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'Judy Moody' has the benefit of Exceptional Minds

The nonprofit that includes autistic young adults who have animation and other skills completes the film's end title sequence.

June 15, 2011|By Cristy Lytal, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Megan McDonald, the author of the Judy Moody books.
Megan McDonald, the author of the Judy Moody books. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

Adapted from the bestselling children's novels by Megan McDonald, the new film "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" sees its precocious young heroine conquer the threat of a dull season out of school with the help of her fun-loving aunt and her mischievous little brother.

But the movie, which opened in theaters Friday, also represents the first big job for the Sherman Oaks-based nonprofit Exceptional Minds. The organization that completed the end title sequence for "Judy Moody" comprises a group of autistic young adults who are gifted in animation, graphic design, visual effects and editing.

"The premise of what we're trying to do is take the exceptionality and strengths of the kids and then put them in an environment where we can actually have them work and become a productive part of society," said Amit Bernstein, Exceptional Minds' founder, director and board president.

Bernstein — who couldn't read until he was in fifth grade due to dyslexia — was working as a special education teacher when he founded the Media Enrichment Academy, a multimedia program for children with disabilities, in 2007. Many of the autistic students displayed remarkable talent, which inspired him to create Exceptional Minds.

Finding meaningful work for autistic individuals is often difficult. According to the Exceptional Minds website, 10% of autistic adults have an occupation, 4% live independently and 95% report having no friendships. At the same time, autistic individuals can possess unique skills.

Lloyd Hackl, the autistic son of "Judy Moody" post-production supervisor Robert Hackl, needed only three weeks to learn how to operate Adobe Illustrator, a software program for composing and editing sophisticated graphics. The 19-year-old served as chief layout artist for the end titles on "Judy Moody."

"Ever since I was little, I've loved movie credits and have memorized the end titles of all my favorites," he said. "Getting to type my own name into the crawl and then seeing it on the big screen is just so awesome. This was a great experience — one that I hope will help me reach my dream of being a graphic designer."

Hackl worked closely with Exceptional Minds instructor Isabel Maramba throughout the process.

"I'm very proud of our contribution," she said. "Professionally, this was a tremendous achievement for Exceptional Minds. We were able to develop some very marketable skills and demonstrate how young artists with serious social disabilities can have a meaningful place in Hollywood."

"Judy Moody" production house Smokewood Entertainment plans to continue using Exceptional Minds for all of its upcoming projects.

"It's a collective group of young individuals with exceptional minds that are able to do something pretty extraordinary and deliver us a real service as a vendor," said executive producer Bobbi Sue Luther. "It's a win-win."

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