For an entrepreneur, the ultimate joy is when his or her creation becomes an icon for the industry. With Chhota Bheem, the face of Indian animation industry, Green Gold Animation has been setting many new records in the creative industry through content for multiple traditional and digital platforms. We caught up with Rajiv Chilaka the creator of this most lovable character and the CEO and Founder of Green Gold Animation, Hyderabad to know more about his dream for India in setting new benchmarks in the edutainment and entertainment sector. Here’s the Skill Story to tell you more…
Q: We know your company with many characters you have created, particularly Chhota Bheem, it would be interesting to know why “Green Gold” and its significance.
A: Green Gold was started as a proprietary concern in 2001 and initially it was called Green Gold Graphics. Later it was registered as a private company in 2004 in the name of Green Gold Animation. The name was chosen just because it was colourful and attractive which people would remember and recall. After my higher studies at Academy of Arts in San Francisco, I came back to India and saw an opportunity in the field of animation, mainly for kids content. The excitement was palpable among the kids when Cartoon Network was the only animation TV channel and there were very few animation companies in India. I saw a great potential in exploring this domain, but I didn’t rush up, I took my own time to build the company.
We had two choices then, one, to focus on service jobs by taking up outsourced work; or, two, to create our own content and have our own IP. Although our passion was in creating our own IP and establishing our own identity, we knew we had to survive so we wanted to take up some service jobs. Our studio was very small at that time so I realised that we would need a bigger team to expand in the services sector along with sufficient funding for the operations. And it would be difficult to get funded in a new industry which did not have a proven revenue model in the domestic market. Today, Green Gold Animation and Group Companies employ 1450 people, out of which artists / creative talent headcount is 1250.
Q: How did Chhota Bheem happen?
A: Looking back I think, it was the right opportunity at the right time. I just took up the challenges with the belief that it would yield results in the future. Before Chhota Bheem we produced other series like Vikram Betal, Krishna etc. Even after Chhota Bheem, we did other shows like Mighty Raju, Chor Police and others. However, Chhota Bheem stood out and its success has been phenomenal in defining the scope of animation in India. We just celebrated 10th anniversary of the character that became a household name across India irrespective of region, language and social standing. It has also disrupted the licensing and merchandising of products in India winning us awards for 6 years in a row. We have come a long way by developing over 100 products. We were lucky to be early movers, but we worked hard as a team that combines the best of creative and management capabilities.
Q: How would you describe the animation industry today?
A: I would say, at present, it’s the best time to be in the industry with unprecedented scope for work.With Digital Media becoming a powerful tool for communication and entertainment, content creation is required everywhere. Both in domestic and international markets, we need content for different formats such as mobile ,handheld devices and TV. For instance, in 2001, we have only one TV channel for kids and in 2008 we had 8 of them, but now we have more than 20 channels in India! In addition we have OTT platforms like Amazon, JIO and others who need creative content.
While digital revolution has created a spike in demand for creative content, it has also brought in some challenges in terms of attracting and retaining talent. Companies end up hunting on each others grounds for experienced professionals. And of course, there is a dearth of desired skills, knowledge and formal qualifications.
There are many academic and training institutions offering long-term programs in Animation and the graduates are absorbed in the industry as soon as they complete the course. Even though the quality of education offered in these courses is good, the duration slows down the process of hiring.
Q: What are the other ways to address issues related to training and skill gaps?
A: Short-term training programs can be very useful for the industry. It will benefit both the profiles – the creative as well as the technical. For instance, creative expression through drawing could be a natural talent; it can be further enhanced through formal training in a finishing school. For the technically oriented, a short course of 3 months can help them in learning skills related to the industry such as Rigging, Texturing and 3D Modelling. We have been training our people through short courses before we place them in production teams. In a way, though it is not our core area, we are forced to take up such training in the absence of other alternatives. We are also working with the training schools by sharing our requirements.
In terms of growing and nurturing talent in animation, India has huge potential to be the talent pool for the world. Today, the industry mostly employs youth who come from well-settled families with steady source of income. Such a background has helped many in grooming their skills and learning through formal courses, since they didn’t have to cope with family pressure to earn and provide support. At the same time, combined with digital exposure and creative bent of mind, we also have young boys and girls who may come from underprivileged background and they would be willing to work hard and realise their dreams. We need to create opportunities to train them and provide employment in this industry by giving easy access to own computers and related tools to learn. And, in terms of infrastructure, Hyderabad is a great place to be in!
Q: What are some of the top skills and abilities to build and grow a career in animation industry?
A: Students have a bright future in the animation industry provided they acquire the right knowledge and skills. They must be proficient in fundamentals such as frames per second, aspect ratio or even RGB values along with tools like Photoshop. Besides technical knowledge, they must have the right attitude to work in teams and learn continuously. For existing employees, it is important that they remain hands-on. Once they settle down in a job, they should not get carried away by designations and job roles and remain grounded to face the job uncertainties. No matter which role you are in, working in teams and respecting each other’s competencies is most crucial to survive in this industry.
Most importantly, today’s youth need to learn that success comes through patience and right attitude counts a lot. There is no shortcut to climb the career ladder. We need to create more awareness so that students understand and appreciate the reality of the workplace and don’t nurture unrealistic aspirations.
Q: Tell us about how you connected your products with licensing and merchandising ?
A: We are inspired by Disney and other western companies and we wanted to emulate them. We were fortunate we had a character that connects with the masses. You need a successful character before you get into merchandising. The character has to be accepted by both the kid and the parent in terms of quality and utility. And of course, rural penetration has also been an important part of our strategy by understanding the demographics. This has helped in selling products ranging from Rs. 10 to Rs. 2000 depending on the customer profile, whether they buy from a retail outlet in a mall or from a small road side kirana store.
Road ahead and vision for India
Today, we have an immense opportunity in India in the form of Theme Parks with AR-VR technology and innovative entertainment zone are yet to be exploited. With a booming middle class that can spend on entertainment and edutainment, we need to use our imagination to cater to their needs. We have taken the first steps with Chhota Bheem and other stories. There are many more stories to be made as we tread the path of creativity in the age of digital technologies. This in turn means a greater opportunity to create an impact through job creation with innovative careers.