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Autistic Filmmakers Share What It's Like to Have Worked on Two Oscar-Nominated Films

Two films nominated for Oscars this year wouldn’t have made such a momentous splash without the assistance of filmmakers on the spectrum working at a professional studio for autistic people in Hollywood.

Exceptional Minds, a professional training studio for autistic adults, teaches aspiring filmmakers how to work in the entertainment industry. Among the nonprofit’s offerings is a fully equipped studio that lends its autistic artists’ visual effects or animation expertise to major motion pictures and TV shows. In the past this has included Oscar-nominated films such as “Black Panther” and “Green Book” and TV shows such as “The Good Doctor.”

This year, Exceptional Minds Studio had a hand in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “Avengers: Endgame,” both of which earned an Oscar nomination for best visual effects. Their nominations are thanks in part to Exceptional Minds artists tasked with polishing each movie’s final visual effects to give viewers an unforgettable cinematic experience.

The Academy has announced the 2020 nominated films! A huge Congrats goes out to all the nominees! We are so grateful to…

Posted by Exceptional Minds on Wednesday, January 15, 2020

To learn what it was like working on such major Oscar-nominated films, The Mighty reached out to Exceptional Minds. Autistic visual effects artists Tony Saturno and Eli Katz — who both work at Exceptional Minds Studio — shared how they worked their magic on Oscar nominee “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

Here’s what they said:

You recently worked on “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” How does it feel to know you worked on a film that is now Oscar-nominated?

Saturno: It feels like an honor to have worked on a movie that has been nominated for an Oscar.

Katz: Back then I didn’t know it was going to be Oscar-nominated until now, so that’s an accomplishment.

What led you to a career in visual effects?

Saturno: Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always been fascinated with visual effects that were utilized in big Hollywood blockbuster movies and then I was of course led to Exceptional Minds where they teach young adults animation and visual effects and how to get a job in that industry. I feel like this program has helped me define standards for myself in my work.

Katz: The lightsaber glows in the “Star Wars” movies [is] what got my curiosity.

What’s the biggest visual effects challenge you faced on “Star Wars”?

Saturno: There were a few markers that were occasionally covered or occluded by foreground stuff, so it was a challenge for me to try and remove the marker while also keeping the foreground stuff in tact.

Katz: The biggest challenge of working on “Skywalker” was mainly the motion blur, especially in the cockpit scenes. It’s super out of focus so I wasn’t sure if I should go tight or loose until they came to me.

Where do you turn to for creative inspiration?

Saturno: For creative inspiration, I just really love to watch any kind of movies of TV shows, whether they’re in live-action or animated format. I feel like one thing that has inspired me is how well these things can be done and how your imagination can just run wild.

What are your favorite films?

Saturno: That’s a really hard one to pick, but right off the top of my head, two of them are “Judgement Day” and “Jurassic Park.”

Katz: I’m mostly an action film kind of guy — the “Bourne” series.

Watch the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC and learn more about Exceptional Minds on its website.

Header images via Exceptional Minds