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.

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