Meet a Guy Who Taught Himself to Animate His Own Sci-Fi Web Series

A scene from the first episode of Esluna: The First Monolith.
Image: Cloudrise Pictures (YouTube)

Back in high school, Denver Jackson got the idea for a science fiction and fantasy movie called Esluna: A World Beyond, about a land ruled by people with the power to control the wind. Eventually, that idea turned into a web series that recently launched its first season—something Jackson animated by himself.


Jackson has released the first nine-episode season of his new web series, called Esluna: The First Monolith, under the name Cloudrise Pictures. It centers around a young woman named Maeve who teams up with an archaeologist and a powerful young man named Bataar, who mysteriously arrived from another world when he was a boy. Together, they have to stop the land’s tyrannical queen from destroying the world. It feels very much in the vein of something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, with a cute robot sidekick. You can watch the trailers and all the episodes below.

In an interview with io9, Jackson—who has no formal education in film or animation—shared that he’s long been obsessed with making movies and shows, but was inspired to teach himself animation after being introduced to the works of Studio Ghibli. However, his love of cinema first started by watching the movies of Jackie Chan. “As an 11-year-old Asian kid living in South Africa, I thought: ‘If he can do it, I can,’” Jackson said.

Jackson wrote up the screenplay for Esluna: A World Beyond as a movie and pitched it to Storyhive, a Canadian funding program for online films, web series, and other projects. After getting approved, Jackson chose to change his approach and instead make it a web series, realizing he wouldn’t have the time or energy to make an entire animated film by himself. The result is Esluna: The First Monolith, a spinoff series (story created in collaboration with Erica Meany) that could still lead into A World Beyond, should the opportunity arise.

Now, the animation for The First Monolith isn’t groundbreaking, but the story is intriguing—and it is impressive to see someone bring their own vision to life, especially without any formal training. Jackson said it took about nine months to bring the series together and is hoping to develop a second season in the near future. Though, he probably won’t be doing it by himself anymore, since he said the experience was pretty brutal. When asked why he chose to undertake this kind of project, he said it’s because he loves telling stories—even if saying that is kind of cliché.

“For the most part, it’s stressful, painful, and lots of sleepless nights. But I guess that’s also what love is. Just a lot of hard work,” Jackson said.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.


Dragon Skunk

I am in the process now of making my own animated sci-fi series. About a solar system with life on almost every planet and moons. A humanoid fox from earth is the fish out of water who discovers all these wondrous life forms and amazing worlds. I’ve written and created many sci-fi graphic novels and I decided to make them into one universe, one amazing show. Coming very soon.