Whenever Donovan Torres isn't volunteering as a service missionary, he is expanding his mind in the world of animation.

After graduating from Tehachapi High School last year, Torres, 19, began formal training to pursue a career as a visual effects artist and animator at Exceptional Minds in Sherman Oaks.

At the age of 3, Torres was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Maximizing the talents of artists on the autism spectrum is the mission of Exceptional Minds, a professional training academy and studio.

"Since he was a toddler, Donovan was always into drawing, and he was also always a huge fan of movies," said his mother, Timaree Torres.

While attending Exceptional Minds, Donovan is receiving customized instruction and hands-on experience to prepare him for gainful work in digital arts and animation.

According to its website, Exceptional Minds maintains the goal to "break the vicious stereotypes resulting in low expectations that burden those in our society with special needs."

"They know how to teach them, and how to reach them, and how to work with them," Timaree Torres said. "Also, they have connections with the movie industry and have contracted to do work on major movie productions. This is the perfect place for him as it combines everything he loves into a possible career."

Donovan said he has been drawing "for countless days" as a kid. His first favorite thing to draw was R2D2 from "Star Wars."

"Then I moved on to new things," said Donovan.

Today, Donovan is working on an animation cartoon he calls "The Legacy of Japan" featuring characters such as Orion, Scorpious and Mallory.

"I learned how to do a lot in school," said Donovan. "It made me realize that some pictures have shading, and I figured out some tricks, like how to put lines over the shade parts, fill it with colors and then get rid of the lines, and there is the picture."

Local organizations have been staunch supporters of Donovan's dream and have awarded the young man several scholarships to assist him in his pursuit of his animation career path.

"We wanted to help him as much as we can to fund his continuance in art," said Gale Caldwell, president of the Tehachapi Valley Arts Association. "He is super talented, and we know that he needs the funds so it's really cool to see him reach his potential and succeed in his career path."

"We are so grateful to both TVAA and the Tehachapi Mountain Quilters for their scholarships that helped him to get started," said Timaree.

According to the Exceptional Minds website, more than three and a half million Americans live with autism, and 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD. Every year, 50,000 American children with autism turn 18 and leave public services. Therefore, it is the quest of the academy to ensure inclusion and opportunity for individuals with ASD.

For more information on Exceptional Minds, visit the academy's website at exceptionalmindsstudio.org.