John Nelson graduated with high distinction from the University of Michigan in 1976 with a Bachelors in General Studies. After college, he made several films that won awards at film festivals and moved to California in 1979 to work for Robert Abel and Associates, first as a cameraman, then as a technical director and finally as a director. He was nominated for Clio awards six times, winning twice. In 1987, he moved to Germany to help set up the German company Mental Images GMBH. Upon returning to the US John went to work for Industrial Light & Magic where he animated several key scenes in Terminator 2 (1991), most notably where the shotgunned head of the chrome terminator re-seals itself.