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Veteran Visual Effects Producer Trains Young Adults with Autism For Film, TV Jobs


Susan Zwerman is a veteran of the visual effects industry, with almost 40 years under her belt as a visual effects producer. She is also the studio executive producer for Exceptional Minds, a visual effects and animation school for young adults on the autism spectrum. Artists connected with the project have been employed on high-profile projects ranging from the HBO series “Game of Thrones” to Marvel movie blockbusters. Recently, on October 2nd, Zwerman was recognized by the Visual Effects Society (VES) as a VES Fellow, a title recognizing exceptional achievements and contributions to the art, science, or business of visual effects. According to a report this month by Variety.com, Zwerman’s involvement in helping young adults with autism began when she mentored her friend Yudi Bennett’s son, who is on the autistic spectrum, in computer animation.

“It was a whole life-changing experience for him,” Zwerman said. “I saw how it changed his world, so I thought, ‘Oh, this is a good fit — for autism and animation.’”

A non-profit, three-year visual effects school, Exceptional Minds was founded in 2011 by Bennett and a group of parents with children and teens on the autism spectrum. A small visual effects studio, run by Berman, was later added. Zwerman says Marvel Executive Vice President Victoria Alonso appreciated the potential of the studio, which has worked on all Marvel movies going back to 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Artists employed by the studio have worked on five Oscar-nominated films, including 2018’s “First Man” and the best picture-winning “Green Book.”

According to Variety’s report, Zwerman says working on film’s of that magnitude gives the students a sense of accomplishment. They also enjoy the repetitive nature of tasks like rotoscoping, wire and marker removal, greenscreen keying, and “dust biting,” (i.e. removing specks of dust from a frame).

“In terms of visual effects, they have really good concentration,” Zwerman said. “They have very good perception in terms of their vision, and they really like to go into the details — the nitty-gritty of visual effects.”

The studio currently employs nine full-time artists in visual effects and ten in animation. The studio’s animation output consists mostly of 2D promotional videos for clients such as the Los Angeles Zoo, the special Olympics, book publishers, and Sesame Street. Exceptional Minds is also focused on helping graduates find work at other studios. Nine alumni now have jobs at facilities in the Los Angeles area.

“It’s been life-changing for me, not just for them,” Zwerman said of her work with Exceptional minds. “I think it’s turned my life around as well.” Source: https://variety.com/2019/artisans/production/ves-honoree-autism-spectrum-jobs-1203355415/


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