Creative Industries: Seven of the best for Britain

Lightworks stays at the cutting edge
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LIKE many of the best businesses, Lightworks was born of an intuition. The operation started in 1990 after Paul Bamborough, a trained psychologist turned film maker who had made his fortune building up and selling an audio manufacturing company in the 1980s, came to the conclusion that recent developments in computer technology could revolutionise the way in which films were post-produced and edited.

At the time, editing of film by broadcasters or movie studios generally involved either physically cutting and taping together different sections in the case of traditional films, or copying from machine to machine in the case of video. Both, particularly the latter, were time-consuming and cumbersome. The method used by the system he dubbed Lightworks transformed the process through allowing any part of the picture and sound to be accessed immediately and put together any way the editor chose.

Though it was clever, the system was not unique in this respect. Where it differed from everything else available was in being very easy to use. Although it relied on computer technology, it did not require its operators to have any great familiarity with computers and technology. As a result, it quickly began to take off in broadcast studios around the world, as well as in Hollywood, where more than 400 films have been edited on various Lightworks systems.

Mr Bamborough began the project thinking the idea would cost about pounds 250,000 to develop, but it soon soaked up about pounds 2m. It became clear after four or five years that it would attract much greater investment if the company, based in London's Soho Square, was able to meet demand and expand. In particular, he was concerned that the niche in which Lightworks was operating would soon vanish as the technology improved.

While making plans for a stock market flotation, he happened to meet representatives from Tektronix, a long established US company with a reputation for innovation. Tektronix was looking to move into the video market, and decided to buy the company under a deal that would keep him and his colleagues involved.

Three years later, Lightworks is ensconced in state-of-the-art offices a short way away but still in the heart of medialand, and is designated as an "engineering excellence centre" for Europe. About 70 people, including 25 engineers, work there, constantly developing the software that allows the film and television industry to keep upgrading the quality of editing and special effects they can put on screen.

Michael Topic, engineering manager, explains that having a London operation of this sort gives Tektronix a great advantage because the south-east of England has one of the highest concentrations of talented software engineers outside California. "It's worked very well for us because we've been able to apply much greater resources to our core skills," he says.

By resisting the temptation to move out of central London, the company has made sure it maintained the strong customer focus that gave it the advantage over its rivals in the first place. Trevor Morecraft, managing director, adds: "We have 150 customers and potential customers within a quarter of a mile. If you want to try out ideas, it's a walk around the corner, and so you are able to have a rapid turnaround."

And, though he now spends most of his time in the US, Mr Bamborough's influence and creativity are still very evident in London. He is now working on the follow-up development of the Lightworks VIP system, of which nearly 200 examples have been sold around the world in the past year.