Exceptional Minds Digital Arts School for Young Adults with Autism Makes the Hollywood Rounds

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Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., Film Roman, DreamWorks, Titmouse, and others lend their expertise as part of Exceptional Minds’ three-year digital arts program taught by movie industry professionals and adapted for the special needs of individuals with autism.

Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum

When we called on the industry to give of their time, we were overwhelmed by the response and the genuine interest in our students.

Exceptional Minds digital arts vocational school for young adults with autism has been making the Hollywood rounds these past few weeks in order to help prepare its first graduating class for careers in the highly competitive fields of digital animation and post-production.

Executives from Sony Pictures Imageworks and Warner Bros. Animation recently visited the school as guest lecturers, as did key animators as well as a recruiter from Film Roman animation studio. Exceptional Minds students – all on the spectrum and preparing for careers in the digital arts -- also met with staff and crew at DreamWorks Animation, Film Roman, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Titmouse Animation, and Big Screen Network Production in the past two months. In addition to lecture speakers and studio tours, four Exceptional Minds graduating students and an instructor recently worked on visual effects for upcoming blockbuster movie American Hustle, earning them screen credit for their contribution to the film.

This recent activity is all part of Exceptional Minds’ three-year digital arts program taught by movie industry professionals and adapted for the special needs of individuals with autism. “We have reached the point in our program where our students have met most of their program certification requirements and are now continuing their education outside the classroom. When we called on the industry to give of their time, we were overwhelmed by the response and the genuine interest in our students,” said Susan Zwerman, one of the co-founders of Exceptional Minds who is also an established visual effects producer and recipient of the 2013 Frank Capra Achievement award.

Guest lecturers Sam Register, Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs at Warner Bros., and Ken Maruyama, Vice President, Global Academic Relations for Sony Pictures Imageworks, spoke to Exceptional Minds students of the skills involved in the creative process and offered tips for developing an effective portfolio. Animators at Film Roman studio took the students through a typical project for their client The Simpsons, and detailed the job functions involved. Outside the school, third-year Exceptional Minds students went behind the scenes at Sony to see a movie in development and view new film footage not yet shown to the public. At DreamWorks Animation they got to see the typical development of a movie, from script to voiceover.

Next month, Exceptional Minds students will visit ShadowMachine, Method Studios and Nickelodeon plus bring in a guest from Cartoon Network Studios. “Most of this can’t be taught in the classroom and it’s helpful for the student to visualize how they can develop their careers,” said Exceptional Minds instructor Laura Robinson, who was a production intern at Cartoon Network Studios and Film Roman and who happens to be high-functioning on the autism spectrum.

Since opening its doors in 2011, Exceptional Minds has grown from a small school with nine students to almost triple the enrollment with a move into an expansive new facility. Eight students will be the first to graduate from the new facility in June 2014, most leaving the program with film credit for their title work on the 2012 movie Lawless and/or detailed visual effects work on major motion picture American Hustle. All will have achieved proficiency in six software applications considered the gold standard in the digital visual effects industry, including at least three Adobe applications. Some will pursue their dream of working for a post-production or 3D animation studio in nearby Los Angeles based on the skills and experience learned at Exceptional Minds. Others will pursue contract work through the Exceptional Minds Studio, a working studio run separately from the school that will open next year for graduates pursuing independent contract work such as 3D film conversion (rotoscoping), visual effects cleanup and other graphics and animation post-production or design work in demand. Exceptional Minds digital arts academy for young adults on the autism spectrum is a 501(c) (3) charitable organization.

About Exceptional Minds (http://www.exceptionalmindsstudio.org): Exceptional Minds is a non-profit vocational center and working production studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. It was chartered in 2011 to provide the training necessary for creatively-gifted individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who may not otherwise be able to make the transition from high school to careers. Exceptional Minds offers technical proficiency and work readiness training that prepares students for careers in graphic arts, animation, web design, visual effects and rotoscoping. Located in Sherman Oaks, California, Exceptional Minds is both an instructional learning facility and a working studio with hands-on student involvement in production projects, many for the film industry.

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