Growing up, Jennifer Yuh spent plenty of time drawing and perfecting her animation style – yet she never imagined that she would one day pursue a career as an animator. Jennifer’s childhood was devoted to a variety of normal activities and pastimes, and she would often get together with her friends to watch all kinds of movies – including those with an emphasis on fighting. In the production notes for Kung Fu Panda, Jennifer explains, “I used to watch martial arts movies all the time. Hong Kong action movies are always really fun. I grew up with them.”
After graduating from high school, Jennifer enrolled at California State University’s arts program – which ranks Steven Spielberg and Steve Martin among its alumni. She eventually received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration and immediately began looking for work in her newfound field. It didn’t take long before Jennifer was hired by a small animation studio called Jetlag Productions, which allowed the struggling animator the opportunity to learn the ropes on a series of direct-to-video fairy tale titles (including knockoffs of Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book).
In 1997, Jennifer got her first taste of mainstream success after she was hired as a storyboard artist on HBO’s Spawn television series. The show, based on Todd McFarlane’s best-selling comic book, afforded Jennifer the opportunity to try her hand at animation of an adult-oriented nature, and it wasn’t long before she was asked to direct a handful of episodes by the program’s producers. From there, Jennifer managed to land a coveted gig as a production illustrator on the highly-anticipated 1998 sci-fi drama Dark City – which featured appearances by such well-known actors as William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly.
Though she was making a good living as an animator, Jennifer was still harbouring dreams of someday working for one of the big three animation studios (Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks Animation). In 2002, Jennifer managed to take the first step towards realizing that goal after she was hired as a storyboard artist on the traditionally animated DreamWorks drama Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Jennifer’s creativity and tireless work ethic won over her bosses at DreamWorks, and it wasn’t long before she was being offered bigger and better gigs within the studio – including jobs on 2003’s Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (as the head of story) and 2005’s Madagascar (as a story artist).
In 2008, Jennifer was asked to fulfill three roles on DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda: Story artist, head of story, and contributing director. (For the latter, Jennifer took the reins of the movie’s elaborate opening dream sequence.) Jennifer’s stellar work on the film not only landed her an Annie Award for Storyboarding in a Feature Production, but it also led DreamWorks head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg, in an interview with Fortune Magazine, to label her “a triple threat.” (He went on to say that Jennifer is "one of the quietest and most refined people; and then she kicks ass like you wouldn't believe.")
Jennifer’s growing esteem in the ranks of the DreamWorks executives led to her biggest opportunity yet, as she was asked to direct 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2. This immediately placed her in the small yet elite group of female animation directors, and marked the first time that a woman had directed a DreamWorks Animation production solo.