Yeon Jin Lee is an Asian American filmmaker and a film / TV production graduate student at USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). Born in South Korea, she immigrated to the United States with her parents and her younger brother at the age of twelve. Her family settled into a small two-bedroom apartment in Southern California, a stark contrast to her life in an affluent suburb in Jakarta, Indonesia, where her family lived prior to immigrating to the United States.
After spending a high school summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts as part of the MIT Women’s Technology Program, Yeon Jin entered UC Berkeley as an electrical engineering and computer science major. At Berkeley, she found herself pulled towards computer graphics and CG animation because it combined her love of art, storytelling, and technology. She did her undergraduate research at the Berkeley Graphics Lab, and co-authored a finite-element method based simulation paper that was accepted to SIGGRAPH. She joined Pixar as a computer graphics research and technical director intern, where she helped develop their first GPU-based, real-time particle renderer. Her Pixar internship was sponsored by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences Sci Tech Council, and through this organization she met many inspiring live-action filmmakers that deeply influenced her decision to pursue live-action, narrative filmmaking.
After graduation, Yeon Jin accepted a full-time computer scientist position at the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center. During her five years there, she supported NASA Analog Missions in the Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho, Pavilion Lake in Canada, and lava beds of The Big Island, Hawai'i. Through participating in these field tests and leading software development for the Geocam Space project, she learned that her favorite part of the job was collaborating with a large group of creative and passionate professionals while pursuing a common goal in a new environment, a scenario that mirrors film production. Her dream is to lead a group of people, in the same way a principal investigator leads a NASA mission, towards making films that provoke questions, inspire positive action, and engender compassion through sharing lived experiences.
While working at NASA, Yeon Jin took classes at the De Anza College on film production and screenwriting, and attended the ASC Master Class to learn about cinematography. Armed with the knowledge she gained from these courses, she made her first short film called Driving While Undocumented. Her film, based on her friend’s true story, is about an undocumented student and his encounter with a law-enforcement officer. This film garnered several festival acceptances including to the Gainesville Latino Film Festival, 100% Manusia Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, Stella Adler Short+Sweet Film Festival, Irvine International Film Festival, and HollyWeb Festival. During her first year SCA, she has made a film about a female engineering student at her first programming interview, and another about an undocumented student’s struggle. Her goal is to create powerful films about the feeling of being a woman in technology, and about the complexities being a first-generation immigrant in the United States.