Female Filmmaker Friday: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, First Woman to Solely Direct an Animated Feature

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"As an artist, often they see the work before they see me, and then they would assume a hard-drinking, smoking, eighty-year-old man drew it."

Jennifer Yuh Nelson is an American director and storyboard artist.

Nelson and her family immigrated from South Korea when she was four. Growing up in California, Nelson fell in love with drawing and films, particularly martial art films. The two would often combine as she would imagine stories in her head and draw them on a page. These early loves developed into an enthusiasm to continue them in her career. While in school at California State University, Nelson majored in illustration. During one of her classes, a storyboard artist came in and spoke about his profession. Realizing she could combine her two passions into one career, Nelson started her journey in animation.

In 1998, Nelson joined DreamWorks Animation as a storyboard artist. She worked on many animated films, such as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and Madagascar.

Being a fan of martial arts, Nelson requested to work on the film Kung Fu Panda. She worked as head of story and directed the dream sequence. Having impressed her superiors, Nelson was asked to direct Kung Fu Panda 2, which became an international success and led to Nelson also directing Kung Fu Panda 3. She became the first woman to solely direct an animated feature film from a major Hollywood Studio. Nelson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

In 2018, Nelson will be making her live-action film debut with the film The Darkest Minds. The film focuses on a group of teenagers who form a resistance in an adult world that fears anyone under the age of eighteen. “I just felt it was time. I had explored plenty in animation. I wanted to do something different to learn.”

Be sure to watch this interview with Jennifer Yuh Nelson about being pushed through the glass ceiling: