Meet the Exceptional Minds Who Worked on Oscar-Nominated ‘Doctor Strange’

Our Talent for Good series explores how organizations can invest in and collaborate with their communities by using team members’ talents for good. We pair innovative people and technology with non-profit organizations to invest in the arts and promote creativity. Discover more about how we’re inspiring creative confidence in kids in Giving Life to Kids’ Monstrous Imaginations.

Oscars acceptance speeches are as unique as the people who deliver them. There’s one common thread, however, and it’s an acknowledgement of the talented team of people who contributed to the success of the film.

Even though we’re not making an acceptance speech, there’s one particular team we’d like to recognize this Oscar season – the artists at Exceptional Minds Studio, an Adobe partner, worked on a few visual effects (VFX) for “Doctor Strange,” which is nominated for an Oscar for VFX this year.

Exceptional Minds is a one-of-a-kind vocational school and professional studio staffed by young artists who have autism. Since its founding in 2011, Exceptional Minds has helped its students and graduates pursue careers in the fields of VFX and animation. Its graduates, many of whom go on to work in the Exceptional Minds Studio, have racked up credits on Hollywood blockbusters like “Captain America: Civil War,” “Ant-Man,” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and on major productions like “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.” They’ve created original animation for “Sesame Street” and other clients; five Exceptional Minds graduates are working at professional studios including Marvel; and 13 are at work in the Exceptional Minds Studio on projects similar to “Doctor Strange.”

The curriculum at Exceptional Minds emphasizes technical visual effects, such as marker removal, split screen composition, and end-title work, as well as animation using Adobe tools, so we’ve had the chance to support them, get to know them and cheer them on. During a recent visit, David Simons, senior principal scientist at Adobe, gave the students and teachers a demo of Adobe Character Animator. “As an audience, they were fantastic,” says David. “They were totally engaged, inquisitive and asked lots of insightful questions. It was great to see how quickly they picked everything up.”

David noticed what a lot of people notice about students at Exceptional Minds: they are deeply focused. That’s part of why computer animation and VFX work are such great fit for them — many of the students are gifted in their ability to pay close attention to detail. The program doesn’t just help them deliver excellent work; it also proves that the right training can uncover the creativity of young people with autism, and build a bridge between high school and adult independence through meaningful employment.

While more companies are beginning to recognize the value of hiring employees with autism, as recently reported in Monster, there’s still a big gap. An estimated 90 percent of adults on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. This means they have a hard time becoming independent and their stability and self-esteem suffer, which is why programs like Exceptional Minds are so important.

“We provide the resources for our students to pursue and hold meaningful careers, but they provide the drive to succeed,” explains Ernie Merlán, the executive director at Exceptional Minds. “When they can take their part in the working world, finding acceptance and confidence, society as a whole succeeds.”

While Michelle Crozier, Adobe’s director of corporate responsibility, also believes it does amazing work for its students, she sees their work as a win for the professional film community and movie goers as well. “Like any project, movies are made exponentially more interesting and relevant when a diverse group of people bring their unique talents and perspectives to the creative process,” she says.

Whether or not Doctor Strange gets an Oscar this Sunday, the Exceptional Minds team behind it is certainly pushing the industry forward – as any good Academy Award recipient should. That makes them winners regardless.