Sunday, December 11, 2011

Press Release: 11 December 2011

Screenings of  “Man Tiger Spirit”, an animated folk-tale 

Following the recent premiere screening at the Hornbill Festival 2011 in Nagaland, Tara Douglas, British animator and Secretary of the Adivasi Arts Trust was invited to screen the short animation film “Man Tiger Spirit” at the Wondang-ki Charitable Foundation, an orphanage in Fellowship Colony, Dimapur.
The film is just six minutes long and it captures a story about man's connection with nature and the supernatural.  Tara has worked for the past year to complete the animation film with local help from Nagas for animation, music and character voices, and with support from the State Government, Planning and Art and Culture Departments.

The screening event was held on Sunday 11 December for fifteen girls living at the Wondang-ki centre, aged from 4-17 years old.   The girls also watched a collection of tribal animation films from Central India that each showcase a different indigenous artistic style and they voted to choose their favorite film.  “I am from here and I connected with the background colours and the music of the Naga folktale as they were familiar.  This is why I happened to connect to it”, commented the Director of the Centre, Mr. N.T. Kikon.  He then went on to explain his background, how the centre had been established and his mission to help girls who he felt are the most vulnerable, by providing education.

The next stop for the animation film was to be the Kids Worship Centre in Walford, Dimapur later that afternoon.  After the worship programme by Robert Longkumer, about 25 young people sat down to watch the animation programme.  In the interaction that followed, they expressed that they enjoyed watching the animation films and were glad to know of the tribal folktales from Central India.  The one from Nagaland was a story none of them had heard before, and they listened attentively to Tara’s plea for folktales from Naga tribes for future animation films, in agreement that it was a good idea.

The Adivasi Arts Trust would like to thank Russell Humtsoe for arranging the programme today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Theatre in Nagaland

The National School of Drama (NSD) ( became an independent organisation under the Ministry of Culture in 1975.  It is now one of the most important theatre education resource centres in India with special facilities for arranging and conducting children’s theatre activities in North East India to stage plays that encourage children to raise questions, take decisions and make choices. 
The North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC) in Dimapur collaborates with NSD for regular theatre workshops for children, and in August 2011 a month long workshop was held in Medziphema in Nagaland for children from St Frances De Sales Higher Secondary School.  The workshop was led by Mr. Alopi Verma, a Director and Art Director in films and TV serials.  Mr. Verma had come with a play but he soon realized that it was not relevant, and a new play “Freedom of Choice” was evolved with inputs from Assistant Directors Mr. Zhokhoi Chakhesang and Mr. Boavi Swu from a local organisation, Dreamz Unlimited. 

I accompanied the Joint Director of NEZCC, Mr. Talinokcha for the opening performance of “Freedom of Choice”, at SASRD Auditorium in Medziphema.    The venue was packed to maximum capacity, the play received a lot of appreciation from the audience and the young actors were clearly absorbed in their performance, but in Nagamese language I was unable to grasp the immensely popular jokes that caused so much amusement. 
This was the first time I had heard of theatre in Nagaland, and impressed by the unanimous appreciation the play received, I wanted to find out more and I arranged to meet Mr. Tiakumzuk Ao (Tia), President of Dreamz Unlimited. Tia tells me that NSD first came to Nagaland in 2001.  More workshops were held in 2002 and 2003, and in 2008 Tia auditioned for a 45 day residential workshop, in which Ibsen’s “Doll’s House”, was translated and performed in Nagamese.  This led to setting up Dreamz Unlimited, and more plays  - Moliere’s “Scabin, the Scoundrel” and “Technicolour Dreams”, a play evolved by Naga students that spoke of contemporary Naga issues such as corruption. 

The objectives of Dreamz Unlimited are to bring Nagaland onto the map of theatre, to make a positive change in society and to preserve folk stories and culture through theatre.  To date there have been no major roles for Nagas in mainstream Hindi films (Bollywood), where aspiring Naga actors are likely to face racial discrimination.   “Although Nagas are making advances in technical fields they are still not encouraged to consider a career in acting”, explains Tia. 
As the name suggests this is also the theme of “Freedom of Choice”.  In the play, children wanted to choose their own profession but there is still pressure from the older generation to acquire secure government employment.  “Youngsters perceptions are changing and they want to follow their own dreams and make their own choices.  In the play, the father was poor and he wanted his children to perform well in exams and aim for senior positions in government offices.  The play was divided into separate stories infused with themes that are relevant to society here; for example wealthy people who do not help others and messages of civic sense.  The audience really enjoyed the characters in the play based on the stereotypes we see here.  When the father died, his son left home and joined an Underground faction to become a big man with money.  These situations exist in Nagaland”, explains Tia.

Regarding options for actors in Nagaland I am told that film-makers for Doordarshan have started approaching the small organisation for actors for their productions, but as yet there is no satellite TV channel for the Northeast region.   Serials are shown on the Kohima channel (Doordarshan) from 5-7pm.  Other channels are Doordarshan Northeast and NETV, both from Assam. 

Tia has noticed changes over the past few years.  In 2007 an indigenous folk fusion group, Abiogenesis collaborated with Dreamz Unlimited and NEZCC for a theatre show, and in 2009 the indigenous production, “Technicolour Dream” was performed at the Hornbill Festival.  “Traditional dances are always the same young people want something new”, he remarks.

Within three years Dreamz Unlimited will be eligible for government support.     

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Animation film production in Nagaland

This visit to Nagaland for the production of a short animated folktale is coming to an end; I am leaving late on Friday night for Delhi on the Rajdhani train.  It has been a highly productive time and I extend deepest thanks to the North East Zone Cultural Centre for that.  The Centre provided the best support available - a large airy office (with the designation “research officer” above the door), backup power supply during office hours, broadband internet and residential accommodation. 
The location of the Centre, four miles from Dimapur on the airport road, is ideal for a dedicated researcher in need of a peaceful, green, tranquil place to work that is completely away from the world.    But the best part is that NEZCC is an active institution with at least 20 staff pursuing their objective of promoting culture from the Northeast region.  During my two month sojourn many interesting visitors have come to the Centre including artists, animators, journalists and researchers.  I attended several cultural events organised and sponsored by the Centre including a film release, traditional dance performances and a play.  I have also observed the support extended by the Centre to talented young people in Nagaland through collaborative projects and workshops.
A forward thinking leader is clearly of immense benefit to an organization, and appreciation is expressed for the Director of NEZCC, Mr. Som Kamei, whose sincerity and helpfulness and is reflected in the friendly working atmosphere. 

It was my excellent luck that there happened to be an empty old house that had accommodated the director until a new residence was built.    This guesthouse became my home, and it offered the peace and independence that I cherished.  Meals were prepared by the girls who run the canteen; I would go to the staff quarters twice a day – at 8.30am and again at 8.30pm - to eat my daily plates of rice, and sometimes Lereni would cook a special dish from the Lotha tribe for me.
There are additional pleasures to be had from staying at NEZCC.   In the hot, humid summer season of the plains, a river, twenty minutes walk further along the bumpy lane through Diphapur village, offers a refreshing dip, and opposite the NEZCC compound is the “Stone Park”, a garden walk through a collection of modern Indian stone sculptures, the highlight of which is a tree house in the middle, made in the “Karbi” style.

The animation film
Three dimensional models were created by using sophisticated computer software.  These were textured and rigged and they were place in scenes that were composed to match the storyboard for the film.  Lights, forces, dynamics and environmental properties were applied and the animation was key framed.  Each scene has now been rendered at low resolution and over a hundred shots have been place on a timeline in sync with a scratch dialogue track to create the rough cut of the five minute long animated folktale from Nagaland.  

It was not possible to find a local animator available during this time with sufficient experience to assist with the 3D interface.  My friend Oyimpong Imchen had promised to help a year ago, but in the meantime had secured a full time Government job in Kohima as a Graphic Designer with the Department of Health and Family Welfare.  To include some animation made by Nagas in the film, two short sequences of about ten seconds each will be done by hand using stop motion and sand animation techniques. 

The title sequence will be created by using cowrie shells.  This idea came from traditional Naga textiles and  embellished with cowries.  The shells were acquired in Delhi and they were given to “Along”, the chawkidar at NEZCC from the Konyak tribe, to file flat. It was clearly an arduous job because it took him several weeks to file a handful, but they are now ready to be placed against the background of an Angami Naga shawl.  Designs will be created and single frames captured as the shells are animated by Russell Humsoe back in Delhi;  Russell participated in the Animation Workshop held in 2009 for developing the film where he had tested the cowie shell technique.

The climax sequence of the film will be created using sand animation to give a shadowy look.  In the macabre shot, a dog enters from the left and comes towards camera, barking. The Spirit character reaches out, plucks out an eye and transfers it to Man, limiting his vision forever so that he is no longer able to see in the dark or see Spirit anymore.  It has been agreed that this sequence will be animated by Akanito Assumi (Aki), who is a graduate from the National Institute of Design (NID), and co-founder of “Design Stash”, a design company in Dimapur. Students of NID are encouraged to experiment with artistic techniques.  Aki has participated in a group project that used sand as a medium for creating animation while he was a student, and he is eager to do it again.    Difficulties that he will face include unavailability of specialized equipment (such as cameras, adaptors and cables) in Nagaland and the erratic power supply. 

I will be completing the cgi animation in Delhi.  With a deadline rapidly approaching (Mid November, ready for the premiere screening at the Hornbill Festival in early December), I am not willing to depend on the intermittent power supply in Dimapur.  I will have to utilize as much computer time as possible to be able to have the film ready and over the past two months progress has inevitably been delayed by long, frequent “load shedding”.    Approximately 6000 frames will now have to be “polished”  by adjusting rigging, timing, lighting, shading, cameras and dynamic properties, going through the film scene by scene  and rendering to see the results.  Experience has shown that the final resolution of 1024x576 pixels works well.    The scenes will be rendered in layers with characters, effects and backgrounds processed separately and composited using After Effects.  Many of the backgrounds are created using Vue Infinity which is a software that requires a lot  of computational power to produce impressive images of landscapes mapped with Naga textiles and “populated “with trees, bamboo and boulders. 
Challenges faced in the 3D environment have been to create “hair” and cloth textures.  Having tested Paint Effects for the hair for the tail of the Spirit and not achieved acceptable results this has now been replaced by a “dynamic clump of hair follicles”  that are affected by properties of gravity, drag and turbulence, giving a more gracious movement to the tail as it “swishes” about.
The ugly irregularities of the two cloth sashes with attached red hairy tassels that are a key element to the traditional Angami costume still need to be addressed, and if I am unable to achieve a satisfactory look, I will have to engage expertise, probably in Pune or Mumbai.

Final voice recordings were made in Kohima.  Clef Ensemble, the only sound studio available in Kohima was hired for four hours to record dialogues for the film in English and in Angami languages, with voices provided by Ketuoravi-ü Marina, Vikehielie Justin Pienyü and Oyimpong Imchen.  Marina also recorded three traditional Angami folk songs that she has chosen as appropriate for the film and samples will be turned into a “fusion mix” with technical inputs from Richard Belho (Zyronique) to give rhythm and mood to the film.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Indigenous faith in Nagaland

The Zeliangrong people comprise three associated tribes (Zeliang, Liangmei and Rongmei) that live in South Nagaland and parts of Manipur (Tamelong District) and Assam and they share cultural similarities.   The 29th of August is remembered by the Zeliangrong as the day that Haipou Jadonang became a martyr eighty years ago to the cause of independence from the British.

Jadonang was born in 1905 as the second of three sons in a family of modest means.  From childhood there was something unusual about him; He would sleep for several days continuously, and on waking up to find his family mourning for him, he would tell them that he had been disturbed from his dialogue with God.  It was also noticed that he talked to himself and whenever he predicted events in the future they came true.  The rare flowering of bamboo and the rodent infestation it brings is feared as a time of famine.  But when the bamboo flowered, young Jadonang told people not to worry but to sacrifice a mithun (buffalo) instead to God.  They listened to him, and they were saved from the terrible fate of starvation.  Jadonang was also a spiritual healer with the ability to cure many illnesses and everyone concluded that he had special spiritual powers.  

At that time, the British ruled both Assam and Manipur, and in 1927 charismatic Jadonang mobilized the people and declared “Naga Raj” implying freedom from British domination.   He was first arrested in 1928 and imprisoned for three days.  On 19 February 1931 he was arrested for the final time in the Kachar Hills.  He had visited the mystic Bhuvan cave with his young female follower, Rani Gaidinliu, and he had received a premonition of his impending death.  The invitation for a discussion turned out to be a trap and he was jailed and hung to death.  After his arrest Rani Gaidinliu took his place in the fight for independence. 
During his time, Jadonang did not receive much recognition but his impact is still felt today.    He insisted on preservation of culture, religion and identity and to unite his people on one platform he built temples, beginning with the first in his own village. There are now 12 houses of worship known as Kalum Kai in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland where followers come and worship on the full moon and on every Sunday.  “The time in which Jadonang lived was a time of backwardness and he spoke the language of the people.  He was intellectual, and he was ahead of his time.  His songs, hymns, dances and costume designs have made the Zeliangrong culturally great”, points out Som Kamei, Director of the North East Zone Cultural Centre and Chief Guest at a commemorative event held in Dimapur in honour of Jadonang.  He adds that “to nurture solidarity the Government recognizes and promotes Jadonang as a freedom fighter, and in general, we are all proud of the freedom fighter of the Nagas, although he has also inspired insurgent activities.   He sacrificed himself for his people and country.”

The religion advocated by Jadonang was the cult of Heraka, also known as Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC).   Tingkao Ragwang literally means “supreme God of the sky” and he is the supreme deity of the Zeliangrong tribes.  Beyond time and space, he is believed to be “eternal, good, the source of life, the giver and ultimate goal of the human soul, source of holiness, architect of man’s destiny and source of knowledge and wisdom.”[1]

[1] Gangmumei Kamei:  The Zeliangrong Primordial Religion, Imphal 2005, pp 5-6

Monday, August 29, 2011

Meetings with animators and artists

“It is high time that digital media technology came to Nagaland!”
Moasenla Jamir read about the 3 day Animation Workshop at the Nagaland Institute of IT and Multimedia in the newspaper, and she decided to meet the resource person, Tara Douglas.  She left Kohima on 27th August with her mother, Dr. Watikala, and they reached the institute by late morning. 
Moasenla has studied outside Nagaland - in Chennai, Bangalore and she finally specialized in animation from Delhi.  “It is high time that digital media technology came to Nagaland!” She observed.  “I have always been interested in folktales, even before I got into animation.  Because I studied outside I am aware of these things and I am now taking interest in our culture.    Animation is a very sophisticated way of portraying culture and presenting it in a more visually interesting way”.

Moasenla is presently working on six episodes of public service announcements, each a minute long, for the Department of Health and Family Welfare.   She explains that the topics were given to her and she then spent a month doing medical research around the subject, before preparing a script for the series.  The script was approved and she has been working on the production since April, with a delivery deadline in September for the completed 2D animation.

“I would be interested in working on stories from 16 tribes.  Once this current project is over, we plan to visit all the places mentioned in the Ao folktale of Jina and Etiben, as I am considering making it into a film.  It would probably have to be done in live action with actors first and when a team has been established it could be adapted for 3D animation.” 
“There are lots of folktales that my mother and grandparents know that would be interesting in 3D animation, though first she needs her team.  I support her fully in her work;  At the moment we are constructing a building in Kohima and we have already promised the top floor to my daughter to use as her studio”, adds Dr. Waltikala, who is the Joint Director of the Government Department of Health and Family Welfare, and is presently serving as the Chief Medical Officer for Phek District. 

“I have a tug of war going on,” says Moasenla.  “I am feeling a bit claustrophobic knowing about all those big studios out there.  It is too early to be a one man team!  During my training as an animator we were a group of 25 students in each batch, but there were only 3 or 4 girls.  That gender issue is prevalent.   Here it is very male dominated and it will take years to shed the conditioning.  Girls do not have the exposure or the confidence that comes with it.  Here the whole thing is the government.  Right from the beginning I decided that I did not want to be part of the government franchise.  It is high time to break the mould; In fact, there should be a campaign on this topic!” declares Moasenla, adding that when you do something outside on your own, you enjoy it. 

I was impressed by Moasenla’s attitude and I requested her to address the participants of the workshop: She agreed without a moment’s hesitation.  “You need support from your families because animation is new here.  You are the first batch of animation students and there is an advantage to being the first as you are pioneers.  You need sincerity, commitment and dedication and it all depends on your interest.  Seventy five percent of what I know is self taught; Maya is very vast software and you have just seen one layer in this workshop.  You will need 4-5 years of coaching and it might help to download tutorials from the net.   You must also develop your own technique of working and you have to start to think out of the box.  The hardest thing is to apply what you learn and this is why it is so creative.  Experiment with the software and remember that it is just a tool and that you need creativity to convey your message through it.  I was interested in animation even as a schoolgirl.      I have always been into cinematography.  In our group project at Picasso Animation College, I was the cinematographer.  My instructors advised me to watch a movie everyday with the volume turned down, because before handling the software you need to know how a story works, and then when you master the software you can apply it to the story.   There are resources and organizations ready to support animation here, but you need to arm yourselves with the skills to implement it.  I feel strongly about it here in Nagaland.  There is hardly any one for me to form a team with, but if we can catch up again in a few years and work as a team that will be really good!”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Press Release: Animation Explosion, 3 day Workshop in Animation at the Nagaland Institute of IT and Multimedia, Naharbari, Dimapur.

A three daylong event to introduce young people in Nagaland to the medium of animation as a tool to explore and preserve culture began today at the Nagaland Institute of IT and Multimedia in Dimapur.    Titled “Animation Explosion” the workshop is providing exposure to a variety of artistic styles of animation, though it focuses on 3D.  Mrs Chanmayo G. Aier, (Advocate) was invited as the Chief Guest for the inauguration and a welcome address was given by Dr. Rongsenrenla, the Academic Advisor for the Institute.  “Today animation has captured our imagination” she declared, and she encouraged the participants reminding them that animators can command high salaries in an industry that is expanding in India because of outsourcing from Western countries where production is much more costly. 

Tara Douglas, the leading resource person for the workshop, was invited to give an overview of animation. First she explained how she became involved in animation and she spoke of the benefits of job satisfaction that an animator experiences.  She also pointed out that the first 3D animation studio in Nagaland has in effect been set up right here at the Institute, and she urged the group to make the most of the opportunity and to ask for a three month orientation course in computer generated 3D animation as a follow up to the brief introduction offered in this workshop.    Tara informed them that she had volunteered for this workshop as she has been working in Nagaland to make an animation film of  a local folktale and had found it difficult to find Naga animators to assist in the project.  She explained that this first short film is just a sample of what can be done with local resources, and she intimated that it might be appropriate to produce an animated folktale from each of the 16 tribes.  “Funds can be applied for, interest has been expressed for such a project, but we also need to know that we have the ability to do it.  A team is required for it”, she concluded.

Mrs. Aier recollected her own experiences and the decision of her peers not to go for government jobs rather preferring to become their own boss.  She also spoke of a legacy that the group will leave behind through the work ahead and instructed them to be fearless and not put off by hard work,  posing the tentative question as to how many would take it on as a means to express themselves and Naga society.  She explained that Nagas are still a young society, with previous generations engaged in hard agricultural work.  She expressed confidence that Tara’s association with Adivasis through the Trust will lead to sensitivity in the adaptation of culture and she reminded everyone that the Adivasis in Central India are in a more vulnerable situation than Nagas, who still maintain their land rights.  While Nagas can earn their bread through animation they should also bring some of their philosophy to the world through it.  Mrs. Aier reminded the group that of global competition and expressed her hope that more people come and share technology for the benefit of Naga people. 
Mr. Imtiba Pongen, a finalist in Naga Idol 7 entertained the group with a romantic song, and refreshments were served. 

During three days participants will have screenings of animation films made by masters of the profession.  They will also be exposed to indigenous animation films made in other countries and they will engage in practical sessions in 2D cut-out animation, stop-motion animation and computer generated 3D.

The Adivasi Arts Trust would like to thank local collaborators at the Nagaland Institute of IT and Multimedia for organizing a very successful opening day to the Animation Explosion event.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meetings with artists and animators

My name is Throngkiuba Yimchungrü, but I am also known as Athrong for short.  I am 20 years old and I am an art student studying at the Indian College of Arts and Draftsmanship in Kolkata.  In 2009 I participated in the State Art Exhibition in Nagaland, and in 2010 I was selected in a national competition to participate in a group show organised by ICCR in Kolkata.  In 2011 I was honoured with the Young Talented Artist Award by the North East Zone Cultural Centre (Government of India).

I am from the Yimchungrü tribe in Eastern Nagaland.  Our culture has changed so much and we are losing touch with our heritage.  Unfortunately I do not know of any other artists from my community nor am I familiar with our folktales.  I use charcoal, pencil, acrylic, oil, watercolour – even dental tools and any other materials that I can find around in my creative activities.  I am mostly inspired by political and social corruption in my art, and I really appreciate classical paintings. 

My ambition is to achieve my Bachelors Degree in India and then perhaps to study abroad for my Masters.  When I am fully qualified, I will work to promote my people and culture through the field of art and in that way I will also be contributing for a better Nagaland. 

It was instinct that inspired me to take up art.  I grew up without a father and my childhood was not easy.  My mother had to bring up five of us alone and this hardship continues to shape me as an artist.  I began taking art seriously after a motorbike accident in 2009 which limited my mobility for a while and I began practicing art for up to nine hours a day.   At first my family discouraged me from art, but now they support me fully.   My mother has a lot of intuition and now I am also developing the ability to interpret dreams. 

So far I have not tried using digital tools or animation in my artwork, but I look forward to getting into this after I have achieved my degree.  For the time being, I am totally into painting and sculpture. 

I have joined the Adivasi Arts Trust so that I can meet other artists and get involved in more projects in the future.  I am starting by illustrating some Yimchungrü folktales.