Jennifer Yuh Nelson immigrated to the United States from South Korea with her parents and two older sisters when she was four.
She went on to graduate with a degree in illustration from Cal State Long Beach. Her sisters both worked for an animation house, so Jennifer joined them, starting her career making photocopies.
After working as an assistant designer on animated videos, she joined DreamWorks in March 1998 as a storyboard artist on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. She quickly moved through the ranks to become head of story on Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and on Kung Fu Panda, which went on to receive Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Animated Feature Film. She was asked by producer Melissa Cobb and DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg to direct the opening sequence of the latter movie, and her work showed them she was ready to direct a feature film.
Jennifer made her feature film directorial debut with the sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, becoming the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio.