Jennifer Yuh - Darkest Minds director

Following the lead of other animation directors like Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton, Kung Fu Panda series filmmaker Jennifer Yuh Nelson will attempt to make the transition to live-action films. Nelson, the Oscar-nominated director of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3, is set to make her live-action directorial debut with Darkest Minds, a planned new franchise at 20th Century Fox. Hit the jump to learn more about the Darkest Minds director and this sic-fi adaptation.

Yuh started as an assistant on a a bunch of direct-to-video animated movies for Goodtimes, before becoming a Character Designer on animated television shows like The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest and HBO’s Spicy City. She landed at DreamWorks Animation around the turn of the century and  worked her way up the ladder. She started as a story artist on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and then head of story on Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Kung Fu Panda. It was with Panda that she was given her first shot at directing, helming the dream sequence in the original 2008 film.

She made her feature directorial debut with Kung Fu Panda 2, which at the time was the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman (director Jennifer Lee’s Frozen broke that record two years later). She was also one of two directors on Kung Fu Panda 3. While this will mark her live-action directorial debut, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the first time Yuh has worked on a live-action film project — she was a production illustrator and storyboard artist on Alex Proyas’ 1998 film Dark City.

The Darkest Minds books

So now that you’re interested, you’re probably wondering, “What is this project that Yuh is making for Fox?” The movie will be an adaptation of the young adult book trilogy by Alexandra Bracken in which a pandemic kills most of America’s children and teenagers, leaving some survivors with superpowers. The first book of the trilogy follows a 16-year-old with telekinetic powers who escapes from a government interment camp and joins a group of teens on the run. Here is the official synopsis from the book cover:

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control. Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her-East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

The book can be purchased online for around $6. I’m not the biggest fan of the YA genre, but I’m a fan of Yuh’s work and am very interested to see what she is able to accomplish in the live-action medium.  Shawn Levy will be producing the film adaptation through his 21 Laps company, and Fox is hoping to make this another franchise, of course. If you’re interested in Yuh, I present you with a lengthy interview conducted by David Poland in 2011:

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