After the war, Michelson became an illustrator. He worked on magazines while attending the Art Students League of New York before moving on to Chicago and Los Angeles, where he illustrated movie posters. He ultimately became an illustrator for Columbia Pictures before being traded to Paramount Pictures, where he worked as illustrator and storyboard artist on The Ten Commandments, among other films. He then worked as a storyboard artist on Ben-Hur for MGM and Spartacus for Universal Pictures.
Throughout the remainder of the 1960s, he worked as either illustrator or storyboard artist on such classic films as West Side Story, The Birds, Cleopatra, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. During the 1970s, he was an illustrator for films like Fiddler on the Roof and Cross of Iron; in the 1980s, he worked on Firestarter and The Cotton Club and was a visual consultant on the 1986 remake of The Fly.
His career as an art director started in television, beginning with NBC's Matinee Theatre and moving on to such programs as Gomer Pyle, USMC and The Andy Griffith Show. He would go on to serve as art director on several films, and also began working as production designer with the 1971 Cannes Film Festival Jury Grand Prize-winning film Johnny Got His Gun, all the while continuing his career as an illustrator and storyboard artist.
Michelson shared his first Academy Award nomination for his production designs on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, contributing to the interior and exterior design on the newly refit USS Enterprise. He shared a second nomination for his art direction on the 1983 film Terms of Endearment. He also worked on two films for Mel Brooks, first as production designer on History of the World: Part I and later as art director for Spaceballs. Michelson's other art direction credits include the films Mommie Dearest, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Dick Tracy.
In more recent years, Michelson served as a consultant for producer Danny DeVito on films such as Hoffa and Death to Smoochy. In 1999 Michelson was honored with the Art Director Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2002, he received the Outstanding Achievement in Production Design award from the Hollywood Film Festival.
Michelson died at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement home in 2007.
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