In 1983 I was working in Vancouver for International Rocketship, and was happy as a clam with my nomadic lifestyle. One of the guys I was working with at the time was Danny Antonnuci, creator and animator of the cult classic “Lupo The Butcher”, who has recently joined Bardel as VP of Development. It was during these days when I finally met my partner, Delna. The night we met Danny, he was playing in a punk band called Ground Zero at a sleazy dockside dive. I found myself at a table with a young woman who didn’t exactly seem to fit in with the other tattooed and black attired audience. We couldn’t hear a word each other said, so on the coaching of a mutual friend, I decided to invite her to a bar-b-que, which was really all I could afford at the time. Delna and I have been together pretty much ever since.
After meeting me, Delna asked if we could work together, but I flatly refused. No one wants to work with their girlfriend. So she went and found herself a job at another studio in their ink and paint department. She enjoyed the experience and the people, but had bigger plans for us. It was actually her idea to start up Bardel, not mine. I was quite happy working for other studios, but she was a budding entrepreneur. After a much heated discussion, we bought a xerox machine with our life savings of $2,000 and decided to go into the ink and paint business. I had run this department for years and knew the best talent in town, so I agreed.
Our first effort as entrepreneurs was to release a line of greeting cards designed by local animation artists which were hand painted on acetate which we called Cel Mates. Retail was a hard road though, and to make any money you basically had to send all the work out to Asia. This has never been a business strategy for Bardel. So we changed gears and started to work for a number of different studios including Rocketship, Al Sens, and the National Film Board doing shorts, music videos and commercials. Our lynch pin client at the time was Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. Their business model was to hang out at Cal Arts and other animation schools and option student’s films. These were usually only line tests so they needed to be colored and then shot on film. We worked on some pretty cool student stuff, including shorts by Peter Doctor and Andrew Stanton of Pixar fame and others like Dave Wasson, Miles Thompson and Craig McCracken, who all went on to be successful directors for major US studios.
Our big break came about a year and a half after we opened. We were approached by a producer named Al Lowenheim from the studio Lion’s Den, which was animating a big budget TV special for Sea World called “Shamu: The Beginning”. This was a huge project for us and we went up to over 100 people and started producing everything from layouts and animation through to final color. From that point on we started to run as a full service studio catering to major US and Canadian companies. Unfortunately, for political reasons, the movie was never released. This was a huge disappointment for us of course, as we couldn’t use any of our work for promotion of our studio. Obviously, we managed to survive, as we always have… knock on wood!
During the mid eighties there was a resurgence in the animation industry after many years of turning out crap. Disney got into the TV game with Rescue Rangers and Duck Tales and Warner Bros had to keep up and produced Tiny Toons – which Bardel worked on. The Simpsons also took off and Roger Rabbit became a huge hit. The spotlight was now turned back on animation… and we were along for the ride!