When books turn into motion pictures

  • Kanika Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 08, 2015 15:39 IST

Remember the moving images in Harry Potter's newspapers, and the talking portraits in the corridors of Hogwarts? There are now books that can do, well, something very much like that.

It's called augmented reality and it allows you to use an app on your smartphone to transform a regular picture book. You just hold your smartphone up to a page and the images can move, talk and sing, on an enhanced version of the page now visible on your screen.

For the publishing industry, battling the onslaught of the digital media and struggling to reach a generation that has grown up on interactive digital content, it's a magic wand in a different sense of the word, and it's increasingly being embraced as a means of enhancing the scope of their offerings.

For the reader, this means that once you download the relevant free app, you can just hold your phone over a page and see it move, expand into a 3D video, watch the character talk, fight or argue - all on a dynamic version of the page now 'playing' on your smartphone screen.

"Books are also a kind of technology, but have been static since the invention of publishing," says Sankalpo Ghose, an artist and software engineer who created the app An Art for Seagull Books' first AR release, Soho Chronicles, released in February. "With e-books and augmented reality, we can now enhance the technology of the book to reach out to readers seeking a digital experience or format."

In Soho Chronicles, a book about the animated films of South African artist William Kentridge, AR content allows the reader to see the artist at work as his sketches take shape one stroke at a time. "Kentridge's style of filming involved sketching a certain frame and then erasing it to alter the drawing. Augmented reality brings this art to life," says Ghose.


In May, children’s magazine Tinkle began offering AR elements such as this virtual dart game on the cover.

Elsewhere, in May, children's magazine Tinkle began to offer an AR version that lets their young readers convert a pinwheel on the cover into a moving game on their smartphones, and leads from the popular Supandi comic strip to video content on the hapless young man's misadventures, even allowing the reader to step into the comic, pose as a doctor in a hospital-themed strip, and take a 'selfie' with the character.

"I really liked playing the dart game, which is on the cover, and my [five-year-old] sister and I clicked selfies as Suppandi's doctor, holding a stethoscope," says Mumbai reader Sophie Mascarenhas, 9. "I find the technology part very exciting. It gives you something to do once you have read the book."

PAN Macmillan, meanwhile, began using AR on horror fiction titles such as Reviver by Seth Patrick in January 2014, creating covers that morph and move and allow the reader to step into the book before they've even opened it.

Back to the beginning

One of the earliest AR projects in India was Bangalore-based artist Shilo Shiv Suleman's 2010 college project, Khoya Khoya Chand.


In Khoya Khoya Chand, a children's book about the environment, an app leads to animated images.

In this children's fantasy book about the environment and climate change, superimposed animation could be triggered by an app held over the page.

Then came Priya's Shakti, in December 2014, a comic book that told the story of a fictional rape survivor who went on to campaign for women's empowerment, helped by Hindu goddesses Parvati and Durga. "From the beginning, I wanted the comic book to have an interactive component that would make the message of the book accessible to audiences in India and around the world," says US-based author Ram Devineni.


Download the An Art app and hold your phone over this image form Seagull Books' Soho Chronicles and you will see sketches by artist William Kentridge take shape. This is an image from the film Felix in Exile.

"We had lots of documentary footage and actual interviews with rape survivors, so we loaded them into the AR format. Readers can now hear from the people behind the true stories that have inspired the book and the character of Priya." Priya's Shakti and Tinkle are both using the US-based Blippar app for their augmented reality content.

In India, Blippar is also working on AR content for business, technology and lifestyle magazines such as Business World, Digit, Stuff and Chitralekha. "Due to its versatility, AR has potential applications across all genres of books and content," says Ambarish Mitra, CEO and founder of Blippar Global.

"Art exhibitions are another field where AR is just waiting to be leveraged," says Devineni, who organised AR-enabled art exhibitions around the theme of sexual violence against women in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and New York. "Imagine scanning an art work in a museum or gallery and immediately accessing information about it and its creator. That could be revolutionary for a field as traditionally inaccessible as art."

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