THR's Women in Entertainment 2011: Power 100
Nelson doesn't come across as terribly impressed with herself. Her last movie hit it big, she says, because "we got to explore these characters more deeply. Everyone working on the film -- the cast, the crew -- knows these characters so well. And everybody has such a great time doing it."
That's the case with a lot of movies and probably a lot of sequels. But not every movie sees the same scale of success as Kung Fu Panda 2: With worldwide box office of about $650 million, the animated 3D sequel to the 2008 original has become the highest-grossing film directed by a woman.
Nelson started early. "I've been drawing my whole life," she says. "My mom says my sister and I were drawing by age 1. Animation seems a real, natural extension of drawing as a way of telling a story visually."
Before working on the sequel, which had Jack Black voicing the titular panda alongside Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Jackie Chan, Nelson, 39, was head of story on the original Kung Fu Panda and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and a story artist on Madagascar and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
She also has worked as an animator in Australia (on the live-action feature Dark City), Japan (overseeing animation for HBO) and Korea, where she was born and lived before moving to Southern California as a child. Even with all of that preparation, the former Cal State Long Beach illustration student remembers the jolt of her feature directorial debut on Panda 2. "Something I found a little scary is that there are so many people looking to you for your guidance and thoughts," she says. "Hundreds of people over several years, hoping you won't waste their time. A lot of the time in animation is spent getting the story right -- that's something you can't rush."
Because moviemaking is more a marathon than a sprint, it's important to Nelson to have "enforced downtime," which includes hanging out with her husband and nephews and playing video games. She also donates to the Burbank Animal Shelter. "I think it's not healthy just to limit yourself completely" to working all the time, she says. "You need to have a balance. It gives you perspective."
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