VoyageLA Feature Article

Thank you to everyone at VoyageLA for the post on VoyageLA Magazine’s site featuring people and businesses in the Los Angeles area. Below is the text from the interview.


Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Riley. Michael, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?

I’m the creative director at Shine, a design studio in Los Angeles, focusing on design and branding for film and television. Our mission is to create highly evocative visual experiences that push the boundaries of the imagination through engaging design, animation and live action. My background is in graphic design – I studied at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. After I graduated, I worked for several years at R/GA, beginning in New York. At the time the company was doing lots of film title sequences, and visual effects and interactive design, pushing technology in the service of design was at the core of the company mission, which excited me. It was like boot camp for anyone interested in the intersection of design, film, broadcast, and visual storytelling. To further pursue entertainment work, R/GA opened a small office in Hollywood, which is part of what led me to Los Angeles. Being entrepreneurial was always something interesting to me. In high school I had watched my dad start what became a very successful business, starting in our family garage. I always really admired that, and I am so thankful that I was at an age where I was able to witness it and kind of understand what he was doing. He guided me, encouraging me as I started my own t-shirt silk-screen company in the garage (after he moved to his first office space!). So then in 2005 I did the same, in the garage in my house in Hancock Park. My wife Laura is a successful attorney and I often credit her as Shine’s angel investor! There would be no way Shine could have off the ground without all her support and encouragement. Plus, the name of the company was her idea! So, in the beginning, I just started working on one project at a time. Bob Swensen (the executive producer at Shine) and I had worked together on many projects in New York and Los Angeles, so we were a great fit to work together again. With a small team at Shine, we’ve gradually grown Shine’s reel and client base, one project at a time. Shine has been designing in our current studio space on the sixth floor of a great old Los Angeles Art Deco building on Miracle Mile for the last 12 years. I absolutely love every day I have the privilege of designing at Shine.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Someone smarter than me once said, if you’re going to design something, do it with all your might. Someone else said that any design project is a gift – so treat it that way. I try to follow that advice every day. The pretty side of being entrepreneurial is that one can enjoy the satisfaction of the design work you have the privilege to create. The flip side of that is that, ultimately, any failures are your fault. Even if you try to put the blame somewhere else, the ship in yours. That makes the highs really high and the lows really low. All said, we’ve been lucky to enjoy a pretty good batting average at Shine. The hardest thing its sales, always. We often pitch to win projects. I think a pitch is never done in vain – it’s an opportunity. Winning is part of the business, but so is losing. One important thing is to learn from our failures. When we can do that honestly, we improve and we’ll often do a little better the next time!

Please tell us about Shine.

Each day we strive to design the best ideas, expertly executed every time with an easy and enjoyable experience for our clients. Our mission is to create highly evocative visual experiences that push the boundaries of the imagination through engaging design, animation and live action. We’re known for designing title sequences for film and television, branding for entertainment, as well as motion graphics and live action for commercials, websites and live events. What I’m most proud of is our client base. We have been very fortunate to have amazing, creatively driven, repeat clients that bring us incredible creative opportunities. We work very hard every day to continue to continue to earn the trust given to us by our clients.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?

I grew up in Palo Alto, California. My favorite memory from childhood was spending countless hours drawing. Sometimes in my room by myself, sometimes with friends that liked art too. I could get lost in drawing for hours, and not notice where the time went… In high school, my sport was biking. I would spend afternoons hill climbing on Page Mill Road in the mountains above Palo Alto. Those are great memories!

What is “success” or “successful” for you?

There are a few criteria. I define success by the quality of the work Shine is producing. If we’re producing a creative piece that we’re proud of, that’s success. Another element would be, was it a positive experience for our client? If it was, that’s another notch on the side of success. Another would be, did we push ourselves in some way? In other words, did we push our own boundaries creatively or technologically? And lastly, did we surprise ourselves or our clients in some positive way? That last one is a little harder to quantify, but it’s something I think about as a way to evaluate whether we’re pushing ourselves.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?

My luck is being surrounded by an amazing family, great friends and hardworking colleagues, that have all given support in countless ways!