Interviewing Idols: Michael Rigley

Emmy award-winning Los Angeles based motion designer, Michael Rigley, has been a freelance artist in the industry for over 10 years, working alongside some of the brands and clients in the world. For me, he’s an absolute legend in the industry, and I’ve been following his work for 4 years now!

Michael is a world-renowned designer whose graphics and concept art have contributed to some of the most innovative design projects of the past 10 years. I mean he’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry; Adobe, Dolby, Audi, Nissan, Acura etc… and not only has he worked for the biggest brands, but also the biggest agencies; GMunk, The Mill, Blur, Framestore… the list just goes on and on!

After Effects Splash Screen

Why does he inspire me?

Michael is a designer that has constantly been in my PC’s ‘Inspiration’ folder, and with the amount of work he has done it’s clear to see why. Michael’s portfolio seems endless, with an incredible project after another. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he is just one person!

Michael has a signature style that is consistent through his work, which has of course developed since his early freelance days, but his old work really doesn’t look out of place today! Lots of geometric design, that always gives a futuristic vibe to his work; and mix that with his awesome animations, and you’ve got yourself some amazing work. You can see that Michael is truly passionate about the work the produces, and how much he enjoys creating it. He mentions this on this website that he loves projects with creative freedom, and the ability to create his own vision for the client.

Not only is Michael a freelancer, but he is also a teacher! His course on Learn Squared is highly regarded as a must-watch for people wanting to get into motion design. It gives an insight into Michaels’ process and the design principles he uses daily to create his artwork (link will be at the end of the interview!).

I absolutely adore Michael’s style, and with myself starting to get more and more interesting in After Effects, Houdini, and general CG Animation, it’s safe to say his work is a huge inspiration for me. Being at the top of an industry as a freelancer is something we all would love to achieve, and few actually get there. Michael is one of them.

Style frames developed with Gentleman Scholar for the Audi Q7 virtual cockpit spot —

The Interview Part

1. Hey Michael! Who are you and how you started your journey into the world of design?!

I decided to attend the CCA in San Francisco, following its graphic design program. At the time, the program was mostly a traditional print design program but focused heavily on ideation and concept. Throughout college, I noticed that most of my design work was based on temporal concepts, the images wanted and needed to ‘move’. I also started to discover more and more motion graphic work that was representative of the type of work I wanted to create. So, I started learning as much software as possible. At every avenue, I tried to marry my obsession with motion graphics and animation with the design projects assigned to me.

My senior thesis film was successful enough to have me easily transition into professional work. I started freelancing immediately and have since never had a full-time position. I’ve been freelancing for about 10 years now. I definitely needed to learn a lot about working in the real world but all the foundations I developed as a student in both design and software were instrumental in my momentum post-university.

Frames developed for various projects while contracting at Autofuss / Bot & Dolly —

2. Could you give some insight into your creative process?

The process starts as a collection of ideas — casting a very wide net. I try to pull in as many concepts as possible, creating mood boards, mind maps, and writing out the ideas in detail. That evolves into sketches, thumbnails, and sequences. During this process I’ll start making style frames as well, moving back and forth from the computer to rough sketches. When an idea is new, you can discover a lot by trying to rough out visuals digitally. For me, working digitally allows a process of discovery that I don’t get when I write or sketch. That idea of a happy accident.

I like to think of it as exploration though. You’re basically taking your technical skills and building on the computer. During this process, you enact your design and conceptual skills to recognize when you’ve arrived at something meaningful. It’s a marriage of physical and mental capability and becomes a process of real-time self-critique that can lead you to some beautiful and new discoveries. And for me, working digitally is the easiest way to get into this state of making.

This process is guided by the concepts you’ve laid out beforehand. But this stage of ideation is the most interesting and rewarding for me. It can also be the most stressful as you’re invested in the ideas and creating more than you are at any other point. But once you have a well-formulated look and concept those ideas are expanded to the rest of the narrative.

Then I move into production. Production often looks the same unless new media or techniques are being used. But for typical animation, I follow a more industry-standard approach of, boardomatic, animatic, playblasts, lighting, rendering, comping, etc… Adding incremental improvements to each shot along the way until the piece is complete. This process can be a nice break from the thinking in the concept phase. Your skills become largely technical problem solving while still engaging with creativity through pieces like editing, music, kinetics, etc. So there are still discoveries, but for me, this part of the process is more about bringing the idea to fruition rather than finding new ideas.

Design and Animation work for Studio Tendril — Intel X Ferrari —

3. I know you’ve worked on some amazing projects, and with some amazing brands! Got any favourites?

I also really like Zero Days VR where I worked as the Lead Concept Artist. For the project, I had a ton of creative freedom and I love some of the visual outcomes.

(Charlie here! I’m a huge fan of the FITC and Zero Days work. The Zero Days project especially shows off Michaels’ style in buckets. It’s just brilliant, and I encourage you all to check out the project ASAP!)

4. Where do you get your inspiration for projects? Who inspires you!

Pitch frames for Filmograph, 2018 —

5. What are some of the largest challenges you had to overcome during your artmaking process? How did you come to terms with these difficulties?

I’m trying to find more time for personal projects these days so I can maintain that creative outlet. But it can be hard to find the time and burn out is a real thing. It’s tough when the work you love becomes a commodity.

Random ‘ Odds & Ends’ from various projects that weren’t finalized —

6. Do you have any big designs in the works or anything that excites you about the future of your career?

Still Frames for Intel Autonomous —

7. What is your passion besides Animation/CGI work?

Design, 3D and Comp for Legendary Pictures —

8. Do you have any advice for young people trying to get into the world of Animation or 3D Design?

Dolby Dimension Look Development —

9. I loved your work for Dolby, it looked like a very fun project to work on!

10. Thank you for taking part in this for me Michael! It’s been great having the chance to talk to you and learn more about you and your process!

If you haven’t seen his work before, I urge you to go check it out! Michael is one of the very first designers I referenced in my own design work, and it was truly an honour to talk to him. He was one of the people who inspired me to pursue 3D design, has he inspired you to check it out?