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ernie merlan

Ernie Merlan, Executive Director

has over twenty years of experience in the entertainment industry. Twelve years working on Imagineering projects including Indiana Jones, Innoventions, and Tokyo Disney Seas. His television and motion picture projects include Pee Wee's Playhouse, the Mask of Zorro, Dance with Me and the Legend of Zorro. As CEO of Merlán Creative Studio, Ernie gathers top creative talent to produce content for clients like Disney, Universal, and ABC.“When I graduated from high school, my first gig was teaching special needs. I learned more life lessons from them than they could have possibly learned from me. It’s funny how life sometimes takes you full circle. Everyday I come in to the schooI am blown away by the unlimited potential of these Exceptional Minds!”

E-Mail: Ernie@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Susan Zwerman, Studio Executive Producer
Job Developer

Susan Zwerman is the heart and soul of the Exceptional Minds Studio, known for her work on Black Panther (2018), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Doctor Strange (2016), Captain America: Civil War (2016), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Ant-Man (2015), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015), while working as the VFX Studio Executive Producer at Exceptional Minds, a non-profit vocational school and studio that prepares young adults on the Autism Spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects. She has provided these artists opportunities to work on high-profile features films as well as various televisions shows.

Her credit has appeared on a succession of high-profile motion pictures including Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Guardian.

She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, and the Visual Effects Society. She is the recipient of the 2013 Frank Capra Achievement Award in recognition of career achievement and service to the industry and to the Directors Guild of America.

A special highlight in Ms. Zwerman's career was winning the Grammy Award for "Best Concept Music Video" in 1988 for producing I'm Fat, the music video starring Weird Al Yankovic.

In addition, Ms. Zwerman is a well-known seminar leader at many universities, teaching visual effects techniques in the entertainment field. Ms. Zwerman is a co-author of the seminal book on producing visual effects, The Visual Effects Producer: Understanding the Art and Business of VFX. .

E-Mail: Susan@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


jon c

Jon Clark, Animation Studio Manager

Jon Clark is a visual artist, writer, and filmmaker with over 7 years of professional experience. His favorite film jobs include working on The Tim and Eric Awesome Show (Cartoon Network) and interning at Troma Entertainment. Jon’s short films and music videos have been screened in many festivals throughout the United States and abroad. The interdisciplinary and collaborative process involved in filmmaking very much informs Jon’s fine art practice.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my favorite artists and filmmakers in the world, but teaching at Exceptional Minds is the best job I’ve ever had.”

E-Mail: jon@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Howard Hoffman, Animation Creative Director/Animation Job Developer

Howard's involvement with Exceptional Minds combines a dual career in education and the arts with his two degrees in Psychology and Fine Art!. Soon after receiving a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to bring animation to the public schools in Williamsburg, VA. 0Howie moved to New York to do artwork for the birth of Nickelodeon and the launch of MTV. Subsequent stints creating animated content included Art Director (and often Copywriter) for DFS/Saatchi & Saatchi ("Silly Rabbit..!"), Design Director (Nickelodeon's "Doug"), Director (“Action League Now!) and Commercial Director (Warner Bros. Classic Animation for MCI, Wendy’s). On a vacation to his old summer camp (Camp Androscoggin), Howie started a program, which for over a decade became the most visible animation workshop for kids in the country, as the kids animated for the likes of Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and PBS.

E-Mail: howie@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Scott Sackett, Animation Director

Scott is an Animation Director and has been in the animation business for over 20 years, working on Feature Film Productions, (Don Bluth Entertainment, Rich Animation, Warner Bros Animation),  TV Animation Productions, (Warner Bros TV Animation, Hyperion Studios, Universal TV Animation) as well as a wide variety of freelance projects. One of most memorable and rewarding jobs was storyboarding on the Warner Bros "Pinky and the Brain" TV Show. Scott has also produced several short comedy films for the "Whistling Moon Avengers" comedy series. one entitled "Great Explorations" was screened both in the Los Angeles film festival and short film category at Cannes, France. He is a graduate from Sheridan College, in Oakville Ontario and Columbia College in Chicago.

E-Mail: scott@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Suzette Major, Finance and Benefits Manager

Suzette has an extensive record of accomplishment as a finance and accounting professional supporting the business efforts of companies in diverse industries, including real estate, film production, and financial services makes her a strong leader in her field. With extensive expertise in financial management, cost containment, internal controls, and process automation, Major founded The Lambert Paul Group, a successful consulting practice to help her clients establish and maintain effective operations.

Major completed her Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.  She resides in Glendale, California with her husband and two sons. Major was inspired to work at Exceptional Minds because her oldest son, Asher, has high-functioning autism.

E-Mail: suzette@exceptionalmindsstudio.org



Jennifer Giandalone, Studio Coordinator

Jennifer started working in television in New York for “Good Morning America” as a PA, where she became a member of the Director’s Guild of America. After moving to LA, she worked on “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” as a Script Supervisor and Associate Director for 13 years. Before coming to Exceptional Minds, she also worked as an Associate Director on “Celebrity Name Game.”

E-Mail: jenn@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Kenneth Au, Paint & Roto Supervisor

Kenneth has been working as a Visual Effects Compositor for over 15 years. LA has been his home base for the majority of time, especially at Rhythm & Hues Studios. As the industry changed, so did Ken. Working as Lead Compositor, onset VFX Supervisor and even an indie Film Producer (Island Dreams 2014), Kenneth had traveled to various places in the world like Mexico City, Turkey, Beijing, Hong Kong and the Philippines. He gained additional skills in movie production from screen writing, casting, and budgeting to post-production in editing, color grading and sound design. Kenneth is very happy to return to LA, sharing his experiences and exchanging ideas for the staff of young artists.


Megan Flood, Paint & Roto Supervisor

Megan has been working in the VFX Industry for 10 years. Her first VFX job was working on the 7th Harry Potter film. She has lived and worked in New Zealand and Canada. She has been an on-set and a post-VFX supervisor for a small TV pilot, prior to working at Exceptional Minds.  She has a very wide range of experience in the film industry and would like to bring that experience to this studio.



Immanuel Morris, Paint & Roto Supervisor

With a foundation in traditional art and a background in 3D CG, Immanuel has been a professional artist for the past 5 years. As Immanuel brings experience, patience and dedication to the table, he’s constantly impressed with the growing abilities of the crew. Immanuel is proficient in After Effects, Nuke, SilhouetteFX and Maya.

E-Mail: Immanuel@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


  Production Team

Nicolas Arredondo, Artist

Nicolas is a 2016 Exceptional Minds graduate. Certified in Adobe Flash, Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro. He is also gaining experience with mark removal, rotoscoping and compositing in Nuke and Mocha. He also creates credits in Illustrator. He worked on “Benny’s Story” from Sesame Street (2015) and “A Perfect Day” for a children’s hospital (2015). Nicolas is fully bilingual (English-Spanish). He comes from Argentina and he has lived 6 years in United Kingdom and 5 in Spain. He enjoys cinema, video games, Lego, gym and hanging out with friends.


Patrick Brady, Artist

Patrick is a 2014 Exceptional Minds graduate. He is certified in Adobe Flash, Photoshop, and Illustrator and regularly utilizes Nuke, After Effects, SilhouetteFX, and Mocha for his visual effects work. Since starting at Exceptional Minds, Patrick has worked on films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Ant-Man (2015).



Carter Capps, Artist

I'm an Exceptional Minds graduate who graduated in 2017. Certified in adobe flash/animate, photoshop, after effects, maya and premiere pro. I'm a character designer who likes to draw characters such as Transformers. I've had lots of help from some great teachers in my three years at EM. And in the summer of 2017 I started working at the EM Animation Studio. And I drew some characters of my own design for a mobile game on the phone called Tooth Hero. I also worked on a holiday Christmas card for CBS among other projects. 



Andrew Dugan, Artist

Andrew is a Class of 2016 Exceptional Minds graduate. He is certified in Adobe Flash, Photoshop and Premiere. He's also learning how to remove markers, composite, rotoscope and do split comps in Nuke. He has worked on "Benny's Story" for Sesame Street, Dr. Ben "A Perfect Day" and the Profectum Parent Toolbox videos for parents with a child on the Autism spectrum. Andrew likes photography, video games, working out, movies, and hanging out with friends.



Tiana Fazio, Artist

Bio coming soon...



Lloyd Hackl, Artist

Lloyd is a 2014 Exceptional Minds graduate; certified in Adobe Flash, Photoshop, and Premiere Pro. Lloyd is skilled at drawing, has an eye for fine detail (and has a surprisingly good singing voice). He enjoys PS3 gaming, laser tag, Disney research, and music. He has also volunteered at the LA Food Bank. Since starting at Exceptional Minds, Lloyd has worked on several films, including Lawless (2012), American Hustle (2013), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).


Eli Katz, Artist

Eli is a 2014 Exceptional Minds graduate. He is certified in Adobe Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Illustrator and adept in Nuke, After Effects, Silhouette, Mocha, Premiere, and Wordpress. Eli excels in procedural 2D work; honing his skills on several films including American Hustle (2013), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Ant-Man (2015).



Annie Leffe, Artist

Annie is a 2017 Exceptional Minds Academy graduate. Certified in Adobe Flash and Photoshop. In Exceptional Minds VFX Studio, she is gaining experience with marker removal, rotoscoping, and compositing in Nuke and After Effects' Mocha. She worked on "A Perfect Day" (2015), Profectum Parent Toolbox (2015), and recently, Marvel Studio's Black Panther (2018). Annie loves animated media, animals, pencil drawing, reading, and hanging around with friends and family. She also loves making her own animations and check out her musical animashs posted on YouTube.



David Miles, Artist

David is a graduated from Exceptional Minds Class of 2015. He is ACA certified in Adobe Flash, Premiere, Photoshop & Illustrator. Currently David is gaining experience in various digital visual effects work such as rig-removal, rotoscoping and compositing using Nuke, After Effects, Mocha and SilhouetteFX. Outside of work, David enjoys theatre arts and sketch comedy as well as writing and drawing.



Jacob Olsen, Artist

I am an Exceptional Minds graduate now working at the Animation Studio. I am certified in Adobe Animate and Adobe Photoshop. I love Animation and I aim to improve my talents for it. So far, I have worked on numerous projects including Tooth Hero and an animation for the Special Olympics.



Tony Saturno, Artist

Tony Saturno is a 2017 Exceptional Minds graduate.  He is certified in Flash and Photoshop, and is additionally skilled in Premiere Pro, After Effects, Mocha, Nuke, and Maya.  He is currently a Visual Effects Artist in the Exceptional Minds studio.  His primary interests include music, movies and TV shows.



Adam Schuering, Artist

Adam graduated from Exceptional Minds in 2016 with certifications for various Adobe programs, including, but not limited to, Premiere Pro and Animate. During his education he contributed his artistic and technical skills to professional projects such as "Benny's Story" for Sesame Street (2015) and "Perfect Day" for Dr. Ben and Co. (2015) He brought this experience to bear when he moved into EM's Animation Studio immediately after graduation. There he worked on a wide variety of projects including the LA Zoo 50th Anniversary bumper (2017) and "Maizey's Song" for BJ Leiderman (2017). He is currently serving a full-time internship at Warner Bros. Animation.




Mason Taylor, Artist

Mason Taylor is a Visual Effects Artist and 3-D modeler. He is a recent graduate of Exceptional Minds and earned Adobe accreditations in Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Premiere Pro. Currently employed by Exceptional Minds Studio doing visual effects work, Mason is known as “The Machine” and can crank out shot after shot at a rapid pace.



Michael Yokum, Artist

Michael is a 2016 Exceptional Minds Graduate. Certified in Adobe Flash, Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro. He is currently employed as an animator at the animation studio, while gaining experience in visual effects on the side. He was an animator on Dr Ben's "A Perfect Day" for various children's hospitals (2015), as well as the recently released Tooth Hero app for mobile devices. (2017) Michael was also an intern on Butch Hartman's Bunsen is a Beast, a cartoon series from Nickoledon Animation Studio. His main goal as an artist, is to acquire an entry career in animation outside the Exceptional Minds Animation Studio. Michael is an enthusiast of quality time, as well as many things related to animation, gaming, and film.