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My first boss: Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, of Bafta-winning CGI specialists BlueBolt

·7-min read
Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, left, and fellow BueBolt founder Angela Barson are leaders in the VFX and CGI industry
Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, left, and fellow BlueBolt founder Angela Barson are leaders in the VFX and CGI industry. Photo: BlueBolt

Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor is CEO and co-founder of BlueBolt, the London-based and leading visual effects and CGI company. It is the first VFX house run and owned by women, and it has a multi-million pound turnover.

The Bafta-winning company was founded in 2009 and almost immediately landed the contract to provide the effects for Game of Thrones Season 1. Bluebolt has since worked on films and series such as Peaky Blinders, The Night Manager, Snow White and the Huntsman and Great Expectations.

It was one hell of a ride working for theatrical agent Duncan Heath. At the time he was the biggest agent working outside of Hollywood.

In my native South Africa, my mother told me to learn to type and be a secretary, but it was the last thing I wanted to do. But after working as a production secretary, I decided to try my luck in England and set upon the BBC. I failed my spelling test and then, with six weeks left on my ticket back, I answered an Evening Standard advert for a PA to the chairman of a film company.

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I had been told by a friend not to work for Duncan as he was renowned for being tricky, but this was like a red rag to a bull and I knew then that I wanted the job. I walked down Wardour Street and the interview lasted five minutes, as Duncan told me he had a cousin in Pretoria and he liked the fact I was South African.

He was eccentric, shrewd and had an incredible way of driving you nuts, yet you had this huge respect for him. He looked after the likes of Derek Jacobi and Michael Crawford, as well as Mick Jagger and David Bowie for their TV work. He was the grounding of who I became and I learnt that the film industry was not only full of nonsense but one with huge scope of where you could go.

Co-founders Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, left, and Angela Barson at the Women in Film and TV awards in 2018 where BlueBolt won the business achievement award. Photo: BlueBolt
Co-founders Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, left, and Angela Barson at the Women in Film and TV awards in 2018 where BlueBolt won the business achievement award. Photo: BlueBolt

Duncan used to swear like a trooper and I have taken on that mantle. He is still incredibly respected and he was a springboard to my career in the UK, while I have since always thrown my hand up in the air if I made a mistake. I just used to look at the bright side of things.

At the time, Duncan put Ian McShane on Lovejoy and Jimmy Nail on Spender but he was also opening a production company and being producers on the shows. He was the first to make people step out of the career they were already doing.

One of our directors was called Mike Newell and we had to read endless scripts. Mike always trusted me and told me to read one over a weekend where the first seven pages of dialogue was ‘f***’. I thought it hilarious and told Mike to do the film. It was Four Weddings and a Funeral.

I walked into Mike's office when I started my visual effects company 25 years later when Mike called across the office and said, ‘This is the girl who started my career.’ It’s nice to hear when big time success stories remember the people who have helped them.

All of that came from working with Duncan, who drilled into me that nothing was impossible and never to be afraid of failure.

His eccentric, flippant manner led me to opening an account with a declamping unit in London as he used to drive this incredible four-seater, 1971 Mercedes and park it anywhere. He would phone me up and say, ‘Darling, I don’t know where the car is.’

English actress Hilary Dwyer (1945 - 2020) with her husband-to-be, talent agent Duncan Heath, UK, 31st October 1973. Together they founded talent agency Duncan Heath Associates.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Duncan Heath and his girlfriend (later wife), Hilary Dwyer, in 1973. Together they founded Duncan Heath Associates. Photograph: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

I worked for him for 18 months before moving to the BBC as I missed being on a film set; my film production career then took off for 10 years before being headhunted and going into visual effects.

When I started BlueBolt with my business partner, Angela Barson, in 2009 we were the only two women who owned a VFX company in the world. There were a lot of men who didn’t want us on the horizon and we had to work under the radar. But Duncan had told me that I could do anything I wanted.

We are one of the well recognised VFX facilities in London and we are now very busy after everyone stayed at home and watched everything during the pandemic, coupled with the rise of streamers like Amazon and Apple, which didn't exist when we started the company.

It’s been a hell of a ride and, now in my fifties, we are a part of a very exciting industry which never stands still, thanks to the growing technology and the demands of clients. It’s simply a privilege to work on some of the best series in the world.

Game Of Thrones, Series 1, Episode 10, Fire and Blood. Emilia Clarke as Daenerys. (HBO)
BlueBolt produced the special effects for Game Of Thrones, Series 1. Photograph: HBO

Our forte was working in both film and television, the latter being heralded as the poor second cousin at the time with little budget. We were six months old when we landed the VFX for the first season of the Game of Thrones. We didn’t know how huge it would be and we created the baby dragons and the huge ice wall.

As we were a small and nimble outfit back then, we could do things very well without complicating it, like doing 2D over 3D. We had four months to finish 10 months of television for Games of Thrones and when Season 2 came calling we had to say 'no' to HBO. Yet it was a huge springboard for us and in Hollywood we were known as the company ‘which did castles very well’. We were also at the forefront of taking good film quality effects into television and that’s what I am most proud of achieving.

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All our management team is female, our creatives are male but it’s exciting to see some incredible young women coming through willing to do very technical stuff. Our section of the industry is great for a work-life balance, too. When I was doing production you could be doing 100 hours a week and away for nine months of the year. At BlueBolt, you are working on great shows and it’s more family friendly than lots of the other sides of the industry.

If I could, I would do more to beat the drum and get more people into the visual effects industry. It’s not widely known enough in the UK and how much of a forefront leader we are of VFX in the world.

We could have better tax breaks but our industry is growing and the amount of film studios being built is enormous. At the same time, there is a lack of people knowing there is a very good career in film and television in the UK. It used to be so closed off back in the day where you fought to get into and it was who you knew.

Now we have to change that perception, where it’s set in schools and more courses at our universities. It’s happening slower than the industry is growing and there is a real talent shortage here. At BlueBolt, we are forever hiring people who can learn on the ground, whatever their skills.

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