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 seasonā€”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 landā€™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, Jacksonā€”who has no formal education in film or animationā€”shared that heā€™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. ā€œAs an 11-year-old Asian kid living in South Africa, I thought: ā€˜If he can do it, I can,ā€™ā€ Jackson said.

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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 wouldnā€™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 isnā€™t groundbreaking, but the story is intriguingā€”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 wonā€™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 itā€™s because he loves telling storiesā€”even if saying that is kind of clichĆ©.

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ā€œFor the most part, itā€™s stressful, painful, and lots of sleepless nights. But I guess thatā€™s also what love is. Just a lot of hard work,ā€ Jackson said.


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