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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Exceptional Minds Makes Video for Mitsubishi

To mark its 30th anniversary, the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation didn’t want to do a self-promotional video as it had done in the past. Instead, the Washington, D.C. area foundation turned to Exceptional Minds, a Sherman Oaks nonprofit that trains young people with autism for careers in the entertainment industry.Kevin Webb, senior director at the foundation, said the idea of the video was to showcase what it does, which is support nonprofits providing jobs to young people with disabilities.Combining live interviews with animation, the five-minute “What is Your Superpower?” video features current and former students of Exceptional Minds discussing how the academy has helped them and the role the foundation plays in that.  The foundation had contracted with the academy prior to the coronavirus outbreak and had done all the interviews just prior to the shutdown that sent everyone at the nonprofit back to their homes, Webb said “The artists were working remotely developing this beautiful piece for us and demonstrating their competencies and capabilities through that video,” he added. “It is a great testament to Exceptional Minds’ ability to adapt.”Exceptional Minds started in 2011 and opened its in-house animation and visual effects studio three years later. Since then, it has provided training and jobs to hundreds of young people with autism.David Siegel, the executive director, said the organization is at the nexus of disability equity and inclusion and workforce development,   adding that it is all in a skilled field concentrating on the digital arts and animation. The studio has done work for Walt Disney Co. and its Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm subsidiaries; Warner Bros. Entertainment and its Cartoon Network cable channel in Burbank; and ViacomCBS Inc., through its Nickelodeon cable channel with operations in Burbank. Graduates of the program currently work at both Marvel and Nickelodeon, Siegel said, adding that the studio has worked on every Marvel Cinematic Universe film since 2016 to the present. “We are doing real work for these companies that are also helping provide the pathway to employment for our students and graduates,” he added.People come to Exceptional Minds from across the country. The organization generally serves between 200 and 300 students year-round in a three-year full-time training program as well as in a summer workshop, weekend and after school programs and through specialized one-on-one tutorials. It graduated 40 students this June and employs about 15 of them in the in-house studio.Siegel described the students as being “incredibly creative, incredibly thoughtful and incredibly focused,” a trio of qualities that allows them to be wonderful creators and makes them good for visual effects work.“It allows them to look at projects differently, all those problems differently and get to the results that our partners and the creators are looking for,” Siegel said. “There are skills or jobs that may be of more interest to folks (with autism) or that they have more aptitude for,” Webb added. “The key is finding that aptitude and what are their interests and trying to match that with career opportunities.” The Mitsubishi foundation got connected with Exceptional Minds when its program officer met the development director of the Valley nonprofit in 2016 at a conference. The foundation encouraged the academy to apply for some money, Webb said. “He thought it was a great model to think about vocational training for young people with autism leading to careers and jobs in the Hollywood industry,” he added. “We thought it was an interesting approach and we like to find those model programs with the idea of how they can be a model for others.”Exceptional Minds is committed to partnerships such as the one it has with Mitsubishi because it finds a lot of utility in them, Siegel said. It just doesn’t take money from the foundatio n; it works with a foundation on creating content, such as the 30th anniversary video, to tell the story of the nonprofit and the foundation’s connection.“It is really a model for how in the future foundations and nonprofits will work together to provide utility to one another and to spread our message in a way that provides interest and to provide excitement in a world that needs stories like this,” Siegel said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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