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Exceptional Minds Students Contribute to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Exceptional Minds students and staff pose with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves during Wednesday's screening of the movie.
Exceptional Minds students and staff pose with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves during Wednesday’s screening of the movie.

Seated among the cast and crew for Wednesday’s screening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at the Zanuck Theater, Los Angeles, were six crew members from Exceptional Minds – an L.A.-based digital arts academy for young adults with autism.

Exceptional Minds and its students have contracted out visual effects and other postproduction skills for five other productions in the past three years, including recent Oscar-nominated film American Hustle and the 2012 motion picture Lawless.

“Upon meeting the students, and seeing all their inspired work and devotion to their craft, I knew they would be a great fit for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” said Ryan Stafford, the film’s visual effects producer with 20th Century Fox. The Exceptional Minds team completed the work “on time and of the highest standard of quality.”

For the 3D format feature, Exceptional Minds students completed 43 shots of tracking marker removal that involved paint, roto, tracking and cleanup work – all in stereo.

“We owe our success to the support and encouragement of those in the industry like 20th Century Fox, who see the value in what our students can produce,” said Susan Zwerman, job developer with Exceptional Minds and a visual effects producer with Crystal Rain Media Entertainment.

Exceptional Minds is a 501C nonprofit vocational school started in September 2011 by professionals in the movie industry to help young adults with autism transition from high school into meaningful careers in the digital arts. The unique school prepares students for careers through professional accreditation and real work experience in the movie industry, including technical training for Adobe (ACA) certification, job readiness skills and a professional reel/portfolio that graduates can use to seek employment in the fields of animation, computer graphics and visual effects.

In June, the six students who worked on the film were part of the first graduating class of Exceptional Minds. All are pursuing careers in postproduction or other visual arts fields, and several are gaining additional experience on contract with the Exceptional Minds Studio (EMS) co-located with the school. EMS operates independently of the vocational school to provide stereo conversion (rotoscoping), visual effects, computer graphics, title work and animation services.

According to a recent study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, one in three young adults with autism have no job experience or college or technical training after high school graduation.

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