is no story beyond video game ladies duking it out against each other. There is a hell of a lot of gorgeously choreographed battle sequences that include a lot of physics-defying feats.
Monty was hired by video game companies as an animator, but I never played any of the games that he worked on, so there is not much that I can say about that.
I remember seeing the Haloid and Dead Fantasy videos but not remembering the name of the man who made them. It was not until Monty Oum joined Rooster Teeth that his name stuck in my head. Like many an RvB fan, I was floored when I saw that warthog smash through the concrete wall in RvB Revelation. The non-machinima animation was refreshing. It was like not knowing what it was that I wanted until I had it.
Monty had an impressive run with working on Red vs Blue. It was under his direction that the series explored its boundaries beyond machinima. Red vs Blue has been mostly about character-derived humor and limited to what can be done with the engine of the various halo games. Monty’s ingenuity introduced an entirely new aspect to the show. The series introduced more sight gags and physical humor than it could before. It also featured his trademark fight sequences.
It was a match made in heaven. Monty complemented Rooster Teeth incredibly well. This went on for three seasons. Monty even expanded his horizons when he created facial rigs from scratch for segments for seasons ten and eleven of RvB. He also introduced Rooster Teeth to motion capture techniques. I am a bit torn on the writing for those seasons, as I felt that they took themselves a little too seriously and were not paced well. At least there was an outstanding car chase. It still had amazingly whacked-out animation.
Monty was always spoken fondly of by the other staff members of Rooster Teeth. He liked to present himself as a fun-loving guy. He sometimes came across as having a personality akin to a rock star. One aspect that the other staff member mentioned was his workaholic tendencies. They call him a perfectionist who always strove to create the best product that he could.
I felt like I really got a better understanding of the man when RWBY came around. This was Monty’s first project made completely from scratch. The web show does not include any models from previously existing video games. The sets and the characters were all made specifically for this show.
This is where my whole perception of Monty changed…
Because RWBY is a piece of shit.
The trailers introducing the main characters made the show look like it had potential. But the final product is so full of glaring errors that it boggles the imagination. Yes, I know that sounds mean, but it is the truth. The show suffers from sloppy editing, questionable voice acting, and many animation errors that are too numerous to count. Walking animations look bizarre at times, supposedly solid surfaces clip through each other, and objects appear and disappear out of nowhere.
The biggest flaw comes from the writing. The main difference between RWBY and Monty’s previous projects is that RWBY has a plot. RvB also has a plot but that is mostly guided by Burnie and Matt. Monty came up with the premise all on his own.
In a way, Monty Oum reminds me of George Lucas. Both are visionaries who have excellent senses of style but need a lot of help from other people to temper that style into something coherent. The big difference is that Lucas had people knowledgeable in their fields second guessing him at every turn while making the first movie. Monty has the entirety of the Rooster Teeth staff… who give him next to no oversight. He got Miles and Kerry (both Rooster Teeth regulars) to write the show, while he focuses on the more technical aspects. Monty gave them a list of anime to watch to take writing notes from, all of which is shounen anime. I cannot believe that cartoons originally dubbed in Japanese and then dubbed into English make for good references. It turns out from watching RWBY that they do not. The tone of the show is all over the place from super serious to slap-sticky.
I found myself fascinated by RWBY. I was genuinely astounded by how bad it was and how a workaholic like Monty could approve of this. I’ve watched nearly all interviews pertaining to the show and the cast and crew that work on it appear to totally immersed in what they are doing, which is a good thing, but they seem hyped-up on their own self-esteem so much that they must not recognize any faults or are unwilling to acknowledge them.
Monty’s excuse has always been that he and his crew do not have many resources or much time to work with and so that is where the issue with RWBY lies. Rooster Teeth is a large company and definitely has the resources to make an outstanding product so I can only imagine that the company does not completely support the show. The smart thing to do would be to keep one’s limits in mind but Monty apparently had no problem with forgoing cost-saving camera tricks or anything like that.
I am left with the impression that Monty does not quite have the awareness necessary to become a great creator. Harsh words, but true.
I am still saddened after hearing of Monty’s death regardless of any perceived ineptitude. For starters, it really bums me out that he died at the young age of thirty three. Most creators do not hit their peak until later in life. His work on Red vs Blue is not up to the level of most professional works and RWBY is downright amateurish but I really hoped that he would grow and evolve as a creator. There is a lot of potential in his work, even if he never quite knew how to bring it out.
Matt Hullum mentioned that he would like everyone to not morn or be depressed by his death, but to do something creative in his memory. I find that sort of amusing, seeing as how Monty’s short body of work is largely derivative. Yet I definitely think that there is something in his work to inspire us. I think it was Terry Pratchett who said something along the lines of, “Even if you read a bad book, you are still wiser because now you know how not to write.” I doubt that is how Monty wants to be remembered, but one can never be in complete control of one’s legacy.
That said, there are also a lot of people who were genuinely inspired by his work. I am certain that there are many young animators who work to achieve the sort of technical aptitude that he accomplished with computer animation. I’ve seen photos of people who have put their sewing skills to the test with RWBY cosplay.
I truly think that the world is a poorer place without him.