Autism Crew for American Hustle Anticipates New Exceptional Minds Studio (EMS) for Returning Movie Post-Production Jobs to U.S.

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Young adults with high-functioning autism could be the nation's answer to an increasing volume of high-tech work going overseas. That's the premise of the Exceptional Minds Studio, which is opening up this year to provide post-production services by autism professionals, including members of the crew that worked on American Hustle.

If I can contract skilled, dedicated workers here who can do the same work, and often better, why not? This is an underutilized group of hardworking people who like the work and are good at it, plus production companies often get the tax benefit.

A new studio opening up in Sherman Oaks, California, is expected to return movie post-production work to the U.S. by taking advantage of an untapped resource: young adults with high-functioning autism.

Exceptional Minds Studio (EMS), an offshoot of Exceptional Minds digital arts academy, was established last year to begin post-production services by professionally certified young men and women who happen to be on the autism spectrum.

EMS will provide services on a per-project basis by skilled video effects professionals who have completed the three-year vocational program at Exceptional Minds digital arts academy for young adults with autism. The studio’s grand opening will take place in June to coincide with Exceptional Minds’ first graduating class, many of whom have worked on a variety of projects and films as part of their training.

Blockbuster motion picture American Hustle as well as the 2013 film Lawless are among their recent projects.

“The way things are in motion pictures now, a lot of this type of work gets farmed out to independent vendors offshore in India or Indonesia or China. But, if I can contract skilled, dedicated workers here who can do the same work, and often better, why not? This is an underutilized group of hardworking people who like the work and are good at it, plus production companies often get the tax benefit for contracting them,” commented Robert Hackl, who subcontracted Exceptional Minds as the supervising visual effects producer for American Hustle.

Exceptional Minds digital arts academy, with a current enrollment of 50 students, is a non-profit 501(c) (3) charitable organization. EMS operates independent of the vocational school to provide 3D film conversion (rotoscoping), visual effects cleanup and other graphics and animation post-production or digital design work in demand by the industry. Post-production houses, web developers and others contract directly with EMS for skilled talent on a project-by-project basis.

“EMS gives us a way to pool the collective skills of our graduates and manage projects as needed for the industry,” explained Yudi Bennett, the Director of Operations for Exceptional Minds who, like most of the others on staff, has experience in the movie industry. Bennett is a recipient of the Frank Capra Lifetime Achievement award; Exceptional Minds staff and instructors have worked for Disney, Universal and Nickelodeon, for example. Actor Ed Asner is on the Exceptional Minds advisory board.

“For some of our students, contract work may be more suited to their skills and the way they like to work. Even for our students who go on to full-time employment, EMS will give them an opportunity to specialize in areas and gain experience in a managed, controlled environment before they commit to a career or company,” added Bennett.

Graduates of the Exceptional Minds program are proficient in at least six software programs considered to be the gold standard in the digital visual effects industry; all graduate with Adobe ACA certifications. The graduates also have working experience in the field.

For American Hustle, for example, their work involved applying state-of-the-art compositing and pre-comp techniques for both simple and more complex 2D application. “They handled several shots in the movie that required rotoscoping, the painstaking process of outlining and isolating key elements or characters so that background details can be digitally manipulated or changed altogether. The fact that the work was performed at such a high professional standard by young autistic adults is, I believe, a win-win for everyone, including the studios,” said Hackl.

Currently, an estimated 90 percent of individuals with autism are unemployed or underemployed.

About EMS and Exceptional Minds ( 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. 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. Operating separately and independently, the Exceptional Minds Studio (EMS) provides contract services in web design, animation, rotoscoping and visual effects cleanup on an as-need basis.

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