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How Exceptional Minds connects adults with autism to animation skills

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A great cause meets great animation at Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational school and working studio for young adults with autism based in Sherman Oaks, California. Recently, the students have been practicing the animation principle of anticipation as they get ready to learn Toon Boom Storyboard Pro.

“I can’t wait. What’s really drawing me in is that it will let us do animation all in one program,” enthused Jacob Lenard, a third-year student at Exceptional Minds vocational school.

“I had some exposure to Toon Boom when I was interning at Nickelodeon. It’s very fluid, very easy to control,” agreed Michael Yochim, who graduated from the vocational school in 2016 and went on to work on the Nickelodeon series Bunsen is a Beast. He is also a regular contributor at Exceptional Minds animation studio and like Lenard, is a talented animator who happens to be on the autism spectrum.

Both have created their own animated series. Yochim’s bandana-wearing cat in Gatto’s Heist has received a large fan following as has Lenard’s series based on the adventures of Mugman, an endearing character who wears a coffee mug. There are 26 Mugman episodes that have received up to 12,000 views each on YouTube. 

 

Exceptional Minds is the only nonprofit vocational school and working studio for young adults like Yochim, Lenard and others on the spectrum who are pursuing careers in 2D animation or visual effects. Along with providing image cleanup on movies such as Black Panther and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it has also created 2D animations for the Los Angeles Zoo, Sesame Street Foundation and NPR music composer BJ Leiderman.

Storyboard Pro will be installed at Exceptional Minds within the next few months and get introduced into the school’s curriculum as early as fall 2018, thanks to an education grant by Toon Boom that includes software and training worth over $8,500.

“What convinced us it was time to switch to Toon Boom Storyboard Pro was when Kelly Crews (producer of Adventure Time and Samurai Jack) did a presentation at the school one afternoon and mentioned that Cartoon Network was using Storyboard Pro,” said Howie Hoffman,  Exceptional Minds animation studio creative director.

  

Hoffman has directed and art directed for Nickelodeon’s Doug series as well as worked for Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network, among others. Not long after the Crews presentation, he was introduced to the Toon Boom team by Dani Bowman, a young adult animator with autism and friend of Exceptional Minds who has worked professionally in the industry since the age of 14.

“Everywhere we turned, people were talking about Toon Boom,” added Hoffman.

For Michael and the other artists at the Exceptional Minds animation studio, Storyboard Pro will drastically streamline the creative process by allowing the drawn panels to be easily revised as well as for timing to be applied directly to the storyboards – a process that is repeated dozens of times before the project even reaches the animation stage. The studio’s artists will also be able to make revisions and animate all in one seamless program.

For students in the vocational school, Storyboard Pro will add to their collection of software applications and help prepare them for future careers in animation.

“There is a huge renaissance in animated content now, and this population is especially adept at creating what I think is essential to a good animated short or series—a parallel universe that is similar, but quirkier than ours. When we give these uniquely abled individuals the right tools to express these parallel worlds, like we will be doing with Toon Boom, the result is uniquely original content,” said Hoffman.

This story was written by guest contributor Dee McVicker and edited by Philip Mak. If you would you like to contribute to the Toon Boom blog, please email pmak@toonboom.com.

Banner image source: Jacob Lenard via Exceptional Minds YouTube.   

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