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Riley Really Shines

Riley Really Shines

Michael Riley 91 GD knows firsthand that TV productions move exceptionally fast.

Michael Riley 91 GD knows firsthand that TV productions move exceptionally fast. But even he was impressed when filming the opening title sequence for the Fox and ABC hit Modern Family. A caravan of charismatic actors rolled up to set, readied themselves for the shoot and delivered spot-on performances with surprising efficiency. Within minutes, they each jumped back in their vehicles and departed at breakneck speed en route to their next assignment.

“We only had 20 minutes to get each shot of title sequence,” Riley told the crowd of students and others who came to hear him speak in the RISD Auditorium on Wednesday, November 20. “The crew moved so fast that they could have been mistaken for mechanics in a NASCAR pit.”

As the founder and creative director of Shine, a motion graphics studio in Los Angeles, Riley is deeply engaged in the entertainment industry, producing film and television main titles for shows such as The Newsroom, The Millers, Raising Hope, The Goldbergs and many more, along with marketing, branding and commercial graphics for films like Kung Fu Panda, Pitch Perfect, Footloose and others. He and his small team work with big-name clients such as Paramount, Fox, Dreamworks and high-profile ad agencies. “Film is a collaborative medium,” he notes. “It takes a team to execute anything.”

In addition to discussing his professional coups, Riley visited RISD at the invitation of Professor of Graphic Design Franz Werner to serve as one of the judges for stop-motion videos made by sophomores in his Form and Communication course. “Students loved his optimistic presentation,” Werner notes. “And they learned that the future is promising for those going into the profession of graphic design.”

When Riley was still a student at RISD, he discovered the appeal of motion graphics during an internship at Tibor Kalman’s famed M&Co. in New York, where he worked under the direction of the late founder and appreciated how he used typography as a thoughtful, expressive medium in making a Talking Heads music video. It was commonplace for the young designer to pull all-nighters working on creating beautiful, socially conscious graphic design projects that merged commercial art with masterful typography. And it was Kalman’s stalwart rejection of mediocre design that eventually inspired Riley to start his own company.

Landing first at R/Greenberg Associates in New York after graduation, the California native moved on five years later to become creative director and a partner at Imaginary Forces in Hollywood. In 2005 he launched Shine in the garage of his South Hollywood home, inviting Bob Swenson, formerly the head of production at R/GA Digital Studios in New York, to run the business side of the studio.

During his presentation at RISD, Riley spoke about his thoughtful approaches to several recent projects that have made a memorable mark in the industry. For the opening title of Temple Grandin, a compelling biopic released by HBO Films in 2010, he incorporated scans of actual drawings by Temple Grandin, an autistic woman (played by Claire Danes) who used her visual genius to lobby for the humane treatment of livestock destined for the slaughterhouse.

“The walls of Temple Grandin’s boarding school dormitory were plastered with her drawings,” Riley says. “It looked like a scene from A Beautiful Mind, so we thought it would be appropriate to share some of those sketches with the audience.” The approach paid off, earning Shine a 2010 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Main Title Design.

Shine was also behind the opening title of Too Big To Fail, another HBO Films project that earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Main Title Design. The 2011 film presented a chilling look at the financial and political factors that led to the disastrous downfall of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “We animated these moving, monolithic shapes to help convey a contemporary American history lesson,” noted Riley. “It was the most intense editorial project I’ve ever done.”

Before wrapping up his inspiring talk, Riley explained that many of his current projects are completed using inexpensive computer software, a dose of creativity and a determined resolve to see an idea come to fruition. “I learned at RISD that any idea can be executed – if you’re resourceful,” he said. “Anything is possible.”

–Abigail Crocker