Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Kung Fu Panda Director

What I do

I am the director for Kung Fu Panda 3. Basically, what a director does is run an entire crew of around 400 people to make a film.

How I got my job

I actually started as a storyboard artist, which is an artist who draws the early, rough sketches for an animated movie. Because I was the supervising storyboard artist for the first Kung Fu Panda movie, they asked me to come back and be the director for the second and third films.

What I love about my job

What I love is that I get to work with amazing artists who show me beautiful things every single day. In every animation meeting we went to on the Kung Fu Panda films, each department showed me something original that I hadn’t seen before. In an animated film, we have to build every single thing from scratch: the sets, the characters, the background – they have to be designed. Seeing that created by our artists is truly inspiring.

What’s the longest you’ve ever spent in the storyboard stage?

Storyboards almost run throughout the whole movie and are where we usually make our mistakes – it’s an ongoing process. The longest I’ve ever worked on a storyboard was four years.

What skills do you need?

You have to understand how to tell a story, how to create characters and how to get an emotional connection between characters and audiences. Writing skills and drawing skills are very important, too. Unless you have a good vision of what you’re trying to say, I don’t think you can communicate it with other people if it’s not drawn or written.

Where to start

Watch a lot of movies; it helps. If you’re a big fan of the movies, see what you naturally gravitate towards. Take the time to understand why you like a certain type of movie.