Nelson: Helmer’s fare not just escapist, but ‘transporative’

Women's Impact Report 2011: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

The only 2 associated with “Kung Fu Panda 2” seems to be in the title: With the DreamWorks Animation blockbuster, Jennifer Yuh Nelson became not only the first woman to solely direct an animated feature for a major Hollywood studio, she’s also the highest-grossing female director at the global box office — “Panda 2” having collected $645 million worldwide.

But making a big deal about such milestones seems as odd to Yuh Nelson as having reached them at all. “During the making of ‘KP2’ no one thought about it,” she says. “I think that’s the really nice thing, actually, that it’s gotten to where people forget that. It wasn’t a big deal.”

Not that she isn’t happy for the attention. (“It helps bringing the focus on how much things have changed.”) But Yuh Nelson, who served as head of story (as well as “dream sequence director”) on the first “Kung Fu Panda,” is more focused on exploring the visual potential of bigscreen animation. When “KP2” was released, critics sparked to the choreographic vigor of Yuh Nelson’s action sequences, several citing “Kung Fu Panda 2” as a justification for 3D itself.

“I think you can make something very escapist and very grand in animation,” she says. “You can make something transportive, something which takes you to another place and lets you experience something new. It’s a wonderful opportunity to do that, going to a really cool place.”

Given the time demands of animated features, Yuh Nelson says some of the “Panda” crew had been together 7 1/2 years, requiring that she create an atmosphere of optimum creativity and harmony.

Yuh Nelson, who emigrated from South Korea at age 4 and studied illustration at Cal State Long Beach, says the good old boys’ image of animation persists. “I never encountered that myself, and I’ve been working since ’94, so it’s been a while.”

Title: Director
Role model: “My Mother”
Career mantra: “Create an environment where everyone can do their best work.”
Leisure pursuits: Videogames and drawing
Philanthropic passion: Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter