Bardel Entertainment: Bringing animation to life
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Like many animation studios, Bardel Entertainment started small.
Founded in Vancouver back in 1987 Bardel’s initially produced punchy shorts for Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation, or delivered work for local commercials. However, a team with that much talent wasn’t going to stay small for long.
Annex Pro (also Head Quartered in Vancouver) is proud to have supported Bardel’s impressive growth over the years, providing its artists not only with the tools that they use, but also the necessary mentorship to master them. From fostering creativity to developing talent, it’s a reciprocal partnership maintained with one core goal in mind: delivering great animation.
Bardel’s broad slate
Bardel’s portfolio is lined with greatness, featuring such high-profile projects as Bob’s Burgers, Space Jam, and feature film The Prophet. And its contemporary work reveals a prolific studio more than comfortable with juggling wildly varied animation styles. At any one point Bardel can be found working on a variety of different animation series for a range of age groups and audiences, not to mention production partners and platforms.
At the time of writing Bardel has nine projects on its slate, including Nickelodeon favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty, Disney’s Captain Jake, and Cartoon Network’s superhero smash Teen Titans Go! – and that’s not all. Bardel is also working on four series for DreamWorks: King Julien, Veggie Tales, Dinotrux, and Puss in Boots. That’s a huge stack of prominent projects, which means the team must stay incredibly focused.
“The biggest challenge is maintaining a high level of quality while staying on schedule,” explains Bardel’s Studio CG supervisor Chris Browne. “Clear communication on all levels is crucial, as well as a solid workflow and having access to the technical tools that allow us to get there with minimal effort on grunt work. That way we can focus all of the artist’s time on being creative and doing the best work that they can.
“Working in a studio with over 500 artists on many different projects, each having their own unique style – that’s a lot to wrangle,” he adds. “It’s as thrilling as it is challenging!”
Staying on point means breaking down each project and episode before diving in, working out what each endeavor will require – whether that’s talent, tools, or training. It’s here that Annex Pro plays its part, supporting Bardel in sourcing the right software and providing experienced industry advice.
“For every episode we work on, we go over a storyboard animatic that depicts all of the action from script time to audio,” says Browne. “We’ll discuss technical difficulties and what we will need to build in order to achieve them, and break down the assets that need to be generated by the artists both on a creative and technical level. We also discuss effects, rigs, and any other unique elements that we need to pay attention to before we roll into production.”
Making Mack & Moxy
Bardel also recently worked on a brand new TV show with an inspiring message. Mack & Moxy is developed alongside American Public Television and Georgia Public Broadcasting. It’s designed to teach kids about charity, giving back to the community, and having compassion for everyone around them. The show partnered with a number of charitable organizations for the first season, including American Red Cross, World Wildlife Fund, and Feeding America.
It’s a crucial message for young viewers, delivered through a mix of CG animated sequences, live-action characters, and celebrity appearances by the likes of Rachael Ray and Josh Duhamel.
As you might expect from a public television show about giving back, Mack & Moxy didn’t have an extravagant budget, but it did have high aims. Bardel wasn’t about to settle for anything but its best work.
“It was a massively ambitious show on a limited budget,” affirms Browne. “I’m super proud of how the team adapted to changing demands and came up with creative solutions to solve problems. The payoff of that investment was that our clients were extremely happy with the work we did.”
One example of this cost-effective approach to animation is found in Bardel’s method of FX creation. Various episodes required FX such as misty clouds, or a volcano filled with bubbling, viscous lava – not just in one or two shots, but throughout entire episodes.
“These types of effects are difficult enough on their own, but near impossible to be included in every shot on a TV schedule,” says Browne. “However, by creating internal proprietary tools to make things more efficient we were able to achieve this very effectively. Marrying the creative and the technical in this way, even on very challenging projects, makes the job so rewarding.”
Consider that such challenges are spread across numerous ongoing projects and a very large team, and you have a sense of the consistent level of challenge that Bardel’s artists face. But they see it as a positive; a source of motivation that fuels their work and makes them even better as a team.
“Bardel offers the opportunity to work at a high level with people who are very enthusiastic about the work they do, and help each other to grow professionally and personally,” says Browne. “We all feed off each other’s enthusiasm and ambition to do the best work that we possibly can.”
Bardel’s drive shows in the work, not to mention the number of major suitors vying for their time and talent. And it has also come in the form of industry recognition, with designer Chad Weatherford winning an Emmy for his work on Dinotrux, and director James “Wooty” Wooton receiving an Emmy nomination for King Julien. The studio also earned rave reviews for its work on The Prophet, directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King).
Bardel Entertainment uses a variety of tools for its diverse slate of projects, including Maya, NUKE, Mudbox, MARI, V-Ray, Shave, and Maya XGen. Browne has also scripted custom tools throughout the pipeline to assist the artists on an everyday basis, ensuring each software is a perfect fit for their processes.
Annex Pro’s “exceptional and professional service” makes them an ideal ally for Bardel in this regard. “The Annex team are easy to reach out to and accessible when it comes to assisting with any issue,” says Browne. “That’s the great thing about them – Annex Pro has a great working relationship with the assorted companies we interact with and their respective sales teams. They’re an excellent contact in working with these teams and others, even going as far as to offer such services as coordination for product training.
“Annex Pro also does a lot for Bardel by bringing in industry professionals to do presentations for the artists; to share knowledge; to mentor; and to teach,” he continues. “I also appreciate what they continually do for the industry. They host many events and mixers that everyone at Bardel has benefited from.”
This level of assistance has left a strong impression on Browne, who previously ran his own smaller studio before joining up with Bardel. Even with the shift from small to large, Browne has continued to see the benefits Annex Pro delivers to its clients, from a wide array of products to support, training, and more.
“Before I joined Bardel I ran my own VFX and animation studio for nine years; it was a small company of 40 artists, but Annex Pro always treated us like we were number one,” he concludes. “What’s really commendable is that that feeling has not changed now that I’m at a company with over 500. Annex Pro are always there, always ready to help. All I can say is one big ‘thanks!’”