Remember the famous scene from Shankar's Tamil sci-fi film Enthiran, when Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) throws a sceptical glance at Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) as he is about to introduce Chitti, the robot. The scene reaches its climax when Chitti calls Dr Vaseegaran the ‘Kadavul’, his creator.
Now re-imagine this scene, with Rajnikanth and Aishwarya in an animated version, with dialogues in speech balloons, sound effects as onomatopoeia and situation in captions. Imagine flipping through the pages of this digital book that lets you read aloud the scenes from your favourite movie, scene by scene.
That’s what Olyvia Rakshit does, who through her San Francisco-based startup ComicFlix is turning all-time hit Indian movies -- from Rajinikanth's Enthiran and Rana Daggubati’s Nene Raju Nene Mantri to Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay -- into comics, deconstructed scene by scene.
From silver screen to comic strips
ComicFlix is the world's first web-based comic book editor, where conversion of movies into comic art is not manually drawn out but rather employs technology to generate the finished output for market within a span of one week.
The core technology involves algorithms for video summarisation, machine learning routines for rendering comic art from videos and language APIs (application program interface) for multilingual support.
“We want our children to read more and become aware of the phenomenal benefits that come with reading. I witnessed that first-hand with my own children by converting their favourite videos into graphic novels. I believe technology could inspire children to read more and that was a fascinating concept for me,” she tells TNM.
Telugu film Nenu Raju Nene Mantri in ComicFlix format
The idea of ComicFlix was born out of Olyvia’s love for reading good stories. What initially began as her passion for storytelling, soon marked the beginning of Olyvia’s entrepreneurial journey.
“While ComicFlix started as comics for children, it evolved into a much bigger idea and enabled fans to re-engage with their favourite content, movies and TV shows. I was excited about retelling popular stories in a new format using automation. The goal was to build a scalable platform that could generate lots of content for popular fan-based properties - and that is how my entrepreneurial journey began,” Olyvia recounts.
Olyvia and her team, comprising engineers, content creators and artistes, work not only on movies or TV shows but any content that is worth to be retold into a digital comic, including documentaries, advertisements and marketing videos.
A makeup commercial in ComicFlix format
ComicFlix has already generated content in various Indian, European and Japanese languages.
“I was recently watching the Bengali movie Feluda and thought this story is so good that it would make for a great read in Tamil or even Spanish. And why not? That’s what our platform can do. Good stories are universal. As long as it’s a wonderful story, it can render itself well in any format,” Olyvia opines.
ComicFlix hasn’t till date entered the publishing market directly. Instead, they partner with entertainment companies that are using the ComicFlix’s technology and services to convert their content and distribute it to their audiences via apps, in print or digitally.
So what has made a start-up like ComicFlix spread its wings in a market that is overloaded with digital content? “Our technology is a huge time-saver,” Olyvia puts it succinctly.
How it works
“Think about a five-minute scene of a movie or even a trailer. When converted to the comic format, it becomes a two-pager, a centre-fold of a magazine. We don't have to wait for the fourth minute in a video to know what's being said or what's happening at that moment. When I am looking at a two-pager, I can quickly get the story of the scene or the marketing messages in any part of the video,” Olyvia explains.
“It’s important to note that this format is not replacing the video format in any way. People retain the messages in the video better after they engage with the ComicFlixed format. People relive the experience better when they engage with a quick visual story version of it,” she adds.
Bollywood movie Jab We Met in ComicFlix format
It typically takes two to three weeks to turn a feature-length film into a graphic novel that is ready for a market launch. They usually come as two issues of a comic book series, with a total of 50 pages.
Olyvia says the content of a movie or a TV show remains the same as they work closely with the content owners to ensure the narrative and the flow of the story are to their liking.
“The distribution methods vary from company to company -- some choose to keep these novellas online while others are deciding to print,” she adds.
American web series The Handmaid's Tale in ComicFlix format
While the starting point of every comic is an existing movie, TV show or even a video, Olyvia says the content is not always a direct replica of the original.
“Sometimes we extract one story arc from four parallel story tracks and do a series on that. Sometimes, the movie is condensed to extract 30% of the main story, leaving out many subplots and dialogues, so it almost reads like the original story,” she explains.
Evolving where there is traction
As of now, ComicFlix isn’t focusing on generating original content but is evolving in a direction where there is traction.
“We haven’t created original characters or storylines yet. At the end of the day, we are a technology shop, and we are focusing on technology to be used to convert content in a new format to engage fans,” Olyvia adds.