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Michael Riley, Imaginary Forces (1997)

One of the titles Michael Riley is most proud of is Gattaca – Andrew Niccol‘s intelligent science fiction drama about a society in the near future where one’s social class is determined by one’s genetic profile. Genetically engineered humans -called “valids”- are favored and “in-valids” -those conceived the natural way- are discriminated against.

“Genetic coding and recording was big in the headlines at the time,” says Michael Riley. “There was a lot of paranoia, hype, and general misinformation about how human genetics would affect society. It was to the point of hysteria in some cultural circles. The tag line that said “there is no gene for the human spirit”, which Andrew Niccol wrote, was key to the theme of the film. The point was, that no amount of data can ultimately record the essence of what makes us who we are.”

The main character, played by Ethan Hawke, is an in-valid who poses as a valid, as he pursues his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, a position reserved for genetically perfect humans only. The only thing that could expose his true genetic make-up is his DNA, which is of course present in all human organic material – an eyelash, a hair, or a skin cell. The letters G, T, C and A highlighted in the opening sequence represent the four DNA bases (Guanine, Thymine, Cytosine, Adenine).

Were the images of the opening sequence created especially for that purpose?
Michael Riley:
“Yes. Oversized models were built to make the fingernails and hair look huge.”

The title were done in 1997, before the desktop filmmaking revolution. What technology did you use to create these titles?
“Film, and an optical printing bench for actual animation of the titles. Nothing digital other than Illustrator to set some type. And we created a custom font in Fontographer that changed all the G, A, T, and C’s from Mrs. Eaves to Avenir, which was helpful for the end crawl.”

Why is this one of your favorite title sequences?
“Mostly because I really enjoyed the experience of working for Andrew Niccol. He’s an amazing writer and director. I don’t really have favorite projects. Instead I like to think about favorite relationships … Design is about people, and if there are strong, healthy, client relationships, there’s a better possibility to pull off a good project. We are very lucky to have a circle of great clients that return again and again. That’s what drives our work.”

Year of production


About Michael Riley

Michael Riley is the creative director of Shine, a design studio in LA. He has been directing and designing film and television main title sequences, theatrical trailers, television commercials and corporate identity packages since 1991.

More about Michael Riley

Full credits

Title designer/director
Michael Riley/Imaginary Forces
Director (film)
Andrew Niccol

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