Stop-motion animation filmed against a ‘green screen’
Nomi Wangsa creating artwork in the Animation Workshop in Kamhua Noknu
Modelling clay heads and mouths in the animation workshop in Kamhua Noknu,
Mouths modelled in clay to use in animation
Sketch for the storyboard for a short film, The Wancho Story of the Gourd
Choimai Pansa and Phowang Losu creating storyboard images
A dried gourd carved as a mask for the animation workshop
Refining the mask using Papier Mache to create features
Manlem Losu is modelling characters from clay at the animation workshop
Omook birds modelled from clay in the animation workshop
Participants dressed as the Two Brothers from The Wancho Story of the Gourd
Filming Pixillated Animation in the Chief’s House, Kamhua Noknu .
It had been easy to imagine working with the Wanchos to create a short animated film when I wrote the proposal for The Stories of Our Ancestors project. Now the covid pandemic was raging across the world and bringing extended lockdowns in India. Besides, a foreign person requires a Protected Area Permit to visit Longding District, a remote corner of Arunachal Pradesh that borders Assam, Nagaland and Myanmar. The Wanchos are isolated and cut off from that which the ‘modern’ world provides film-makers: regular electric power, internet access, computer technology and expertise and specialised materials for creating animation models and sets. Most of us have little idea of what it involves to make an animation film. First the story must be closely studied and adapted for a film script. Each shot has to be meticulously planned out and then the painstaking work of capturing single frames begins: 24 images for every second of animation.
I was intent on starting the process, but unable to move from where I was in Dehradun. Under the lockdown during summer 2020, I began to make an animation model of a Wancho Chief (Wangham), based on a photograph of the Chief of Nyinu village, Mr Longwang Wangham, in his traditional attire, in the book, “The Nyinu Massacre (a Tale of the Unsung Wancho Warriors)” by Nepha Wangsa (2018).
I decided to film myself at various stages of the model-making process because it would be a document that could be used to demonstrate the procedure.
On 3 October 2020, Jatwang Wangsa and I were able to meet for an online talk organised by Kolkata Centre for Creativity, The Wancho: Upholding the Tribal Traditions of Arunachal Pradesh, available from: https://youtu.be/lwWNdUp8KUU
In October 2020 I was granted a permit to enter Longding District.
I would travel from Delhi to Dibrugarh by flight, and from there by road up into the Patkai Hills. It was first necessary to purchase a few items of equipment and some art materials, as I was planning to try to introduce the concept and practice of creating stop-motion animation in Kamhua Noknu village. The plan was to organise an Animation Workshop for interested young people to take place at the Kamhua Noknu Government Middle School, which had been closed for several months due to the protocol for the pandemic.
I ordered three film lights, a green-screen with a stand, a tripod and various spare chargers and adaptors, and these were delivered to the Post Master General’s office in Dibrugarh. By the time I had collected it all, my luggage, consisting of about 10 seperate items, weighed about 50kg. I wonder what the Wanchos would be expecting, seeing me arrive so heavily laden!
I arrived in the traditional Wancho village, Kamhua Noknu, overloaded with preconceived notions of what I wanted to achieve, and I soon realised that I needed to adapt to the local situation.
It was at first difficult to explain the plan to the local collaborators (who were teachers at the school), but they were interested to see what was was going to take place for the first time in the village, and on 20 November 2020, the first day of the workshop, 15 young people had assembled in the school office. I was encouraged, and full of exuberance, I began to try to explain how we would go about the pre-production for a short film. Whatever I said in English, Jatwang Wangsa elaborated on at length in Wancho.
There were two stories that were linked that were told to us last year by two elders of the village: The Story of the Two Gourds was recounted by Ngamchai Wangsa, who was Jatwang’s father and had recently passed away; the storyteller of The Story of How God came to Earth was his lifelong friend Wangjay Losu. By combining the mythical tales into a single film script, the plot progression seemed to become more cohesive as a narrative for viewers who are not familiar to the Wancho traditions.
The Wancho Story of the Gourd is a combination of the two stories. It establishes the scene at a primordial moment in time, and two divine ancestral characters who become the first human and the first god. The story, which weaves plants and animals as conscious, responsive characters, traces evolution from a hunter gathering people, to the development of agriculture and social order, represented by establishing the first Chief of the village. The hero of the tale is Topa who was an ordinary farmer, and as it turns out, is the direct ancestor of a family in the village. He had the ability to see and speak to the supernatural beings and at the critical point in the story, he receives a leaf that has been infused by the breath of the divine visitors. On planting the leaf in the ground, Topa brings two gourds into existence, and from the smaller of the two, emerges the Chief.
The young Wancho participants, some of whom had managed to complete their secondary education, soon came to realise how much easier it is to watch animation than to make it. On the second day of the workshop, no one turned up. I was discouraged, but decided to persist with the workshop each day. As time went on, a group of about six came regularly every day to draw the storyboard and to create test animation sequences, turning the school office into our film studio. Now that they had a brief introduction and had become excited at seeing their own animation, they decided they wanted to contribute to the project.
The participants experimented with using beads and clay as objects to animate with. I had the idea that it would be fun for them to try pixillated animation as a technique. The boys brought out their traditional Wancho beaded jewelry and other attire, and they suggested that masks could be made from dried gourds, as was once done for a particular ceremony in their village. We refines the masks using papier mache to model features, which were then painted. Many different eyes and mouth were needed so that the masks could be animated. It was a real problem to create these, because each night the rat came and destroyed our day’s work.
A primary limitation was the power supply; fortunately a solar back-up was installed for the school office, which made it possible to use the lights. By the end of the workshop, the character dialogues and narrations had been translated and recorded in Wancho and we had assembled an animatic, which is the filmed storyboard with a scratch sound track that provides the bluprint for the production.
The workshop had gained some momentum, and on the final day, the small team relocated to the Chief’s House in the village to film the scene from the story in which the Elder Brother plays the log drum.
The next stage of the project will be the Wancho Animation Workshop to take place in March 2021, at Department of Anthropology, North Eastern Hill University.
The animatic is available below.