A Marvel-backed VFX company has been teaching VFX skills to adult students with autism. With shows like Atypical on Netflix and the upcoming The Good Doctor on ABC, characters with autism are coming closer to the forefront of our entertainment media. Even recent movies such as The Accountant and Power Rangers featured characters who were "on the spectrum." This shows a continuing movement toward depicting the greater range of autism, finally breaking out from under the shadow of Rain Man and its depiction of Raymond Babbitt's autism.
As it turns out, individuals with autism are also making progress behind the scenes in movies and TV as well. A California visual effects studio called Exceptional Minds Studio is paving the way, offering a trade school that teaches individuals with autism VFX skills and giving them the opportunity to work on major Hollywood productions such as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
PCMag toured the Exceptional Minds studio and school, discussing how the school helps its students to break into Hollywood VFX with executive producer Susan Zwerman. In addition to talking about Zwerman's 30+ years in the film industry and how she came to Exceptional Minds, they also discussed the opportunities that the Exceptional Minds school and studio offered to students. According to Zwerman:
"Our students learn everything they need to get work in the VFX business: paint -wire, rod and marker removals- simple composites, rotoscoping, monitor burn-ins, simple 2D set extensions, green screen keying, camera stabilization, end title credits and 2D animation. We also teach social skills and workplace readiness."
Students also get opportunities to work on major films as a part of their education. One student, Eli A. Katz, has worked on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: Civil War and other films during the time he's been with the studio. Zwerman said that graduates of the trade school have worked on around 50 projects so far, including productions for HBO, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Marvel Studios, Disney and 20th Century Fox. Bear in mind that the school has only been in existence since 2011 and the studio has only been operating for around three years.
Zwerman attributes a good part of the studio's success to a positive relationship with the executive producer at Marvel Studios. Saying that it took a long time to get Hollywood interested in working with the studio, she explained how they finally got the studios onboard and the important role that Marvel played:
"It took a long time. But I had deep contacts within the industry, and I kept taking meetings in Hollywood, giving tours of the facilities here every Thursday to production executives and to VFX facilities, showing them what our artists can do. Our biggest champion is Victoria Alonso, EVP, Marvel, she has really opened doors for us, not just giving us work, but connecting us with industry folks."
Finding work is a major hurdle for individuals with autism, and it has been estimated that as many as 50,000 people (or more) with the condition want to enter the workplace, but are not able to find employment. It's good to see companies Exceptional Minds Studios taking the initiative to not only provide valuable job training but also to establish connections within a major industry, for those individuals with autism who want to work.