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.


Claudia said...

Dear Larry and friend,

This tribute to my father has brought me to tears. Thank you very much for "painting" this portrait of my father. I miss him and will always affectionately remember his humor and broad smile. And our "code" which will be kept a secret between him and myself :) For all those who read this blog, please keep my father in your prayers.



Billlll said...

Thank you, Larry, for this heartfelt and fascinatingly detailed eulogy to a great cartoon talent. I must have met Jaime at Hanna Barbera but first became aware of him at Nick, where he made ChalkZone come to life in the first episode and many thereafter. In recent years we became quasi partners and , I think, genuine friends. We worked on show idea after show idea, many generated by Jaime from his incredibly gifted pencil. We created Dr. Froyd's Funny Farm together, I did the music for Jaime's Gaucho Pampa that Larry so generously produced, and we worked on numerous other show concepts that I pitched to the revolving door of gatekeepers at the studios. I fought hard and futilely to get Jaime work in the increasingly jaded animation world of the 21st century, always introducing him as "the 11th of the nine old men." Because I thought he was a real master of animation. He had worked with and learned from the masters and had become a master himself, and he took the magical work of animation seriously. He was a funny, brilliant, maddening, eccentric, irritating, delightful, irascible, irreplaceable genius and I feel a great hole in the universe and the tooniverse upon learning that he is gone. When his son Bill died a couple of years ago Jaime took it very very hard, and that combined with the imperious dismissal of his work by the people in the temporary positions of power at the networks was too much for his proud heart to bear. I am not sure what official malady felled him, but I think "broken heart" sums it up.
Goodbye dear great talented friend, and all my prayers and condolences to the Diaz family.

Fred Seibert said...

Jaime was a great guy. Talented, sure. Funny, yes. But overall, a good man. Thanks Larry, and best to the whole Diaz clan. xxoo

Mike Milo said...

I am very saddened to hear of Jaime’s passing. I also met him at the studio when I was doing my own Random short “Flavio”, when I took over his office when I started. Apparently, Jaime considered it his room anyway regardless of whether he actually worked there any more and he would often come in and just sit down, use the phone and computer. I didn’t mind, he was a good guy. He had a lot of wonderful stories he used to tell and it was a joy to listen to them. A few times I shared my lunch with him. He was quite a gifted man and he showed me a lot of great Latino artists that I had never heard of and for that alone I am grateful.

I did not know him long but he will definitely be missed. That alone has to say something about the man doesn’t it?

Dave said...

This is a shock to hear -- Jaime was a terrific friend and a real inspiration to me.

I first met Jaime in Cleveland, of all places, in 1977, when he came East to help us out at Rick Reinert Productions on a big order of interstitials from ABC for their Saturday morning line up.

We worked together pretty closely over the next 15 years on about 8 or 9 half-hour TV specials. We had a running mock-argument over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, and always wound up laughing at our feigned seriousness.

I'm also shocked to hear about Bill's passing -- I met him once and we spoke many times on the phone when he was running Jaime's Buenos Aires studio.

Jaime was always a delight, always concerned about quality and always eager to talk about great cartoonists. I can hear that accent in my head. I loved the way he drew.

Gee, I'm heartbroken.

Annabelle said...

Dear larry,
At such a sad moment you made me laugh remembering my father the way he was before my brother passed away. He used to do the same "How did you know it was me? with me too. I have a lot of Ricky Ricardo memories about him. The funniest one is that one day he says "Annabellita, Happy Sans Givens" (Happy Thanksgiving)and I say Dad, it's "Thanksgiving"...yes, that's what I said he responds so I ask him to write it down on a paper and there it was "Happy Sansgivens" haha!
I truly want to believe in an afterlife and hope he is reunited with his beloved son Bill cracking jokes and asking for his opinion every 5 minutes about cartoon characters that just seem to pop out of nowhere every time he has a pencil in his hand and a piece of paper around.
It's so nice to remember him this way. I just remembered his laugh also. It was sort of a hehe sound he made.
I will miss him dearly.

tanya.calderon said...

Larry, what a lovely tribute to Jaime. I am sad to just learn of his passing. I can remember many great days on ChalkZone with Jaime always producing a superior product, even though it may have pushed the schedule a bit here and there. This great man, with all his personality and talent, will be missed.