Michael has earned degrees from California State University Northridge, San Francisco Art Institute, and California Institute of the Arts, in an attempt to leave behind a checkered past that included stints as an Army officer, a money manager and a studio artist and photographer.
Michael started his career on the film The China Syndrome, followed shortly by films such as Star Trek – The Motion Picture and Blade Runner. Michael received his first Effects Supervisor credit on War Games in 1982. During the very early years of digital animation and visual effects, on films such asBuckaroo Banzai and Project X, Michael innovated novel ways to integrate computer graphics with live action and traditional visual effects.
In 1988, Michael saw Kirk Gibson hit the game winning home run in the first game of the World Series between the Dodgers and the Oakland A's.
Michael produced and directed for Sony a live action and animation short which was the first demonstration of real-time integration of computer graphics with high definition video in 1989 (Symbolics and Sony HDTV).
Michael received an Academy Award nomination for Batman Returns in 1993. In that film he supervised the creation of the first photo-real computer graphic creatures in a feature film that faithfully replicated existing, living, beings (penguins and bats).
In 1993, Michael directed the first Coca-Cola "Polar Bear" spot, which may be the first public showing of a computer graphic creature with three-dimensional fur.
Michael was honored in October 2001 at the Premio Imaggine in Milan, Italy for his contribution to the art and science of digital filmmaking.
In 2008, Michael received an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects for the film The Golden Compass. The film combined live action, animation and visual effects in nearly every cut.
From 2008 to 2011 Michael headed the North American visual effects group of Prime Focus, and guided the development of a global visual effects pipeline between North America, the U.K., and India. He supervised visual effects and animation on a number of films, including the dinosaurs in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.
Michael was happy to contribute to the Academy Award winning film Life of Pi in 2012, working with BUF Compagnie on a 1½ minute sequence known as Tiger Vision, which was often cited in reviews of the film as a seminal moment in the story, establishing the strong bond between Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger.
Michael is a Professor at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and continues to supervise and consult on visual effects, animation, and 3D projects. He serves as Chair of the Division of Film & Television Production, and holds the George Méliès Endowed Chair in Visual Effects, and the Kortschak Family Endowed Division Chair in Film and Television Production. He is on the Executive Committee of the Visual Effects Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is a founding member, Board member, and 1st Vice-Chairman of the Visual Effects Society. Michael and his wife Melissa Bachrach live in Los Angeles.