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The Importance of Passion Projects with Denver Jackson

ben marvazi 2020

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"If I just waited around for inspiration, I'd never get anything done. I think it's rare for inspiration to strike and most of the time, it's just hard work."

Denver Jackson
photograph of denver jackson in his studio with books on the shelves, a coffee cup and pens and pencils

Image via denver.jackson by Instagram

Meet Denver Jackson, a freelance animator who discovered his passion for animation after watching Spirited Away in high school. Born in South Africa, Denver moved to Canada during his grade 10 year, where he learned visual effects, later transitioning to animation. 

He's now at a point in his career where he's interested in learning more about the distribution and sales of films to fund bigger projects and hire a team. For Denver, the driving force behind his work as an animator is his love for storytelling and taking his audience on a journey, just like Miyazaki did for him. 

Although he's never worked directly in the industry, he has had plenty of opportunities, but his own projects always take priority. He works 7 days a week from 11 am to 3-5 am the next day, maintaining focus by cutting out social media. 

In this blog post, Denver shares his thoughts on the future of animation, his inspirations, and how he keeps his creativity flowing.

Q&A With Animator & Storyteller Denver Jackson

Could you give us a brief overview of your background and where you find yourself now in your career?

I was born in South Africa, and being the only Asian kid in school, I was immediately entranced by the films of Jackie Chan. When those end credits rolled, revealing the bloopers and breaking that wall, that's when I knew I wanted to make films. 

After arriving in Canada during my grade 10 year, I started learning visual fx mainly to be able to utilize it with my own work but eventually started making a living off that skill. I transitioned to animation about 10 years ago and haven't gone back to live-action since.

I'm at a point now, where I want to figure out how distribution and sales of film work and if I can somehow utilize that into continuing to produce and make features. Having a bigger budget for the next project from the sales of the previous one would help me to hire artists and animators. Working with a team is definitely the next big step for me.

denver jackson's kickstarter project of his animated film called the worlds divide with 5 characters featured

Denver Jackson’s The Worlds Divide via Kickstarter

At what moment did you realize your passion for animation?

I remember watching Titan AE and thinking about how much freedom animation seems to have compared to live-action. But I only really started considering animation in high school when a friend forced me to watch Spirited Away

I felt as though I was there, in the movie, along for the journey. It really felt like magic to me. This was the moment when I knew I wanted to pursue animation.

What do you think is the main driving force behind your pursuit of success as an animator?

I don't consider myself an animator, although my animation friends tell me after animating pretty much three solo feature films, I shouldn't say that. My passion lies in storytelling and wanting to take an audience on a journey just like Miyazaki did for me back in high school. This is the reason I make films.

Who has been a significant inspiration in your career journey so far, and why?

The Ghibli films have been a large part of my inspiration, but I don't just take inspiration from animation. I love cinema and all types of films of all genres, video games, and graphic novels. 

One of my inspirations in high school was a graphic novelist by the name of Kazu Kibuishi. I loved his webcomic Copper and the anthology series Flight. He and I eventually became friends and I still take inspiration from him to this day.

webcomic Copper by Kazu Kibuishi features a white dog sitting on a mushroom with a boy behind him wearing a hoodie and a beanie

Image via goodreads

In your experience, what is the biggest benefit and challenge of working in the animation industry?

I actually have never worked directly in the industry for any major studios. I've had plenty of opportunities to, but every single time, I've always been either starting or in the middle of making my own film, and that has always taken priority for me, no matter how glamorous offers may sound. 

I've attempted to pitch before getting a development deal but never went anywhere after that, which is one of the reasons I'm just doing it myself. At that time, the industry really only wanted animation for children. I feel as though my sensibilities are more grounded in terms of storytelling. 

If you could give one piece of advice to overcome this challenge, what would it be?

I'd like to think the industry is changing and opening up to more types of stories that can be told with animation. But only time will tell.

animation work and storyboard work of human characters by denver jackson

Image via denver.jackson by Instagram

Could you provide us with a glimpse into a typical day in your life as an animator?

I wake up around 10 am to start work strictly at 11 am. I tend to work the entire day till about 3, 4, or sometimes 5 in the morning the next day. Regardless of how much sleep I get, I'm always back at it at 11 am the next day.

I've been doing this since attempting to tell these long-form solo animated stories. That's been the past 5 or 6 years, seven days a week. I'm fully aware that I can't be doing this forever, and I'm hopeful that this is the last film I'm doing solo.

Staying up-to-date with the latest techniques and technology is vital in the animation industry, how do you ensure that you remain at the forefront of the latest advancements?

I think most animators of filmmakers love technology, so it isn't hard to keep updated as we are always following what's happening. Watching the latest tech updates or advancements in the software we use.

What made you decide to pursue a career as an animator?

As I said, it was never really about being an animator but just a storyteller. It's probably one of the reasons I can make solo films. I'm interested in the entire process from storyboarding, background painting, character animation, and compositing to editing. It's about just loving the process of making films.

freelance animators denver jackson's storytelling book on his art desk with stationary

Image via denver.jackson by Instagram

Maintaining motivation can be a challenge, what methods do you use to keep your creativity and inspiration flowing?

I think, when I was younger, I was always waiting for inspiration to hit me so that I could work. But that mindset changed as I got older. If I just waited around for inspiration, I'd never get anything done. I think it's rare for inspiration to strike and most of the time, it's just hard work. 

When inspiration does strike, I treat that moment as icing on the cake. It's taken time to practice being able to focus and just work. When I started these solo films, I actually cut out social media. I would never look at anything or be distracted by what was happening online. I feel as though that may have played a big role in being able to keep focused on making these things.

denver jackson's 3 animated films

Image via denver.jackson by Instagram

What are your thoughts on the future of animation, and what do you predict the industry will look like in a few years?

I'm hoping for the industry in North America to catch up to that of Europe or Asia where stories can be told across any age range. The surge and popularity in Anime is a spark of hope but we'll have to just wait and see what the industry does.

Lastly, Do you have any additional words of advice you would like to give to aspiring animators wanting to break into the field?

I've found that I always get calls or job offers right after completing a film and releasing it out into the world. I've rarely gotten a job offer after working on paid projects. 

So I would advise you to make what you love in your spare time. Those hiring love to see personal works and it's a window into who you are because, at the end of the day, your personality is part of your art.

What Animators Can Learn From Denver Jackson

denver jackson's latest animation work

Image via Cloudrise Pictures

In conclusion, Denver Jackson's inspiring journey as a freelance animator has shown us the power of passion and dedication in the pursuit of storytelling through animation. Embracing his love for storytelling, Denver has successfully navigated a path that has allowed him to prioritize his own projects and maintain focus in an increasingly distracting world.

As Denver's story demonstrates, aspiring animators should not only focus on honing their skills but also on fostering their creativity and embracing their unique perspectives. By staying true to one's vision and remaining committed to personal projects, animators can showcase their talents and pave the way for exciting opportunities in the industry.

The future of animation holds immense potential, and it is up to the next generation of animators to push the boundaries of storytelling through this versatile medium. By following Denver's example, aspiring animators can find motivation in their love for the art and the possibility of taking their audience on a magical journey, just as Miyazaki did for Denver.

So, to all the passionate animators out there, embrace your creativity, never stop learning, and let your love for storytelling guide your work. Remember, the world is waiting to be captivated by the stories you have yet to tell!

For more informative interviews with animators, as well as answers to any other questions you might have about working as a freelance animator or studio owner, be sure to follow our blogs, check out our free masterclass, and our Animation Business Accelerator Program, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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