The Worlds Divide The Worlds Divide

Earlier this year, animator, writer, and director Denver Jackson went viral with a Kickstarter campaign for his sophomore feature The Worlds Divide.

An action sci-fi adventure, Jackson says The Worlds Divide is influenced by Studio Ghibli and Mokoto Shinkai as well as classic films such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell. With one look at the artwork, those influences become very clear. More than that though, Jackson’s writing features many of the hallmarks and traditions of those fantastic films.

Jackson started his career working in vfx while directing live-action short films. He later transitioned to animated shorts with Cloudrise (2013) and The Wishing Jar (2016). With hopes of eventually making a film, Jackson launched the web series Esluna: The First Monolith in 2019. That series was the basis of his 2021 debut feature Esluna: The Crown of Babylon. The World’s Divide continues the Esluna story.

According to Jackson, production is nearly finished on the new film, and his goal is to have it completed by January 2024.

We caught up with the filmmaker after the successful completion of his Kickstarter campaign and talked about how he manages animating features on his own, what he does to take care of himself, and the future of the Esluna universe.

Cartoon Brew: Now that you’ve got the financing you were looking for, how do you plan on using it? Who will you bring in to help finish the film?

Denver JacksonI think finding people who are passionate and in love with what they’re doing from sound mixing to Foley to music, to voices, people who just love to do this stuff. There was a conversation floating around with people asking me if I would push to get more big-name actors, big name studios involved, and it feels to me at this point – nothing sure yet for the future – but at this point for this film, it’s been such an independent passion project that keeping it in that vein for post-production feels right to me. Just getting people who love to do this stuff. And now we have funding to pay them decently, so that’s great.

The Worlds Divide

On Kickstarter, you said you’re nearing the end of production. What do the next few months look like?

We already had a meeting with the musicians and composers. We sat down and watched the entire film. I didn’t have the last 15 minutes of the movie yet, but we watched everything I’d done so far. After that, we had a conversation about what the score should be and the thematic elements. As soon as I’m done, I have a full cut of the movie. I am going to redraft the script and then go ahead with casting. Then we’ll work on sound Foley. This is basically the third time I’ve done this, so it’s kind of like yeah, I know exactly what I want.

With Kickstarter, are you obliged to any specific type of distribution? Can you go to festivals and shop the film to platforms?

Yeah, we had the limited Blu-ray release as one of the Kickstarter rewards, but we put that at a point where hopefully we would have had the conversations with sales and distribution by that time. So, we did give ourselves a window and that allows us to do the whole festival run and communicate with sales and distribution companies. With my previous film I had the experience of going through the festival circuit and then seeing what that experience is like.

The Worlds Divide

You posted a video of how hard you’re working on this film and the crazy hours you’re putting in. Working so many hours and so many days, what do you do to take care of yourself?

When I first started. I did not do any physical activity, did not exercise, and on the web series, I really damaged my hand because that one was all traditional animation. On my first feature, I started utilizing 3d to help save my hand, but then my back gave out and I couldn’t get out of bed for a month. So right after that, I started implementing time for just physical activity like jogging. Every day I’ll go jogging now and do jumping jacks just to get the blood flowing and the exercise I need. Socially, whenever I’m starting these projects, I had to cut out my social life, which is unfortunate. But luckily, my best friends are my music composer and my technical director, so we’re chatting all the time because they’re helping out with the movie itself. Mindset-wise, I go through so many TV shows, just seasons and seasons playing in the background. It can make me feel like I’m living in that world in that show and I think that keeps my sanity somewhat. After every project, I love to just go solo traveling around the world to just about anywhere. I stay in hostels and talk to strangers and find inspiration for my next projects. But yeah, it’s a tough way to work that hopefully, I won’t have to do for too much longer.

The Worlds Divide

Can explain your process for development and production? How do you organize all the jobs that you’re doing?

First I go through first the script stage. I spend time writing the scripts. I think with this film there were seven drafts of the screenplay, and then I go through the storyboard phase. I spent about three months storyboarding the entire film and then I’ll do the animatics. Which was about a month. After that, I’ll start production, which is just background paintings getting as many backgrounds as possible. Once I’ve got the background paintings for the entire sequence, I’ll go ahead and do character animation. And during production, I’ll zigzag across the entire production. A production like this is so intensive that it’s important to just focus on one thing at a time. A project within the project. It’s like scriptwriting is one entire project and I’ll just focus on that. Storyboarding is one entire project.

The Worlds Divide The Worlds Divide The Worlds Divide The Worlds Divide The Worlds Divide

What tools do you use during production? How do you decide which software to use?

Well, there’s no budget, right? So, subscribing to a 3d program like Maya is not possible. That was one of the advantages of using Blender open-source software. Also, Blender has become so advanced now that it’s great to work with. I feel like any big feature production can use Blender. In fact, I feel like some major productions have already started implementing Blender, especially in Japan.

The Worlds Divide

You’ve been working on this for years, how has the software changed in that time and how has it improved production?

Well, when I started production, I actually started with Blender 2.8. And when you start on a production, then you get a pipeline down and a workflow, you kind of don’t want to update your software. So I haven’t. I’m using proxies for my animation workflow, and I believe Blender 3.0 and onwards eliminated the proxy workflow. I was excited to try Blender 3.0 but when I downloaded it and I opened up the program, nothing worked, so I went back.

With each entry into this universe you’ve created, you’ve gone bigger. When this film is done, what’s next?

I think the next big step for me really is working with more artists and working with more animators, more background painters. I want to bring in people for full production. Every film is like another step that allows me to progress. So, for this movie, I got a 3d modeler and a technical director. For my next project, I would like to hire animators and background painters. In the original script for this film, the third act is actually so condensed that I rewrote the end of the film. I think that the original third act can be a movie on its own and would bookend this story.

The Worlds Divide

The Worlds Divide credits:
Music composers: Marc Junker and David Parfit.
Technical Director: Caleb Hystad
3d Modeler: Scott Ormsby


Jamie Lang

Jamie Lang is the Editor-in-Chief of Cartoon Brew.