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Last Updated: January 31, 2023 by TACP Staff
Do you love telling stories? Are you passionate about fine arts, like illustration and motion graphics? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, an animation degree could be an ideal path for you to become an animator. There are a surprising number of career options for animators, which means you can find a fit between your artistic desires and in-demand jobs. While working on films and television shows are the most obvious roles for animators, you may be surprised to discover that numerous industries employ animators. From computer games and advertising to education and science, any industry that needs to convey information in a compelling and effective manner can utilize animators to get the job done.
We have assembled a variety of information about animation schools and degrees to help you understand your options. Read on to learn what types of animation degrees are available, including online options. We also discuss some of the subjects you will cover in animation schools and college degree programs for animation, and how to choose an education program that is right for you. We don’t just stick to information about animation colleges, either. Here you will also find suggestions for great animation degree programs, which can save you time and energy in your search.
As with any college degree program, there are several levels of education you can obtain, depending on your current circumstances and your career goals. Whether you want an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree, programs are available at various institutions. You can also enroll in a certificate program that will focus purely on animation courses without the core education courses required by a traditional Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Let’s take a look at your options for animation degrees and courses.
When you start looking for jobs in animation, you will find that many require at least an associate’s degree in animation, graphic design, or similar fine arts. These degree programs usually take around two years to complete and will give you the foundation needed to qualify for many entry-level positions. You will learn the basics of various topics like multimedia composition, graphic design, video animation, modeling and design, and graphic drawing concepts.
Many students choose an associate’s degree program because a four-year program is not a good fit for them. For example, if you do not have the time or financial resources to get a four-year degree, a two-year program can still get your foot in the door and will teach you much of what you need to know. The nice thing about an associate’s degree program is that it sets you up to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a later time, if you choose to do so.
Associate’s degree programs do require the same basics as a four-year program, including a high school degree or equivalent. They may also require you to submit SAT or ACT scores, or complete an entrance exam.
A bachelor’s degree in animation is a four-year degree that includes all of the subjects you would learn in an associate’s degree program, plus two more years of focus on animation studies. As in so many other industries, a bachelor’s degree will provide you with more job opportunities than an associate’s degree. While you may still need to start in an entry-level position when you are new to the industry, you will likely qualify for more jobs due to the fact that most positions now require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. You will also be considerably more knowledgeable and skilled than you would be with an associate’s degree because you will have spent twice as long on your education.
In a bachelor’s program, your education will be well-rounded due to requirements for completing core liberal arts courses like English and math. You will begin your college education with core courses and basic courses related to animation and the fine arts. Once you complete your basic courses, you will advance into more animation-focused coursework like scriptwriting, motion graphics, 2D animation, 3D animation, and digital art. Your degree program will probably finish up with practicum and/or internships, although not every program requires these studies.
A master’s degree in animation takes you even farther down the path toward excelling in animation skills, theories, and techniques. These programs are a great fit for students who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree in fine arts or some other area of study. They typically take two years to complete and will give you an in-depth education in animation and related topics. While a bachelor’s degree program may offer a well-rounded liberal arts education and will, therefore, require core classes like English and math, a master’s degree program focuses fully on your art. You can consider a master’s degree program as a two-year immersive experience in the arts and sciences of animation.
Master’s programs offer various paths depending on your talents and passions. For example, you could focus more heavily on 2D animation, 3D animation, storytelling, or any other subject offered by your college or university. Once you earn your degree, you will be prepared to enter the professional world of animation in a wide variety of industries. You could become a multimedia specialist, an art director, a production designer, or even an instructor in animation. If you are seriously considering a career in education at institutions of higher learning like colleges and universities, a master’s degree may be required to get a teaching position.
Online animation degree programs are, as you probably guessed, attended online. There are fully online programs as well as hybrid programs where you spend some of your academic years with online classes and some of your time with in-person classes. Online degree programs offer many advantages, which is why they have become so popular in recent years. Technology allows instructors and students to connect in numerous settings and environments, freeing schools from having to hire locally and freeing students from being limited to local colleges or universities. When you can take your courses online, your options for college education expand significantly.
Online animation courses are similar to the courses you would take in a brick-and-mortar school but instead of driving to and from college to get your BFA, you can choose when and where you will get your education. For example, you can take a motion design course or an interactive media course from the comfort of your home, in a coffee shop, or even during downtime at work. There are plenty of colleges and universities (like Vancouver Film School) that offer online animation degree programs, so you can get a degree from a school you know and respect, if that is important to you. And for hands-on practice, you can choose a hybrid program where you take art and design courses online along with in-person experience and studio time.
The advantages of online degree programs are too many to list in full. But if you want to get your education when and where you prefer (due to work limitations, family responsibilities, or other obligations, or just because you prefer to have more control over your academic career), know that you can get your fine arts degree online and still enjoy the same advantages you would get from a degree obtained at a standard college or university.
Not every student interested in an animation career wants or needs a standard college degree. While an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree program is ideal for some, others may want to focus all of their education on learning animation skills that they can utilize to get a job as soon as possible. If this sounds like you, then an animation certificate program could be a perfect fit for your needs. The time it takes to earn a certificate varies widely because there are so many types of programs out there. For example, short certificate programs can take just a few weeks to complete while longer certificate programs can take several years.
Certificate programs can fill many needs for students. If you are new to animation and want to dive into your education as quickly as possible, a certificate program can be an ideal option. The right program will teach you the skills needed for many entry-level jobs, as long as those jobs do not require a college degree. And if you want to improve your existing animation skills or learn new skills, certificate programs can also give you the most direct path to achieve your goals.
It takes time and effort to prepare yourself for a career in animation, and there are many aspects to the craft which the average person is not even aware of. While telling a story is a big part of the job, there are also a variety of technical skills that you will need in order to effectively utilize modern computer animation tools. You will also need to learn your way around different software and hardware solutions before you can start putting your ideas into tangible products that you can get paid for. Let’s take a look at some of what you will learn in computer animation college.
Animators were creating animations long before computers were used, and those fundamental techniques and theories utilized by past animators are still being used today. A major part of your education will focus on teaching you these fundamental techniques so that you understand how to be a good animator, with or without the latest technologies. Animators utilize traditional principles, designs, and art that are used in filmmaking, painting, illustration, and various other fine arts applications. Some of these skills include storyboarding, camera techniques, script writing, drawing, animation design, character design, and lighting techniques.
Part of your education at a fine arts school will include learning how to build on these fundamentals when working with modern software and hardware. Good technique is still the foundation of any art, even in the modern age. By improving your technique, you can tell your stories most effectively and you will more easily communicate with your peers as you progress through your career.
While fundamental techniques are extremely important (they are fundamental, after all), there are also broad areas of knowledge and practice that animators need to understand when it comes to modern tools and technologies. The majority of modern-day animation happens on computers, not on paper and film, which means you need to know how to use the various hardware and software if you are going to be a professional in the industry. Animation takes advantage of imaging software, production software, and animation software to produce the results you see today. Weather effects, lighting effects, clothing, backgrounds, movement, textures—all of it happens in computer software. Some of the software and hardware you will learn about may include:
Depending on when you start your education, the software and hardware may be different because these technologies continue to develop and change at a rapid pace. But what won’t change is your need to learn how to use software and hardware to animate.
Whenever you take on a new endeavor, you must first learn the basics before you can start creating. Just like you need to learn the alphabet before you can write a sentence, the same is true in animation. You will begin your education by learning the fundamentals of how past animators have worked. You will also learn how to use the modern tools of animation, including the various hardware and software tools that are considered industry standards. But your entire degree program won’t just focus on these building blocks. In your coursework, you will also spend plenty of time gaining proficiency in the practice of animation.
You want to be able to tell stories with animation, and you will get your chance to do that within an animation degree program. More in-depth programs, like a bachelor’s degree program, will spend even more time improving your proficiency. You will create animations and will work with your instructors and peers to steadily improve your abilities. By the end of your degree program, you will be proficient enough to leave school and enter the workplace. You will also benefit from having a portfolio of finished work that you can use to demonstrate your skills and abilities to any potential employers. Your school will help you to create a portfolio as part of your degree program.
You probably decided to pursue animation because of something you watched or saw when you were younger. Animation has a long history and has been an important part of various cultures around the world for longer than you might think. Part of your education will include film history, animation history, and the cultural contexts of both. Learning about the history of your craft is important because it will help you to understand what you are doing, and why. It is also a lot of fun to learn about the history of art forms that you love and enjoy.
In modeling classes, you will learn how to create 3D models using modern tools and methods. As you learn professional workflows and techniques, you will gain proficiency in creating models that can be used to create animations.
If you love 3D animation and want to learn how to do it yourself, you can do so in your degree program. By studying the fundamentals of the art, including character rigging, you will gain the skills needed to create your own 3D animations.
You don’t necessarily have to focus your education on 3D animation; there are plenty of students who prefer to learn more about 2D animation, traditional animation techniques, and how to create stop-motion animations.
Visual effects are used so frequently in movies and on television shows that most viewers no longer notice them; unless, of course, they are of the fantastic variety and are intended to leave an impression. Creating visual effects is an art all its own, whether you are trying to hide your effects or you want to make something so amazing that everyone will marvel at it. Visual effects are one area you can focus on in your education if you desire to do so.
In animation production, you will learn how to take animated artwork from a concept to a finished piece. There are more steps in this process than many people realize, but you can learn all of them if you choose to focus your degree on animation production.
If you are more interested in real-world applications of animation, you might find entertainment design to be the perfect focus for your degree. You can learn to apply your animation skills to live events, museums, theme park rides, and any other application that could utilize your artistic and technical skills.
Video game creation is an extremely technical endeavor. As a technical artist, you can bridge the gap between programmers and artists to help in creating a finished product that you are all happy with.
The process of animation can be extremely labor-intensive. To be executed correctly, animators must be artistic, innovative, talented, and up-to-date on the latest computer technology and animation software. The best animation schools allow students to experiment and grow as an artist by offering a wide range of programs so they can realize their full creative potential. Students will learn the fundamentals of drawing, computer-generated imagery (CGI), 2D and 3D design, stop motion, computer graphics, video effects, character modeling and rigging, and graphic design. In addition to classroom lectures, students will also have hands-on instruction that will focus their efforts on developing the technical and artistic skills to make them industry-ready.
There are several animation schools with stellar reputations and great name recognition. Aspiring animators should look for a college, university, private institute, or online school with exceptional faculty, a proven track record of alumni success in the field, world-class instructors, superior value, and a commitment to the very highest academic standards.
Everyone is different, and potential animation students may have different goals and circumstances that will affect their decision on which school to attend. With all of that being said, there are some common concerns that every potential student should consider when choosing a school. You want to know that you are spending your money, effort, and time on an education that will help you achieve your specific goals and aspirations.
Here are some of the aspects we think are the most important when it comes to choosing the right school for your animation degree program. Please check them out and think carefully about how they apply to the schools you are considering. You don’t have to rush your decision; take some time to verify that the school you choose is ideal for your personal needs.
In many other fields, the location of your school doesn’t have much impact on your options after you graduate. But in animation, location really does matter. Most major animation studios are located in specific areas and often recruit students from the local animation colleges. If you want to work in a specific part of the country or at a specific animation studio, it can be extremely helpful to choose a school in that area.
For example, if you want to work at DreamWorks or Disney, attending an animation program near Los Angeles is probably your best bet. Of course, if you don’t have a specific company or area where you want to work, the location of your school may be less important. Otherwise, you will want an animation program that will ensure you are close to where you need to be for your future career.
Not all animation programs offer the same programs or curriculum. For example, some are more focused on 3D animation while others may focus more on 2D animation. If you want to learn 3D animation but you attend a school that focuses on 2D animation, you are likely to wind up frustrated with your decision. Be sure to check the program offerings and curriculum of your prospective school to make sure it will be a good fit for your needs. That way, you can avoid any unpleasant surprises like finding out that your school won’t allow you to specialize in the area you love most.
Keep in mind that most, if not all, animation programs will include basic animation classes like character animation and art and design. But when you get into the more unique focuses, you can wind up at a school without the right program. Character animation and art and design are great, but if you want to become a technical artist and work in the video game industry, you need a program that will get you there.
Certain areas of animation, such as 3D modeling, can be easier to learn with hands-on experience. If you want to pursue a career in 3D modeling, you might prefer a school that offers a hands-on experience where you can learn from an instructor in a classroom setting. You should also take into consideration your preferred learning style. For example, some students prefer the freedom that comes from learning fully online while others prefer more classroom time in their education. Think carefully about what kind of student you are, and what you want out of your classes. Then you can pick a program that offers exactly the kind of education settings you prefer.
You will hear a lot about accreditation in your search for colleges or universities. That’s because accreditation is a very big deal in the world of higher education. Some schools offer programs that are not accredited, which means their quality may not be up to par with other colleges. Your years at school could be less useful to you if you attend a school with lower education standards. The other problem with going to a school without accreditation is that your degree may not be taken as seriously, and employers could decide that your education is not up to their standards. You could also struggle to have your credits transfer to another college if those credits came from an unaccredited school.
If you are going through the effort of obtaining a degree, you want to know that your instructors are qualified and capable of teaching what you need to learn. You want a college that hires faculty with respectable credentials. Did they work in the industry? And for how long? Are they respected in the industry? A well-respected instructor can help you get a job, and you can feel comfortable doing what they say because they obviously know what they are doing. Successful schools will go out of their way to find and hire quality faculty because they know their reputation depends on it.
If you are like most students, you have a budget that you will need to consider. Different animation degree programs have different tuition costs and expenses. It is important to verify the full costs of your education so that you are fully aware of what you will need to spend. Once you have all the financial information on different programs, you can more easily compare them to determine which ones fit within your budget or if you are better off looking elsewhere.
To be done right, modern animation requires some expensive tools, including hardware and software. Good schools will have the budget to pay for high-quality production equipment. While you may be searching for the best deal, you don’t want to skimp when it comes to production equipment. Just like an aspiring graphic designer or filmmaker, you need to learn how to use industry-standard equipment so that you can go directly from school into a job. Otherwise, you may find that hiring managers are not interested in your application once they learn that you don’t know how to work with the equipment used at their studios.
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