At the Semel Institute’s Open Mind lecture at UCLA last week, a team of animators from the Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults with autism presented a short video based on the life story of bestselling author and guest speaker Ron Suskind, who managed to connect with his non-verbal autistic son Owen through a most unusual mediator – Disney movies.
Suskind is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist whose latest book Life, Animated chronicles his family’s journey into the world of Walt Disney in order to communicate with his autistic son. During Tuesday’s Open Mind lecture series, sponsored by UCLA’s Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, he spoke of his life as a journalist who interviewed U.S. Presidents by day. By night, he tried to reach his son whose singular interest in Disney movies eventually provided a bridge between the two.
The Suskinds’ story was captured in a video tribute set to the music and theme of Lion King with original animation drawings arranged by a team of Exceptional Minds animators, led by program graduate Arielle Guthrie. The team included students Matthew De Lorimier, Mason Earwood, Syd Fox, Michael Yochim, Ezra Fields-Meyer and Andrew Turney, who are themselves on the autism spectrum and also hold a special affinity for animation in their own struggles with autism.
Minutes after viewing the short for the first time, Suskind spoke of his now-adult son’s passion to bring back the art of original animation drawings similar to that used in the Disney movies of his youth, such as The Little Mermaid. “I want to thank these Exceptional Minds for that original animation,” said Suskind. “Owen will love it.”
Exceptional Minds is the only vocational school of its kind preparing young men and women with autism for careers in digital animation, visual effects and similar careers in the movie industry. The school is known for its close working relationship with the movie industry. Exceptional Minds graduates and students have worked on major motion films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, American Hustle and Lawless.