Variety Honors ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 10 Animators to Watch

Jennifer Yuh Nelson Jack Black
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The animation industry turned up to celebrate two biz vets and a new class of budding talent at Variety‘s second annual 10 Animators to Watch event Tuesday night at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood.

DreamWorks Animations’ Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who most recently directed “Kung Fu Panda 3,” was presented with Variety‘s creative impact in animation award by “Kung Fu Panda” star Jack Black.

“Behind that gentle, quiet voice is a fiercely powerful creative mind,” the actor, who kicked off his speech with a brief rendition of his Nickelodeon theme song, said of Yuh Nelson. “It should also be noted that Jen is indeed a woman, and as fantastic as the industry is, historically it’s been pretty male-dominated. Jen has helped change this, blazing a trail for others to follow.”

Yuh Nelson, the first female to solely direct a Hollywood animated feature, used the podium to commemorate the colleagues who helped her reach her potential as a female animator.

“It wasn’t what I did, it’s what everyone around me did,” Yuh Nelson said. “I had an entire village of artists, professionals, actors and executives who everyday created an environment where I could forget what I look like or sounded like. Everyone just looked past the artist and focused on the art.” If you see a woman thriving, look at the environment that she’s in.”

California Institute of the Arts’ Maureen Furniss was feted with Variety‘s creative impact in animation education for her contributions to the academic study of the art form. Furniss currently heads CalArts’ experimental animation program and teaches animation history courses.

“It’s important for students to understand the history of their art forms so they can see how they fit into that longstanding tradition of animation,” said Furniss. “However, I think it’s also important to be critical about this history and really evaluate the past and see how to change the future and push representations into different terrain, through the characters and stories being told as well as the individuals who are guiding those developments.”

Variety‘s 2016 crop of 10 Animators to Watch — Frank Abney, Seth Boyden, Carl Faruolo, Nina Gantz, Ian Jones-Quartey, Adrian Molina, Fletcher Moules, Kevin Parry, Makoto Shinkai and Alyce Tzue — were later welcomed to the stage by Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos.

Presented by Nickelodeon, the event was complete with a caricature station, a cartoon-themed cocktail menu and special appearances by Chuckie and Angelica of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats.” “Rugrats” co-creators Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky, Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami, and “How to Train Your Dragon” producer Bonnie Arnold were also in attendance.

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