Apple said Friday it supports Exceptional Minds, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit academy preparing autistic artists to become animators, VFX artists and motion graphics designers in the film industry.
The tech giant’s Friday feature story focused on a number of interesting creatives learning at the academy with the help of iPads, Pencil and other Apple wares.
Apple supports Exceptional Minds academy training for autistic artists’ careers in motion pictures
The story led off with Angela Ibarra, who uses Procreate with Apple Pencil on iPad for her craft. She’s a first-year student at Exceptional Minds who knew she knew she wanted to be an artist from a young age. She hopes to work as an animator or visual effects artist.
“My mind has always been popping out really creative stuff — endlessly,” Ibarra said. “I thought, ‘I need to put this on paper and let it come to life.’ I draw stuff and it becomes what it wants.”
Here’s Apple’s description of Ibarra, the academy and Cupertino’s support:
Ibarra is in her first year at Exceptional Minds, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit academy and studio founded in 2011, where she and her fellow students can often be found working in the lab, taking figure drawing classes, and learning how to render motion graphics. Using products and technology provided in part by Apple’s community grants program, the school trains neurodivergent artists for employability in entertainment through a blend of technical training, hands-on experience, and career-path planning.
“Exceptional Minds is so unique in the way it works with students on the autism spectrum,” said Tim Dailey, academic dean and director of academic programs at the school. “We want to create a world where a student on the spectrum is recognized for their talents and not the challenges they face.”
Exceptional Minds alumni go places
Apple noted Exceptional Minds’ success is apparent in that its alumni work in and around Hollywood at places like Marvel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.
And here’s why the approach is successful:
At Exceptional Minds, students have the freedom and flexibility they need to go at their own pace, while still being accountable to the rigors of a three-year program — a methodology that sets it apart from the more traditional schools students might have attended growing up. Feedback is plentiful, designed to help artists set reasonable expectations for themselves and their work.
“There’s a saying that we like to say: ‘If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism,’” explained Jessica “Jess” Jerome, a professional animator who has taught at Exceptional Minds for nearly 10 years. “I’ve learned from my students that not all of them learn the same way. So I have to find different ways to make sure that whatever I’m trying to get across gets across.”
The school helps students prepare fro careers in animation, motion graphics, visual effects and 3D art by training them on career readiness as well as technical tools.
First-year students work with the Adobe Creative Suite of apps on Mac like Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere and Animate. And many rely on Procreate app on iPad for the freedom to create outside the classroom.
Productivity apps on iPhone like Finch and Zinnia help them stay productive. And Apple’s built-in cognitive accessibility features, such as Background Sounds and Guided Access, help them stay focused.
iPad and Pencil are popular
A lot of Exceptional Minds students like to put iPad and Apple Pencil to creative uses.
“It bridges the gap between physical drawing and digital art,” said Matthew Rohde, a second-year student who wants to work in visual effects or motion design. “That’s what makes it so great. I’ve tried using other styluses, and there’s sort of that disconnect.”
“Apple Pencil has pressure sensitivity,” adds Matthew Rada, a third-year student at Exceptional Minds. “When you lean the pencil this way, it’ll act like an actual pencil and do certain shading in the way a regular pencil does.”
‘Career Realities’ training
But students’ training isn’t just technical in nature. They also get 3 years of vocational training.
A Career Realities track bolsters skills needed for career success, like resume writing, portfolio building, career planning, interviewing and more.
And students develop relationships with employers through mentorship and internship programs. Those same programs help employers learn about students’ needs or working styles.
“Our artists learn how to hone their voice so they have better opportunities and better networking,” Jerome said. “We’re not changing their stories; we’re just making it possible for people to see their stories.”