With his knack for staging visually flashy blockbuster mayhem, Michael Bay became the commercial leader among a new, 1990s generation of advertising-and-MTV-bred directors. Hollywood to the core, Bay has claimed that he was the illegitimate child of a popular director of the 1970s -- although he won't reveal who -- and was given up for adoption at birth. Raised in Los Angeles, he spent his childhood staging Super-8 action movies. He studied film at Wesleyan University and the Pasadena Arts Center, where a Coke commercial he shot as a student project attracted offers to make the real thing. His Coke, Nike, Budweiser, and award-winning "Got Milk?" ads resulted in a 1994 Director's Guild nomination for Best Commercial Director. He was then tapped by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to make the kind of slick escapism that defined their 1980s heyday; Bay's directorial debut, Bad Boys (1995), became a star-maker for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.
Bay made his movie name with his second feature, The Rock (1996). While the lead trio of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris lent a modicum of class to the over-the-top story concerning treason and Alcatraz, Bay's rapid edits, mobile camera, multi-colored lighting effects, and extreme camera angles never let the narrative energy flag. Popular beyond expectations, The Rock remade the idiosyncratic Cage into a 1990s action star and put Bay on the directorial A-list. Bay's third film, Armageddon (1998), proved that The Rock was no commercial fluke. Although it was the second "asteroid" movie in three months, Armageddon's adrenalized, effects-laden exploits and a cast mixing veterans with hip newcomers turned it into one of the summer's top hits.