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Alum combines artistic side, technology skills for television career

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
Wed, 06/20/2018

Jennifer Kahn’s ’08 creativity blooms through her pens and pencils – and also through her cameras and her computer, where she creates videos, graphics and other visual elements for television shows.

If you’re watching a show on USA Network — Suits, Shooter, The Sinner, Mr. Robot, Colony, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. or Psych: The Movie — chances are you’ve seen Kahn’s work. As a senior designer, she is involved in creating the visual identity for new shows, as well as designing animations and motion graphics for ongoing shows, promos and sometimes advertisements.

Kahn recently visited Cornell for reunion weekend 2018 and talked about where she first learned how to combine her love of creative pursuits with her interests in technology and science.

“Second semester senior year (at Cornell), I took a class in 3D animation and that’s when I totally fell in love,” said Kahn, who started out in fine arts and premed, ended up majoring in English and took a lot of classes in film theory and production. The summer between her junior and senior years, she interned at M360 Entertainment, a production studio in Westchester. She joined that staff full-time after graduation before landing a job at USA, where she’s been for nine years.

Starting out as a junior designer, Kahn often worked on creating the credits or the “lower thirds” sections for television shows, the promos or explanation text you see on the lower part of the screen. Now she is often involved in the creative process of visually branding a show in its infancy, often more than a year before it will air.

That process involves massive amounts of research and brainstorming, Kahn says. Her staff explores ways to make the visuals for a show authentic to its setting, time period and mood; works with producers to determine what visuals would appeal to the target audience; scouts out other shows that are similar; and, once the show starts to air, partners with USA’s digital and social media teams to find out what people are talking about online. 

Even though her job is mostly creative, “you always have to tie what you’re doing to the research,” she said.

In her spare time, Kahn creates illustrations for various online sites, such as Buzzfeed and Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, and keeps alive her love for drawing by taking part in such challenges as the 100 days of drawing. (Check out her Cornell reunion drawings on her Instagram!)

A member of the Arts & Sciences Career Connections Committee, Kahn leads the committee’s media group, planning twice yearly events in New York City to connect students to alumni in various media careers.

“I had such a weaving path at Cornell that it’s nice to talk to students who don’t know yet what they want to do,” she said. “I also enjoy meeting the other alumni because it’s such a diverse group in all areas of media.”

Getting a start in the industry can be difficult, Kahn said, so she tells students about remaining persistent and hopeful throughout the process. She applied to every single company she could find on a media industry wiki site and went above and beyond what was expected when she landed her first job.

“If you’re just starting out, you need to be willing to put in the extra work and do something really awesome. That will make a difference,” she said. “Or take on the extra work that no one wants to do. No one just gives you the responsibility, you have to be willing to put in the work."