BlueBolt VFX supervisor Henry Badgett gives us an insight into his working life, and his advice for those at the start of their careers

What’s the best thing about working at BlueBolt?

The people – some of my best friends! Also we have a very smart new office which I’m excited about getting back into after WFH.

What have you been working on recently?

Becoming Elizabeth, a period drama for Starz about the young Elizabeth Tudor.

What inspired you to work in visual effects?

Specifically, a couple of the films that came out when I was at uni – The Matrix and Gladiator.

Tell us about your career path; how did you get to where you are now?

I studied architecture at Manchester University, during which time I realised I didn’t want to be an architect but did want to do something with a similar skill set and working day.

What are the main responsibilities of your job role?

Translating client requests into team actions, and giving feedback on work.

What do you spend most of your time doing?

Reviewing my team’s work and bidding new projects.

What do you need to be good at in your job?

Patience! With both machines and people. And an eye for detail.

What were your career goals when you started out, and how did these change as you progressed?

Starting out I wanted to have my name attached to the biggest films that my friends and family had heard of! Now my goals are more modest and personal – to make a success of a project whatever size it is, and whatever current client/staffing/pandemic shitstorm is going on.

What are the benefits of learning lots of different disciplines? What would you say to someone who is set on specialising early on in their career?

Do specialise if you want to – the industry needs specialists and generalists. But if you drifted into a certain discipline, make sure you try another as well in case it’s a better fit for you. You should do what you enjoy and are good at. If you do specialise, make an effort to be aware of the needs of other disciplines.

What’s the most challenging part of your role?

Long hours on set when nothing is happening.

What’s the most rewarding part?

When a client is genuinely surprised or impressed by what we have done for them, and even more if it solves a problem that they were struggling with; perhaps something in the cut that was a low point for them that we can turn into a highlight. And also when you see something on screen years after you completed it and you can enjoy it with fresh eyes.

What kinds of projects do you most like to work on?

Something fresh, a genre or a period I haven’t worked in for a while.

What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started working in It?

Well recently, that’s obviously the work from home situation. Hopefully we can maintain some hybrid situation if security allows.

Who or what has most influenced your career and why?

The real answer to that is probably high speed broadband rollout and the streaming boom that followed. Aside from that it would be my supervisors at MPC in the 2000’s – such a strong talent pool and so much for me to learn.

What show/exhibition/film has most inspired you recently?

“The making of Rodin” at the Tate last year. This was a deep dive into Rodin’s creative and technical process that I loved. I’m fascinated by how different artists and creative disciplines use different processes to produce work, and by trying to find the dividing line between art and process or craft.

What project are you most proud of?

Probably the plane crash we did for the opening episode of season 1 of Cobra for Sky. It hadn’t originally been written as something visible on screen, and by the time this was requested the deadline was extremely close. It was a tough decision to say we could do it in that timeframe. It was exciting to see it come together so quickly and I was happy with what we managed to deliver.

What do you miss about being in a less senior role?

Apart from the blissful ignorance of not knowing how far behind schedule my show is, it’s compositing that special shot that has the perfect mix of creative input from me and confident direction from my supe’ and clients.

What skills are most needed in the industry today, and what do you think will be most needed in the future?

Right now with the WFH situation, being a self-starter is a valuable skill.

And for the near future, it’s clear that AI or machine learning is just getting started in VFX contexts; driving the AI will be a valuable skill.

What sort of soft skills are valuable in VFX?

I think that the longer you are in a VFX career, the more important your soft skills become. A lot of us are natural introverts in this industry because we choose to work first with the computer. If you’ve had feedback that you need to work on communication (and this would be advice to my younger self), don’t worry about cleverly analysing the work or whatever – just communicate for the sake of it. Tell me how great your favourite coffee shop is or how the building works opposite are going. Until you feel comfortable with that level of chat you’re not really in the team!

What strategies do you have for coping with the pressure of your work?

This is related to the last question: get to know your colleagues away from work, then it’s much more pleasant to spend all that time at work with them.

Also I do something active nearly every day so my body doesn’t go rusty – I play tennis and go climbing if I have time, or 20 mins of yoga if I don’t. 

What’s your advice to artists for creating a killer showreel?

Ask your producer to assign you to work on cool shots as soon as you see them come in – it’s not a weird request, it shows you are interested. If the answer is no, try and get a sense of what you need to do to prove yourself for the next time to be a yes.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

The bar you have to pass to get your work finalled is set at a certain height. Usually this is not at the maximum height because of time pressure in the studio or lack of experience from the client or whatever. But you are the artist – don’t make that bar your goal, aim higher. Delivering above the bar will fast track your career. 

And one for my discipline (comp) in particular: visit a large screen cinema and sit near the front. Doing that always sends me out of the cinema with my standards cranked up.

Tanya Combrinck
Author: Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 15 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq.