Monday, June 22, 2009

A Fallen Companion

Today I mourn the passing of an old companion of mine. Jaime Reyes Diaz was born on January 6th, 1937 and passed on to a better life on June 20th, 2009. I met Jaime in 1971 when we were both working for ABC on the animated TV series, The Curiosity Shop. We were both young and working as assistants to some great animators like Phil Roman, Hal Ambro and George Nichols. This show is where I met Don Morgan, a character designer, who would also become a life-long friend. Don and I had planned to attend a birthday luncheon for the legendary art director, Tony Rivera. But, as fate would have it, they left without me! When I looked up from the scene I was working on, the studio was empty. Except for Jaime. He introduced himself and suggested we have lunch together. Thus began a forty-year friendship.

Jaime and I had several things in common. We both grew up in small farming communities and went to school to study art in large cities. I grew up in the town of Austin, Minnesota and Jaime came from Saenz Pena in the state of Chaco, Argentina. We both ended up in Los Angeles. Jaime arrived in America in 1963 and I arrived in L.A. in 1964. We brought with us our wives and our dreams. Jaime married his childhood sweetheart Maria Ines Aguero on June 8, 1961. They proceeded to add three children to their family, Bill, Annabelle and Claudia. I watched them grow up in Valencia until 1983 when Jaime moved the whole family to Buenos Aries, Argentina.

Jaime ran his own studio in Argentina for many years. This was always a dream of his. This family-run studio produced Disney comic books, artwork for publication in Europe, award winning local product commercials and animation under contract from Hanna-Barbera. Jaime's studio was a key animation contractor for me when I produced Fish Police, a prime time show created by Hanna-Barbera, and the pilot film, Dexter's Laboratory, which would become a hit series on the Cartoon Network.

Jaime and I worked together many times over the years, as layout artists for Hanna-Barbera and in the animation department for Ralph Bakshi. We even partnered in a small animation studio of our own, Magic Lantern Productions. We depended on each other professionally and when I created ChalkZone with Bill Burnett, I hired Jaime as a staff director. Those were good years. Jaime went on to team up with Bill Burnett on another short, Dr. Froyd's Funny Farm.

In Argentina, Jaime created a short called Gaucho Pampa. It was unfinished except for a box of paper animation he carried with him when he moved back to the United States in 1995. It was his dream to finish it and place it into film festivals. Jaime was directing Danger Rangers for my company, Animotion Works, when I again saw this amazing classical-styled animation. I thought it a shame that this work had never been seen so I agreed to fund the project to completion. It was included in the Taiwan International Film Festival in 2007. It was the final joint project we would work on.

Argentinians are a proud people and Jaime was no exception. As proud as Jaime was of his craft, he was proudest of his children and bragged about them whenever the opportunity presented itself. He was prouder still of his grandchildren: Nicholas Lalli, Andres, Clara and Felix Tonconogy, Tomas Diaz, Rocio Belen Diaz, Bryana Diaz; and Steven, Anne Marie and Michael Zambon. Jaime's greatest tragedy was the death of his son Bill two years ago. My friend never really recovered from this heartbreak.

Jaime was a good friend and had a funny streak in him that was unnoticed by many. He never lost his Ricky Ricardo accent and, I think, played it up. He'd call me and say "Hello? Larry?" and pronounce it in the most extreme accent you could put on two words. When I responded "Hello, Jaime", he would say "How you know it's me?" He never got tired of this running gag. I don't think Jaime really had any hobbies outside his animation and drawing. He was happiest creating his totally charming and whimsical characters and environments. I called him the Argentinian Dr. Seuss.

He was also often unappreciated for his excellent animation direction. He was a perfectionist so he wasn't fast and that sometimes put him in trouble with Production Managers. On ChalkZone, I had to defend Jaime's tardiness to management by assuring that we would make up the excess cost in Post Production due to lack of retakes. When Jaime's first picture came back from overseas animation I was the one to inform Jaime of the result of his being over schedule. When I told him that due to his efficient directions there was not one retake in the whole picture, so relieved was Jaime that he threw his arms around me in a hug. Then holding me out he said "Larry, I deserve a raise!"

And so, Adios, my dear friend. I know you are at peace. Still, your friends and family will miss you. For as the famous western painter, Charles Russel once said in consolation to a friend, "Old man Death is only hard on those he leaves behind." We, who are left behind, will remember.