Jennifer Yuh Nelson may not have imagined herself sitting in a director’s chair in Hollywood but the brains behind the latest Kung Fu Panda film certainly seemed destined for a career in animation.
Nelson was born in South Korea and emigrated to the US with her family when she was four. It was there, in Lakewood, California, that she spent hours sitting around the kitchen table with her two older sisters watching and learning from her mother as she drew.
Some 35 years on, Nelson is not only indulging her childhood passion but by doing so has become the first female to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio.
“I used to love animation, what kid doesn’t,” says Nelson over the phone from Sydney, where she lived for five months some 14 years ago while working as an illustrator on the 1998 neo noir sci-fi film Dark City.
“Working on something like Kung Fu Panda where you can create an entire world and make a movie around it is really quite a joy.”
The softly spoken Nelson served as head of story on the first Kung Fu Panda film and also directed the opening sequence – a two- minute hand-drawn 2-D segment inspired by traditional Chinese shadow puppets.