By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Denver Jackson is the creative mind behind a techno-fantasy world that he can uniquely call his own. Esluna: The First Monolith is a standalone work that introduces Maeve Riverflare, a relic hunter, to the world. This nine episode series is available on YouTube, and received a few national awards for best digital series made (Blood in Snow Festival) and a Leo Awards nomination for direction. He also has a solid team of friends, like Mark Junker (musician), Daniel Hogg (producer) and the voice actors (see below for credits) to back him in his many projects.
Next is Esluna: The Crown of Babylon and its set to play at various film festivals like Vancouver’s Spark Animation (Oct 28 to Nov 7th) and Sitges Festival in Spain (Oct 7 to 17th). Catching the prior series is not required for newcomers, but this director said there’s a few nods here and there for those followers of his work.
Part of this IP’s success owes a debt to Jackson’s life as he travelled the world, and perhaps even before. His family moved from Port Elizabeth, South Africa to Victoria, BC Canada, and it’s possible to say some of that unique culture can be seen in this work. One enormous influence is comic book creator Kazu Kibuishi, whom Jackson greatly admired as a teen. He even got to meet this Japanese-American artist early in his career, and was offered a chance to work on Amulet. He learned a lot more that school didn’t offer and decided to quit because he’s working in the field! Before becoming a full time animator, he did special effects work for locally made film and television productions.
This talent knows he has to be a storyteller first and foremost. This fact is very clear as he enjoys what he calls “playing in a sandbox,” and lets the development process be as natural as possible. He first considers why the narrative matters. He said, “The next film I’m working on has appearances from these characters [from Esluna] but they’re not the focus of the story.”
His ideas can come from anywhere, and it can be indirectly influenced by the films or video games he loves watching. Amongst his friends, he’s well known for love of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, and Steven Speilburg. When asked who else he loves, he admires the works of Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda! These days, he’s admitted to taking a few ideas from various video games he enjoys playing as one way to unwind, like Breath of the Wild and Kena: Bridge of Spirits.
“My intention was to create a fun adventure, something I would enjoy watching and making. I took influences from not just Indiana Jones but also the Uncharted games and the 1999 Mummy film,” said Jackson.
Three years have passed between tales, and there’s a message behind this latest. He said, “During the time of writing Babylon, it was more of events surrounding communication and how the lack of communication can ruin friendships, relationships, etc. The world seemed to either be tuning each other out instead of being open minded and learning what others had to say.”
As for what’s next, it’s hard to say. This second work is part of a shared universe and this creator has side-stories and perhaps more characters to introduce. “The first iteration of Esluna was a screenplay I wrote almost a decade ago titled Esluna: The World Beyond. It’s a story I haven’t told yet but one that I’m currently working on,” revealed Jackson.
And with no surprise, he sticks to a strict regimen to get work done. He’s very hands on since he loves the traditional sketched look for his film, and he spends long hours in his home studio. He starts at 11am every day and can work till 1am or even till the rooster crows. It all depends on what he needs done for the day, be it actually animating or crafting those backgrounds on his computer. Compositing comes last, as he can’t have distractions. He’s thinks he’s spent less time on the latest since new digital tools have helped speed up the process.
“With my shorts, I could take a lot more care when it came to animation, but with the web series, trying to craft and produce a feature length project in just eight months almost destroyed me. With Babylon, I spent a significant amount of time in R&D with a workflow that would allow me to survive the process–all while attempting to improve on the animation quality.
“I had never implemented CGI into my process to this extent, so there was a lot of learning I had to do for working with character models, rigging, lighting, etc. I wanted to keep a hand drawn quality. As technology improves and becomes accessible, such as Unreal Engine, I think we might see more of the one-man team out there. Blender is an incredible tool with a great online community ready and willing to help each other out,” said this artist.
As for the future, he wants to look at the lives of the supporting characters in this world he created. Fans who are concerned that Maeve may be set aside need not worry, as she won’t be forgotten. “I have short film ideas [in mind] featuring her,” said Jackson.
As for when those tales will get developed, this artist simply teased, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Also Screening at:
Maeve Riverflare: Grace YJ Chan
Caz: Ariel Hack
Sparrowwood Morgan McLeod
Mochi: Olivia Martin
Saita: Laura Pringle
Kita: Allison Riley
Bataar: Shawn O’Hara
Mitzu: Alain Williams
Fray: Barbara Poggemiller
Chong: Stephanie Wong
Killian: Meli Grant
Zan: Mike Klemak