What Does the Life of Monty Oum Mean for Us?


I can’t remember hearing of Monty Oum until, I think Wednesday, when I spotted a cosplay based on the Rooster Teeth-produced show RWBY on DeviantArt. Right under it was the photographer’s comment:

RIP Monty Oum, creator of RWBY.
This one’s for you, buddy.
You were a huge inspiration to many of us.
Miss you.

As I scrolled down past the picture into the comments, I couldn’t help but notice that for every comment complimenting the artist on her cosplay, there was one saying how sad it was, what happened to Monty.

So I went over to the Rooster Teeth website and found out in very short order just who Monty Oum was and what had happened to him. And that, even though I’d not bothered watching RWBY, I’d been in awe of his work for a good few years now.

Though the tribute video they put together was meaningful, it was the Rooster Teeth Podcast episode where four memebers of the team talked about their time with Monty which really told me about the guy. What I heard… it made me wonder about me. And the rest of us.

I’ve long held that the Rooster Teeth team are a prime example of what this site is about. It all started as a bunch of guys getting together and having fun playing videogames – one of their earlier sites was drunkgamers.com (which has been offline for ages; I don’t think I could find it when they first mentioned it in the early days of their main web series, Red Vs. Blue, a show made entirely in the multiplayer component of the video game Halo). They got together, had fun and started working on ways of sharing that fun with people.

Now, they own their own office building complete with a motion capture studio, produce several lots of web media (including Red Vs. Blue, which is about to commence airing its thirteenth season) and still appear to be having just as much fun as when they started – if not more so, as it’s not a sideline or pet project any more. Rooster Teeth is these guys’ full time jobs.

So what gets to me about Monty?

A few days ago I re-wrote the About page of this site, and part of that re-write was putting into words just what it was about my guests that made them so interesting to me. It was my wife Vickie who actually nailed it down, in two words: Curiosity and Belief.

Boy, did Monty have both in spades.

Go and listen to / watch that episode of the Rooster Teeth Podcast. You will be amazed at just how much stuff Monty Oum had on the go, often at the same time. Here was a guy who wouldn’t even let a looming deadline stop him from taking a week to build a custom set of moving angel wings (possibly for a cosplay). He was curious to the point of voraciousness about pop culture media, and if asked, he’d say that it was part of modern life now to be a fan, to consume and then make something of your own out of what you’d taken in.

As far as I can tell, it was Monty who was the main driving force behind bringing motion capture to the Rooster Teeth Studio. It was him behind the incredible action scenes that suddenly seemed to come from nowhere in Red Vs. Blue, when the soldiers formerly limited to the basic set of moves available to them in game (run, walk, turn, look up, look down, crouch, port arms) suddenly started beating each other up in incredibly detailed (and hilarious) set pieces.

The guy definitely had the moves. I have no idea what martial art Monty practised, but from footage of him at work and his moves playing the Dance Dance Revolution clone Pump It Up he was definitely a dancer. From the glimpses of him at work on the motion capture set I wouldn’t put “stuntman” past him either.

And Monty wasn’t just an animator and motion capture artist. He created, co-wrote and directed a whole show of his own, a series inspired by anime, Japanese cartoons, called RWBY, about a group of young classmates at a school for monster hunters.

All of this flowed from Monty’s curiosity, but it was sustained by what seems to have been an unquestioning belief in himself and his work. If Monty ever had moments where he stopped and wondered what the hell he was doing and why, I don’t think anyone noticed. He just kept going, keen to do what he was doing but also keen to finish it so he could start on whatever was coming next.

Yet, Monty was always willing to put a few more hours in (and get the team in with him as well) right before a deadline if he thought he could something that was already good enough to ship into something excellent.

Monty believed in himself, his work and his people. Because of that, the people around him went along when he asked for that extra push, those extra few hours. They put the work in alongside him and turned out fantastic results.

I don’t think Monty ever doubted his curiosity,  never set something aside because he couldn’t see where it might lead to. Whatever he took apart, tinkered with, built from scratch, watched, listened to, sensed and absorbed, he trusted it would all be useful someday, even if tangentially.

Now he’s gone, suddenly and unexpectedly, an extreme allergic reaction during a simple medical procedure taking his curiosity and belief away from us all. And while those who knew and worked with him no doubt miss him deeply and lament the absence of what he was to do next, I don’t think anyone could argue that Monty Oum didn’t live the hell out of every second that this world granted him.

What about me? What about us?

Listening to the tales of Monty’s life, looking at his work, I can’t help but feel a little…

At the time of writing, I’m about as old as most of that Rooster Teeth crew, a few years older than Monty himself. And I know I am a curious fellow. I have this podcast as evidence, if nothing else. I’ve written stories and articles, recorded narratives and video logs, drawn comic strips.

Yet I’ve continuously walked away from all of them. When it got too hard, when the Should and Ought began crowding in ( I Should Create Content on a Regular Schedule, I Should be Leveraging This into A Side Line or A Freelance Endeavour, I Ought to be Doing Something Proper Instead), I’ve stopped drawing, recording, writing, reaching out to potential guests. Heck, my most recent podcast episode was based on a chat I recorded a year and a half ago.

Something in me struggles with what seemed to come so easily to Monty: Self belief. Self esteem. Self trust. And I wonder: How many of us have that same problem? How many of us set our curiosity aside because we can’t believe that someone else might value the ways we apply it? How many of us fear rejection, of being told that the things that matter to us are of no use? To not give up our day jobs?

And the saddest part is that the people who most often tell us that are the ones we see in the mirror every day.

Did Monty ever have that problem? If he did he chose to listen to something else instead. He followed where his curiosity led, and while it might never have satisfied him – there always seemed five more things in Monty’s pipeline – he was surely saner than he ever could have been otherwise.

Maybe it’s time start standing up for our own sanity. Time we stop being the ripening the tug of war between the Shoulds and Shouldn’ts that tell us we must justify every second, every ounce of effort, only invest in dull, proven guarantees instead of where our own curiosity leads us, even if we don’t know what it will add up to.

Time we started believing in our curiosity before we run out of time.

Rest in peace, Monty Oum. Thank you.

Featured image sourced from the Rooster Teeth Wikia.