Jennifer Yuh Nelson

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Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Jennifer Yuh Nelson.jpg
Jennifer Yuh Nelson in May 2012 at the C2-MTL business conference
BornJennifer Yuh
(1972-05-07) May 7, 1972 (age 46)[1]
South Korea
ResidenceUnited States
Alma materCalifornia State University, Long Beach
OccupationDirector, storyboard artist
Years active1994–present
Notable workKung Fu Panda 2
Kung Fu Panda 3
The Darkest Minds

Jennifer Yuh Nelson (born May 7, 1972), also known as Jennifer Yuh, is a Korean-American director and storyboard artist. She is the director of Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda 3, and The Darkest Minds. Yuh is the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio.[2]

She won an Annie Award for Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production for directing the opening for Kung Fu Panda and was the second woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, for her work on Kung Fu Panda 2. The film proved to be one of the most financially successful films directed by a woman.


Yuh never initially intended to pursue a career in film. While in college at CSULB, she was working towards a degree in illustration. She later became influenced by former storyboard artists who visited her school. Yuh soon developed an interest in film that allowed for her to incorporate her love for cinema and illustration.

She soon earned her first major industry job at HBO. Her job as a storyboard artist for the Spawn series helped her develop and refine her skills in the entertainment industry. While working on the Sinbad and Spawn series, Yuh worked with Brenda Chapman. Chapman marveled Yuh for her ability to translate her drawings into on screen scenes. She eventually worked her way into DreamWorks Animation, where she worked on a number of films before receiving a significant role for Kung Fu Panda. She worked as the head of story and was in charge of specific scenes of the film. Nelson was in charge of the opening sequence and the "highly graphic 2-D segment that featured no CG animation" and was influenced by anime pictures. Dreamworks former chief, Jeffery Katzenberg tasked her with a sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2. This marked Yuh with her first opportunity as official director. Yuh accounts parts of her success due to her background as a storyboard artist. She believes "people have a hard time trying to anticipate what the director's thinking". But if "you can draw, you can show everyone a quick diagram". According to Melissa Cobb and Jeffery Katzenberg, Kung Fu Panda 2 was a test, to see if Nelson could handle the role. Fortunately she passed and continued to direct Kung Fu Panda 3, alongside Alessandro Carloni.

In 2016, Yuh was tasked with directing Darkest Minds, based on a novel by Alexander Bracken. This marks her debut as a director for a live action film. Shawn Levy, founder of 21 Laps Entertainment praises Jennifer for her visual sensibility as well as her natural narrative qualities. She isn't always the most experienced director, but she is very decisive and works with constant confidence. She describes her self as soft spoken, contrary to what contemporary directors are often personified as. "The perception I had was that to be a director, you had to be loud, wear cool hats, have a beard and yell 'action!'. Yuh was never any of that, she instead used storyboards to help pitch her ideas to Shawn Levy and 21 Laps.

Yuh wanted Darkest Minds to be a positive film that could leave the audience with uplifting spirit. Her goal was to create a strong emotional basis for the film. Yuh believes that emotion drives the actions and sequences of a film. Even action films revolve around some form of instinctual feelings.

After finishing up Darkest Minds, Yuh works on Michael B Jordan

As one of the few women directing films, Yuh does admit that women are somewhat underrepresented. However, she has noticed that an increasing number of women have been enrolling in animation academies. In fact, she believes female illustrators have almost always outnumbered males. Yuh describes her path is very unorthodox but she doesn't accredit it to any peculiar event.

Biography and work[edit]

Yuh was born in 1972 in South Korea and immigrated to the United States with her parents and two sisters when she was 4 years old. She started sketching and drawing at a young age, while developing an interest with 80s action movies and anime. Her favorite filmmakers were James Cameron, Ridley Scott, and Katsuhiro Otomo. Yuh spent her childhood in Lakewood, California, where she enjoyed watching martial arts movies, playing with cars, and drawing. "I have been drawing since age 3 and making movies in my head for almost as long. In fact, drawing for me was a way to express those films when I had no other means of doing so," said Yuh.[3] As a young girl, she would sit at the kitchen table for hours and watch her mother draw, copying her every stroke. As a kid, she would fancy stories with her sisters and was learning to draw to get down those stories. Yuh traces the lineage of her career to those formative family experiences.

Interested in art, Yuh followed her sisters to California State University, Long Beach,[4] where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration.[2] There she got introduced to animation, "When I was in college years later, a veteran storyboard artist came to talk to my class. He showed us how he drew movies for a living. My mind exploded. And that led to a career in animation."[3] Jennifer then followed her sisters into an animation business - at first as a cleanup artist at Jetlag Productions, where she worked on various direct-to-video features.[3] In 1997, she got hired as a storyboard artist on HBO's Todd McFarlane's Spawn series.[5]

In 1998, Yuh joined DreamWorks Animation as a storyboard artist, where she worked on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Madagascar. As a big fan of martial arts movies, she asked to work on the first Kung Fu Panda film, where she was a head of story, and directed the hand-drawn dream sequence.[4] After the release of Kung Fu Panda, Jeffrey Katzenberg, DWA's CEO, approached Yuh about directing Kung Fu Panda 2.[6] Although she hadn't expressed interest in directing the sequel to the film, Producer Melissa Cobb stated that she should direct the second one due to her excellent work on the first, to which the rest of the crew supported the decision.[7] The film proved a major critical and international box office success with a worldwide gross of $665.6 million, making it the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman, until director Jennifer Lee's Frozen two years later. She held the record for highest-grossing film by a solo female director until the release of Patty Jenkins's 2017 film Wonder Woman. She eventually became the first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film (since 2007's Persepolis) and to win the Annie Award for Best Directing in a Feature Production. Jennifer returned for Kung Fu Panda 3, which was released in 2016 and was the first American animated film to ever been co-produced with a Chinese firm.[8] In July 2016, she was also added as one of the board of Governors by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[9]

It was announced in 2016 that Yuh will be making her live action directorial debut for the adaptation of Alexandra Bracken Young Adult Novel, The Darkest Minds.[10]


Feature films[edit]

Year Title Role
1998 Dark City Production illustrator/Story artist
2002 Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Story artist
2003 Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas Head of story
2005 Madagascar Story artist
2008 Kung Fu Panda Head of story
Annie Award for Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production
2011 Kung Fu Panda 2 Director
Annie Award for Best Directing in a Feature Production
2016 Kung Fu Panda 3[11] Director
2018 The Darkest Minds[12] Director


Year Title Role
1997 Real Adventures of Jonny Quest Character Designer, Character Design, Background Artist, Storyboard Artist
1997 Extreme Ghostbusters Storyboard Artist
1997 Todd McFarlane's Spawn Storyboard Artist
1997 Spawn Character designer
1998 Spicy City Head of Stories, Visual Effects
1999 Todd McFarlane's Spawn Director, Storyboard Artist
2008 HBO First Look Herself
2012 IC Places Hollywood Herself
2016 Tavis Smiley Herself
2018 Kore Conversations Herself


Year Title Role
1994 Cinderella Assistant designer
1994 Happy, the Littlest Bunny Assistant designer
1994 Leo the Lion: King of the Jungle Assistant designer
1994 A Christmas Carol Assistant designer
1995 Alice in Wonderland Assistant designer
1995 Magic Gift of the Snowman Assistant designer
1995 Jungle Book Assistant designer
1995 Heidi Assistant designer
2003 Sinbad and the Cyclops Island Story writer
2008 Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five Storyboard artist

Awards and Nominations[edit]


  1. ^ "Yuh, Jennifer". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Sperling, Nicole (May 25, 2011). "Tough enough". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 8, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "JENNIFER YUH NELSON • DREAMWORKS". 2011-04-18. Retrieved 2011-07-11.
  4. ^ a b Hulett, Steve (January 23, 2012). "The Jennifer Yuh Nelson Interview -- Part I". The Animation Guild Blog. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  5. ^ Nusair, David. "Jennifer Yuh Bio". Archived from the original on May 26, 2011. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
  6. ^ "Interview with KUNG FU PANDA 2 Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson". 2011-05-31. Archived from the original on 2011-06-16. Retrieved 2011-07-11.
  7. ^ "Q&A with Jennifer Yuh Nelson". CAAM. January 25, 2016.
  8. ^ Young, John (August 29, 2011). "'Kung Fu Panda 2' becomes highest-grossing film directed by a woman". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  9. ^ "Academy Appoints Jennifer Yuh Nelson Governor At Large". Animation World Network.
  10. ^ Nordine, Michael (July 12, 2016). "'Darkest Minds': Jennifer Yuh Nelson of 'Kung Fu Panda' to Make Live-Action Directorial Debut with Ya Adaptation". Indiewire.
  11. ^ DreamWorks Animation (September 9, 2012). "New Distributor Twentieth Century Fox Unveils DreamWorks Animation's Release Slate Through 2016". DreamWorks Animation. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  12. ^ Howey, Josh (March 23, 2017). "Gwendoline Christie Joins YA Novel Adaptation The Darkest Minds". Empire. Retrieved April 27, 2017.

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