Nick Bolton: Perpetual motion for OMG chief

Heading up this Oxford-based technology group, he has seen its reach extend beyond films and games

The eyeball-scorching neon of Tron: Legacy blazed straight in at number one at the British box office after opening on Friday. While some criticised the storyline, fans were wowed by the blockbuster's spectacular special effects which served to flesh out the computer landscape of "The Grid".

One of the stand out set pieces, the life-or-death Light Cycle duel, was only possible with the technology of an AIM-listed company based in Oxford which has just enjoyed a record-breaking year. OMG (a reference to Oxford Metrics Group rather than texting slang) uses three dimensional mapping technology for a series of clients, and is used in many of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters. Its motion capture – or "mo-cap" in industry lingo – can also be seen in recent release The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the forthcoming Jack Black vehicle, Gulliver's Travels.

OMG "smashed expectations" when it announced its full-year results in September, according to Evolution Securities analyst Philip Sparks. It reported revenues up a fifth at £31.2m and pre-tax profits almost trebling to £3.2m. The technology company's chief executive, Nick Bolton, is bullish about 2011. His optimism can be traced to the diversity of a business that goes beyond Jeff Bridges' computerised dream world to the defence sector, road mapping and video games. And it remains strong in the roots of the business: healthcare.

OMG was formed from a management buy out of the medical devices arm of Oxford Instruments in 1984, led by Julian Morris, who remains deputy chairman. It started with two products, a back scanner and a bit of kit called Vicon – short for video converter – which it used to understand the biomechanics of the body.

Mo-cap involves recording the movement of subjects wearing suits covered in reflective spheres, and translating the data into a three dimensional digital image that can be manipulated. "The principle is essentially the same today, although we are now on generation seven of the technology," Mr Bolton said, adding that the earliest technology had "a tenth of the resolution of the worst mobile phone screens today".

In 1990, OMG focused on clinical gait analysis for children with cerebral palsy, which tripled turnover and put "almost all of its rivals out of business", Mr Bolton said. A year before he joined, the group noticed that a US rival, Motion Analysis Corporation, was doing deals in the film and games industries. Mr Bolton said: "OMG realised they were losing business in a market they didn't know they were competing in. That opportunity was already there. That often happens, and you just have to be ready to respond to that." In 1995, the company recruited him to build its entertainment arm.

Mr Bolton's background was in computing. He grew up in Cambridge, where his father was a lecturer, and remembers always being around computers like the Commodore PET. Rather than programming them, he said, "I played Space Invaders non-stop."

Graduating from Manchester University just days after Black Wednesday in 1992, he moved into the computing industry. "I've always been excited about the benefits technology can bring, rather than the technology itself," he said. One of the first major contracts Mr Bolton worked on was an advert for Munch Bunch yoghurts. "I was there putting markers on the people, calibrating the system," he said. The first film to use OMG's mo-cap, The Borrowers, followed shortly after.

The company set up a second division, 2d3, at the turn of the century, with a new special-effects kit to allow "match moving". It was first put to use in Gladiator, when Russell Crowe strides into the Coliseum. OMG's mo-cap also filled out the crowd.

Yet, by that stage, Mr Bolton had left to join Micromuse, set up by Christopher Dawes, the dot.com millionaire who died in a car crash in 1999. With money made at the management software company, he left to set up his own venture, Lexicle, with four others, spending the rest of his cash on a 3 Series BMW. He still has the beemer, but the venture quickly turned sour.

He said: "The mistakes I made were absolutely daft. It was a nasty break-up. I drove down from York, stopped in a Little Chef, and wrote down the 100 things I would never do again. I still keep the blue book."

Mr Bolton returned to OMG in 2005, as the company hit a rough patch, missing its forecasts of over £9m revenues by half. Following the death of a former mentor, and with his mother seriously ill, he was in "no mood to waste time" when he was handed the job of fixing the company just months later.

Part of his strategy was to diversify, and OMG's 2d3 arm moved into defence after it was approached by Qinetiq. While it remains the smallest division, turning over £1.2m last year, Mr Bolton said: "2d3 is in a really exciting place because this idea of intelligence from video is recognised, and we are recognised as one of the leading tech players in that space. It could have a great break-out year." Subsequently he oversaw the launch of a third arm, Yotta, taking the technology to UK roads which secured a series of local authority contracts.

In entertainment, video games remain big business – several times its revenue from film – and OMG has a hand in most of the top-selling games of the year, including Call of Duty: Black Ops, which yesterday broke the $1bn sales barrier.

Gaming houses tend to buy systems, rather than renting them as movie studios do at the group's Los Angeles space, the House of Moves. "We own the games space now," Mr Bolton said, although he added that the industry was some way off its 2006 peak. As its reach extends, the group has also won a contract to animate the characters created by comic book legend Stan Lee for the National Hockey League teams.

Mr Bolton said: "All the businesses have decent growth opportunities next year. We play in all of these different markets in all of these different geographies because there are different biorhythms to each one. We don't expect them all to perform brilliantly each year, but hopefully enough of them do – which means we deliver a growing business."

Nick Bolton CV

* Married with two children

* Has an MEng in engineering, manufacture and management from the University of Manchester.

1995 Joins Oxford Metrics as product manager after responding to an advert.

1999 Leaves for Micromuse and shortly after sets up Lexicle, which ends badly as he falls out with partners.

2002 Joins Mediasurface.

2005 Rejoins OMG and is appointed chief executive shortly after.

Interests

* Unsurprisingly, Mr Bolton is a big film fan. "Film of the year? 'Inception'," he says. "It's just tremendous."

* He has an interest in architecture, citing David Chipperfield as a favourite: "His big thing is that form matters."

* Likes sport, supports Chelsea FC.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada