Exceptional Minds blasts off with a stellar animatic: A Space to Create

To celebrate the launch of Storyboard Pro 20, we commissioned an animatic from Exceptional Minds — a Los Angeles-based nonprofit academy and studio that provides customized instruction in visual effects and animation, as well as hands-on experience for artists, for artists on the autism spectrum. Titled Exceptional Minds presents: A Space to Create, their crew produced an original script, storyboards and an animatic inspired by the theme of space. The results were out of this world.

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The Exceptional Minds Animation Studio, a team of 12 artists, was led by recognized animation creative director Howie Hoffman and his co-director, veteran animation artist Scott Sackett. The two were joined by in-house producer Jon Clark as well as graduates and artists, including assistant director Jacob Lenard, David Miles and Ryan Oldis, who co-created the story and script. Prior to beginning production on the animatic, the crew had little experience with Storyboard Pro.

“At first, I hated storyboarding. I never liked it because I never had the right tools. Now that I have Storyboard Pro, it’s actually fun,” says Lenard.

The team was supported by access to online instructor-led Training Courses and mentorship from seasoned storyboard artist, Karine Charlebois. In total, seven artists were trained over four days by Toon Boom instructor Marie-Ève Lacelle. 

Having her guidance was invaluable during this speed-learning period, with Oldis recounting how using the auto-matte tool would end up saving him time during the production of the animatic. Clark recalls how prior to the training, the team would do storyboards on paper that he would scan, zoom in on each frame in video editing software and then assemble the animatics — a time-consuming and painstaking process.

Rough storyboards from Exceptional Minds’ A Space to Create animatic.

Sackett notes how Storyboard Pro’s interface made it quicker and easier for him and the team to learn the digital solution — particularly since they are already familiar with video editing and digital illustration as well as animation in Toon Boom Harmony. This is seconded by Oldis, who says, “What I really like about Storyboard Pro is how easy it is to get a handle on everything it has to offer. I feel like it’s very easy to start a new project and have something that looks really good in an hour. All you need is a few drawings and you can create something that looks almost animated.”

After finishing their training, Lenard, Miles and Oldis blasted off into the story and script. It follows an interplanetary adventurer contending with attacks from his Neme-SIS and aliens, visually incorporating Easter eggs spanning Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Spaceballs, to name a few.

“There’s a very specific diction and language that they often incorporate into these huge space operas that we tried to use as much as possible,” says Miles.

Scan from a whiteboard planning session at Exceptional Minds.

The most direct inspiration came from Spaceman Spiff of Calvin and Hobbes, the space-faring, swashbuckling alter-ego of the titular protagonist. SPOILER: the main character in the demo is also a little boy engaging in imaginary intergalactic warfare. In addition to his numerous other roles on the production, Lenard provides the young hero’s voice while his own father, Dan, plays the dad. 

A rising star, Lenard is proof of

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