This photo of Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson attending the film’s premiere earlier today was posted onto DreamWorks’s Twitter account. A Korean-American, she is (I believe) the first female Asian director of a major animated feature.
The lack of racial and gender diversity in Hollywood animation, particularly in the upper-tier creative positions, has always been disheartening to me, largely because the lack of different points of view is reflected in the animation that appear in theaters and on TV. It’s encouraging to see a new generation of directors, like Yuh Nelson and Rio‘s Carlos Saldanha, who don’t fit the traditional animation director mold. Here’s her official bio from the studio:
Jennifer Yuh Nelson has lent her talents to four of DreamWorks Animation’s motion pictures: 2008’s Kung Fu Panda (as head of story), 2005’s Madagascar (as story artist), 2003’s Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (as head of story) and 2002’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (also as story artist).
Prior to joining DreamWorks, Nelson worked at HBO Animation, developing various projects and short series. She has worn many hats, serving as director, story artist and character designer for HBO’s animated series Spawn, which won an Emmy Award in 1999 for Outstanding Animated Program.
Nelson’s career in animation has spanned several countries, including Korea and Japan, where she oversaw animation for HBO. Nelson has also worked in Sydney, Australia, serving as a story artist and illustrator for the live-action feature Dark City for Mystery Clock Productions.
Nelson attended California State University, Long Beach where she received a BFA in Illustration. Nelson has also published several independent comic books.
And here’s an interview with her: