“I am an expert in Disney and other animated films. When people tell me their birthdays, I can tell them what movies were released on those days.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Ezra Fields-Meyer has been making animated videos since he was 12 years old, having loved animation from a young age. He also draws pictures using online tutorials to guide him and finds art to be soothing for the anxiety that comes with his autism, which he was diagnosed with as a child.
One of Fields-Meyer’s first videos, “Alphabet House,” stemmed from his interest in letters, numbers and shapes. In the video, every letter of the alphabet lives in a house. The letter “F” climbs to the top of the house and falls, and several of the letters take him to the emergency room. When “F” returns home, all the letters celebrate and tell him not to climb up again.
It’s clever and charming, with funny dialogue and colorful animations. But when Fields-Meyer posted the video on YouTube in 2008, he didn’t know it would lead to something larger.
“One year later, a bestselling children’s book author and illustrator named Tom Lichtenheld saw my video on YouTube and he thought the idea would make a great children’s book,” Fields-Meyer wrote in an email interview with The Daily.
Their book, “E-Mergency!” was published in 2011, and it follows the story of the letter “E” who becomes injured and has to be replaced by the letter “O.”
“It took a couple of years to publish and it was an exciting and thrilling experience to become a published author at age 15,” Fields-Meyer wrote. “It was inspired by my ideas from ‘Alphabet House,’ but Tom did most of the work. He is very talented!”
Now, at 22 years old, Fields-Meyer makes flash-animated videos at Exceptional Minds, a non-profit animation and visual effects school and studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. Exceptional Minds helps him learn the computer skills and techniques needed to create animations.
This doesn’t come without its challenges for Fields-Meyer. His autism can make it difficult for him to focus in art classes, and he stresses about scheduling events.
“I have a lot of anxiety about certain things,” Fields-Meyer wrote. “For example, I worry about whether I’ll be able to make it to movies or other things I follow. But doing art helps me calm down. Also, it’s fun and it makes people happy when I share them on social media.”
In the future, Fields-Meyer hopes to continue creating his own animated films and collaborating with others. He’s also considering working as an animator as well as some other options.
“I love children’s books such as ‘Dr. Seuss,’ ‘Curious George,’ and ‘Eric Carle,’ and I would like to create more children’s picture books,” Fields-Meyer wrote.
Individuals on the spectrum often face difficulty entering the workforce. According to a 2015 report by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, 58 percent of young adults with autism were employed. This is significantly lower than their peers with disabilities, as 95 percent of young adults with a learning disability, 91 percent with a speech or language impairment, 91 percent with an emotional disturbance and 74 percent with an intellectual disability were employed.
Art therapy and art in general have become increasingly recognized as potential treatment options for people on the autism spectrum. Art provides a medium for communication and may help children tolerate new stimuli as they become exposed and desensitized to new textures and smells for their artwork, like using paste-covered newspaper strips to create a paper-mâché project.
“I use certain tools when I draw my pictures that calm me down — such as colored pencils, markers and even the paper,” Fields-Meyer wrote. “Just sitting and doing it calms me down and makes me feel good. It also calms me down when I play games on my iPhone or I listen to familiar songs from Disney and other animated films.”
Fields-Meyer isn’t the only artistically inclined person in his family. His father Tom wrote human interest stories at People Magazine for 12 years. His last article was about his relationship with Ezra, which he eventually turned into the book “Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love From His Extraordinary Son.”
“I thought it was unbelievable that he wrote down stuff that happened with me that I actually remember and it was so exciting to have it remembered in a book. I also thought it had lots of funny and amusing parts and it helped people understand autism,” Fields-Meyer wrote, reflecting on the experience of reading his father’s memoir.
When Fields-Meyer isn’t making animated videos or drawing, he can be found visiting museums, theme parks and zoos, searching for things he’s interested in online and reading books to kids in preschools and elementary schools.
“I love reading books to young kids because it makes me feel good when they get a reaction from the stories they hear — they laugh or smile at the pictures or words or they ask questions,” Fields-Meyer wrote. “I love being with young kids and teaching them.”
Regardless of what Fields-Meyer is doing — whether creating animated videos, reading to children or making other artwork — he maintains a positive outlook on his life and disability.
“Even though I have autism, it’s totally OK and it’s a really good thing because despite the disorder I can do certain things not many others I know could do. I have a photographic memory of certain things and I remember all kinds of things since I was a little boy. If I meet you, I can ask you when your birthday is and tell you what film was released on your birthday or what movies came out the year you were born,” Fields-Meyer wrote. “I like certain things that other people don’t like as much — for example, I usually like sequels better than (or just as much as) the original movie. And I like some movies better because they are more colorful and high tech and more modern. Sometimes I talk loud but I don’t mean to but that’s OK. I don’t think it’s bad — it’s totally fine. It’s the way I am.”