Very remote places are romantic in this era of almost too much information, and just the word "Nagaland" led me to imagine how it must have been in bygone days when the world was still unexplored.
I had already glimpsed a new and very charming realm of tribal art and culture through an animation project called "The Tallest Story Competition", a series of five short animated tribal folk tales produced by West Highland Animation in Scotland (www.westhighlandanimation.co.uk); Having learnt some animation at art college in England, I fantasized about making a short film and got the chance with one of the short films in the series. It was called "How the Elephant Lost His Wings" and in the film I recreated the unusual brass sculptures from Chhattisgarh in Central India using high end computer software for characters for a local Gond folk story. It had been an enriching experience to meet tribal artists and to work with them by commissioning them to design cartoon characters for their stories and it was an initiative that needed to continue, so with that first project completed, I began to research other indigenous art forms that could be adapted for animation. Coming from a background in 3D animation, I was mostly interested in sculptures, and so I went off to visit some museums and libraries in England to find out more about the wooden carvings from Nagaland. At the Horniman Museum, the British Museum and later the Pitt Rivers Museum, I became fascinated by the Naga artifacts kept safely hidden away and that required white gloves to handle. In the library at the School of Oriental and African Studies I found several collections of folk tales from different tribes of Nagaland, and one of them was so unusual that it captured my imagination: It began with the premise that Man, Tiger and Spirit were three brothers. They lived together in harmony so long as their mother was well but on her demise they realized that their natures were too different and that they would have to separate. A competition was held between Man and Tiger to decide who could live in the valley and who would have to live in the forest and because Man was cunning, he cheated,outwitted Tiger and won the race. Tiger has lived in the jungle ever since. Spirit was somewhat put off by Man's growing arrogance and pride, and so he left too.
How would this story be as an animation film with the characters inspired by the sculptures from Nagaland?
An independent animator always needs to be looking out for ways to make animation films, and so I prepared a proposal for an animation film grant. The scheme was very competitive and though I did not receive the grant, I had prepared a script and a storyboard for the story about Man, Tiger and Spirit; I had also identified some sculptures for references and I felt that I needed to visit Nagaland just to see how it actually was over there, and so I went off for my first visit in April 2008.