College Animation Programs
By Brad Clark
Animation Teacher, Franklin High School
FAQs: Frequently asked questions about making animation your profession.
Thinking about a career in animation?
If you want a career in animation, visual effects or the related game industry, you should seriously consider pursuing some form of post-secondary training in the subject.
There are two distinct branches in computer graphics: the artistic, which is the primary concern of this article, and the technical. Those employed to solve technical problems often have a background in computer science and are knowledgeable about computer programming. There are many colleges that offer degrees in these areas. If working on the non-artistic technical side interests you, then select a program that offers some emphasis in computer graphics. People in these technical jobs did well in high level math and physics courses.
If math is not really your interest, then the artistic branch is for you (although math is still important). In the old days, there were no college programs for animation and everything was learned on the job. People were hired for their art skill, as demonstrated in their portfolio. Today, a Bachelor’s degree in the subject is often expected, in addition to a really strong portfolio.
It is worth noting that many successful animators majored in subjects other than art in college. Trey Parker (South Park) was a music major. Matt Groening (The Simpsons) was a liberal arts major. Mike Judge (King of the Hill) earned a degree in physics. (If you have a strong aptitude towards math, physics could make a good major for someone interested in animation and game design.)
However, the people you will compete against in the next few years will often have Bachelor degrees in animation. Read the list of both artistic and technical animation jobs that Disney hires.
Read what Academy Award winning animation director (Brave) Brenda Chapman writes about getting started in the animation industry.
It is valuable to take a career interests survey and find what kind of career areas you might want to consider. This can help you determine where your interests really lie. As you answer these types of surveys, it is important to answer honestly, and not with a goal in mind (for example, don’t answer a question by thinking, “How would an animator answer this question?”). The goal is to find out what careers might fit you best, based on your real interests. Use the websites below to find useful surveys:
What about game design?
Game design is a competitive, but growing field that incorporates similar skills to those used in CG animation. Games require two basic types of workers: the artists and the programmers (often called engineers.) If math is your thing, then you may want to consider becoming a programmer. If you are interested in programming, you might want to download Unity. It is a game engine used by such companies as EA and Disney. They offer a free version. There are tutorials online to help you get started.
Game design is a growing field, with a lot of potential platforms, including: iPhone, Android, Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, and website delivery.
The latest numbers indicate that industry-wide sales of game hardware and software worldwide this year could surpass $25 billion. Furthermore, though estimates vary, many expect this figure to grow by at least 10% a year for the next several years. Combine this with the fact that combined annual sales of game consoles and software in the U.S. already eclipses movie box-office receipts, and you can see just how big the industry really is. (From the Entertainment Arts website)
Read this USA Today article to learn their listings of the best college programs. Also look at this article from Game Pro that lists the top 10 game design colleges as listed by the Princeton Review. Also read Game Developer Magazines Career Guide. The website GameCareerGuide.com also has valuable information.
What about visual effects?
Big budget movies are often loaded with visual effects (VFX) that require the work of 3D modelers, digital artists and animators. One visual effects company Rhythm and hues employs over 700 artists and IT staff in the Los Angeles area. Industrial Light and Magic employs a similar number in the San Francisco bay area. Read this article in the Wall Street Journal about what it is like to work as a visual effects artist. Read this interview with an ILM Visual Effects Supervisor. The growth of overseas companies with the capacity to handle complex visual effects has dampened the job market in the U.S. You may find work in this field in many different countries (see this informative about working in VFX in this video from Britain).
Do I have what it takes?
Ideally, in any career, you’re doing something that you love and are really good at. Do you love drawing and telling stories visually? Do you think you have the ability to be really good at it? Can you spend hours and hours on a project? Do you like working in front of a computer? (A minimum work day for animators at Pixar is 10 hours.)
You should be honest about your aptitudes and abilities. Traditional 2-D animation is based on well-developed art skills. CG animation may be less about those skills, but art skills are still tremendously important. There are many different jobs in animation. This work is very specialized and you will be hired for a specific job. The more you know and the more you have accomplished will mean more opportunities that you will qualify for.
What are the job prospects?
Understand that every job in the entertainment industry is competitive. Just earning a degree will not guarantee you work in the industry. Your success will be connected to your portfolio, creativity, work ethic, reputation, perseverance, people you know, and a bit of luck. After you earn your degree, you will start out on the bottom and need to work your way up.
Animation is used in many areas. You have probably seen the lengthy credits at the end of an animated feature film. Feature films employ many artists who use animation skills for a variety of visual effects. Television supports many animated shows. There are also animators who work for game companies. Other animators specialize in work for the education, legal or medical industries. Animated projects are also used online.
This is what the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports about this sector: “Demand for multimedia artists and animators will increase as consumers continue to demand more realistic video games, movie and television special effects, and 3D animated movies. Additional job openings will arise from an increasing need for computer graphics in the growing number of mobile technologies. The demand for animators is also increasing in alternative areas such as scientific research and design services. Some lower priority animation has been off-shored, negatively affecting employment of animators.”
What kind of jobs classifications are there?
What can I expect to earn?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Median annual wages of salaried multimedia artists and animators were $70,5530 per year.
Employment of multimedia artists and animators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Projected growth will be due to increased demand for animation and visual effects in video games, movies, and television.
In May 2017, the median annual wages for multimedia artists and animators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Software (Game) publishers
Motion picture and video industries
Computer systems design and related services
Advertising, public relations, and related services
Compare this to the median annual income for all workers (all job fields averaged) of $44,564 (in 2018).
The Animation Guild IATSE Local 839 is the union for animators in Los Angeles. They negotiate the collective bargaining agreements for studios such as Disney, Sony and Nickelodeon. These agreements list the minimum pay levels for animation jobs. Of course, not all places of employment are bound by union contracts. The Animation Guild also conducts an annual wage survey of their members that shows median weekly pay by job title.
How should I prepare while I am in high school?
While your schedule won’t permit you to take every one of the recommended classes and activities, you should examine your interests and try to do as many as you can:
· Enroll in Animation 1 2, and Advanced Animation while you are at Franklin High. Completing this Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway will provide a foundation for understanding the animation process and lead you to develop work for your portfolio and earn college credit.
· Draw every day. Bring a sketchpad with you wherever you go. Create your own characters. Create original monsters, heroes and villains. Copy examples of art you like. Practice “life drawing” (the people sitting around you at home and on campus and animals at home or at the zoo); and “observational drawing,” which can range from landscapes and automobiles…to anything. For your portfolio, some life drawing examples are particularly important.
· Watch lots of different kinds of animation. Begin to develop an eye for how the work is composed. Identify what you like about the work you are watching
· Write scripts and sketch out storyboards. Animation is storytelling. Learn how to tell a story visually.
· Create short animated films that you can enter into regional competitions. Winning an award is an excellent thing to list on your resume and college applications.
· Start developing a portfolio of work that you can use in your college application. Have examples of drawing, painting, sculpture, and of course animation. The work should showcase your creativity and technical skill.
· Check out the club’s Animation Resources webpage for a list of free software and to understand the animation process.
· If you have completed Animation 2, then you can consider taking Animation 3 or the Career Exlore class Animation at Sheldon High School during your senior year. (See this YouTube Video on their program, also check out their work YouTube Channel) You will need to arrange your own transportation to attend this class after lunch. They also offer a Game Design program after school.
· Take additional art classes. Consider taking the following art classes: Art 1 and Art 2; Honors Art; AP Art History; Digital Art and Graphic Design; Ceramics.
· Take Video 1 and 2. Animation is nothing more than another form of filmmaking. These classes will improve your understanding of visual storytelling.
· Consider taking the CAD A & B (Computer Aided Drafting) classes. These will help you learn how to make 3D models.
· Consider taking a Theater Arts class. Pixar animator Austin Madison has written, “I always tell animation students that drawing (particularly observational drawing from life) is the key to growing as an animator. I'd say acting is the second most essential tool in the animator's survival kit. Improv is a great way to hone performance skills, delve into character motivations and scene structure, and gain on-the-spot brainstorming skills all while making a complete ass out of one's self.”
· Consider taking an online class from the Gnomon Workshop. These are relatively inexpensive video tutorials.
· The CalArts Online Animation Portfolio Development Workshop is designed for high school students who are interested in exploring Animation and Character Design, and enhancing their college application portfolios. It costs $1000.
· If you have a very strong portfolio, you should consider applying for the California State Summer School for the Arts. This is a prestigious four-week summer program for talented high school students. They have a highly competitive animation program. The admission deadline is at the end of February. You must submit a portfolio of both an animation example and art examples that are very specific. Start these months before the deadline. See my tips on how to get into CSSSA.
· Consider the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Arts Camp summer program for high school students. They offer both a 2D and 3D program.
· If you have a very a strong skills then develop a portfolio for the National Young Arts Foundation.
What software should I learn at home?
The two primary software applications used in animation, visual effects, and game design are 3DS Max and Maya and Mudbox. You can download a free student versions from Autodesk. These free versions, unfortunately burn a watermark into the rendered image. I recommend that you learn Maya first as this is what most college classes teach.
Where should I go to school?
Your choice of school will be decided in part on your portfolio, your GPA, your family’s financial resources (and your ability to secure grants or loans), the competiveness of the school, and the city you want to live in.
California remains the hub of the entertainment industry. Large animation companies are located in the San Francisco Bay Area (Pixar, LucasFilm, EA-Entertainment Arts) and in the Los Angeles area (Disney, Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network). It makes sense to attend a school in these regions because it may lead to internship opportunities and you are likely to have professors with professional experience – and connections to the industry.
Below is what Pixar writes on their FAQ on the question of what college to attend:
We do not judge potential candidates
on the basis of the school they attended (or didn’t) and therefore do not
recommend any particular school(s). As much as we would like to keep on the
forefront of universities offering animation and/or computer visualization
programs, we do not know the details of all programs. We have listed schools
that offer courses in animation but please know that this is simply a list. If
your school is not on our list, this does not mean that you are unqualified to
apply to Pixar.
We look at your work first, typically in the form of a videotaped reel. If the reel shows mastery or great potential in the area(s) of animation, lighting, modeling, or writing shaders, we then look at the resume to see your background and experience.
In choosing an animation related school, look for one that focuses on traditional skills, drawing, painting, sculpture, cinematography. Ask the school how they will help you build an effective portfolio of your work: not merely a collection of your assignments, but a well developed presentation of your unique point of view, and your technical skills. Also ask the school how well integrated their theatre and film departments are with their 2D and 3D art departments.
Learn enough about computer graphics to know how they work in general. Look for a school that has not substituted electronic arts for traditional (or vice versa). Ask them about how they balance the two. Avoid just learning packages of software. Today’s packages will be replaced several times during your school career, and many studios use proprietary software that you cannot learn in school anyway. Learn enough to know you can learn it, but concentrate on the more expressive traditional skills. Read the entire Pixar Career FAQs page.
What do I put in my portfolio?
A portfolio of your work is required to get work in the industry. It is a collection of examples that shows off your skills. Art schools typically require that you submit a portfolio of your work as part of your application process. Different colleges ask for you to show different things, and some are very specific about what they want you to include. They typically want to see around ten pieces that show your artistic ability. You should read Canadian animation instructor Brian Lemay’s recommendations on creating a portfolio for college admission.
This is what Cal Arts wants from applicants to their Character Animation Program:
The faculty admissions committee seeks portfolios that show evidence of strong, creative life drawing skills, artistic originality, and the potential to tell stories and develop characters using sequential imagery. The faculty welcomes a range of creative work, including drawings and other traditional artwork, 2D digital art, and 3D computer graphics (CG).
The Cal Arts Experimental Animation program has similar requirements:
In making admissions decisions, the program’s faculty considers animation and other visual materials such as flip books, paintings, drawings, storyboards and photographs that suggest motion or animation. The faculty recommends submitting portfolios that contain examples of unique, personal, expressive art. Submit animated film or video work if at all possible.
Where can I see the artwork of professional animators?
Many animators have personal blogs where they post their own artwork. Look at what they are posting to get inspired and see the style they have adopted.
Austin Translation This is Austin Madison’s personal blog. He is an animator at Pixar and a graduate of Sheldon High School and Cal Arts. He worked on Up and Rattouille.
The Blackwing Diaries This is the highly recommend animation blog of Jenny Lerew. She was a storyboard artist on Bee Movie and Flushed Away and was story artist on How to Train Your Dragon. She also has a blog site, Blackwing Sketchbook that featured just her artwork.
The Low Tide Slide This is the personal blog of Ben Adams, a graduate of Sheldon High School and Cal Arts, an animator who works for Cartoon Network, credits include work on Flap Jack and The Regular Show.
Ethalonia This is the personal blog of Ethan Metzger, who teaches animation at Cal Arts.
Captain Yolk This is the blog of Jeremy Bernstein, a story artist at Nickelodeon Animation Studios. He worked on Shrek 2 & 3, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar.
Daron Leah Nefcy She is an animator who works for Nickelodeon Animation Studios. She works on Mad.
Tori Davi She is an animator from the UK, who has worked for Tim Burton.
Alina Chua is a 3D story artist for Lucas Film, she work on the Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Julian Narino She worked as a storyboard artist on Coraline.
Terry Song Recently graduated from the Academy of Art University and worked on UP.
What kind of post-secondary education is available?
Workshops These are short sessions of one day or several weeks. They are often good for developing basic skills.
Certificate (often one year to 18 months): These can be earned from community colleges or from private training schools. Also, the Extension Programs of 4 year colleges offer certificates, but these credits are not degree transferable.
Associates (a two-year degree): These degrees are earned from community colleges. Many people start at a community college to get their lower division coursework completed and then transfer to a four-year college.
Bachelors (a four-year degree): This is often the degree that most employers are looking for.
Masters (an additional year or two beyond a Bachelor’s degree): A Masters is needed for college level teaching. A Master of Fine Arts degree is considered a terminal degree in the arts and qualifies you to become a college instructor.
Doctorate (An additional three years + beyond a Master’s degree) I believe only UCLA offers a Ph.D. in animation. This is for someone interested in academic research and university level teaching, not production.
What’s the difference between a B.A., B.S., or B.F.A?
The B.A. is a Bachelor of Arts degree. The B.S. is a Bachelor of Science Degree and a B.F.A. is a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. There is no meaningful difference between a B.S. or a B.A., both typically require about 126 semester credits, with about 45 semester credits (15 classes) be completed in the major. With these degrees, in addition to a major, you also select a minor, typically 18 semester credits (six classes) in another field. The B.F.A. degree typically requires 65 credits in the major and no minor. You will take a lot more classes in your field with a B.F.A.
What will it cost?
Community college tuition can cost $2,500.00 for the entire two years (currently $120.00 a class – this does not include books and software). Community colleges offer an incredible deal. At many private colleges $2,500 will not pay for a single class. It is easy for some students to rack up over $100,000 in student debt that could take decades of your wages to pay off. You must weigh very carefully the costs with the benefits. For this reason, I generally do not recommend for-profit career technical colleges (with the exception of Ex’pressions).
California State University degrees are a great value. If you can get accepted into a highly competitive private university like Cal Arts or The Rhode Island School of Design, then the prestige can open doors and may be worth the money.
How can I pay for it?
Grants – Free Money: You should explore any grants that may be available to you. Grants are funds that you do not need to repay – “free money” for school. Grants are awarded for income level, artistic and academic achievement, ethnic and religious background, etc. Almost every senior, regardless of family income level, should complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA before the deadline, usually at the start of March. Government-backed low interest loans are available for up to $10,000 a year.
Get a job – Money you earn: Many students work part-time to cover their living expenses. Sometimes colleges have jobs on-campus. Most students have minimum wage jobs. In California the minimum wage is $8.00 an hour. Be careful not to work so many hours that it interferes with your grades. Your priority must be your education…not working at a low wage job.
Loans – Money you borrow: Student loans typically require repayment six months after graduation. Borrow carefully. Students coming from households with a low family income can qualify for a mix of grants and loans that will make college possible.
Caution: It is easy to sign for loans that may be a serious burden later. A $100,000 student loan balance at graduation with a 6.8% interest rate will cost you $1150 per month in loan payments and will take 10 years to pay off in full. The average college student graduates with $25,000 in debt that they must start repaying six months after leaving school.
What animation colleges are best?
See the various lists from the Animation Career Review website of the Top Schools for Animation Gaming and Design. Their rankings seem reasonable enough. Obviously, this is one person’s opinion, and different people in the industry would rank schools higher or lower, depending on their perspective. You should carefully research and try to visit each school that interests you.
Use the AWN Animation School Database to look up other schools.
Below are some schools to consider. Within each category, I have ranked at the top the schools I think you should consider first.
2-Year Community Colleges
Community Colleges in California offer an excellent value. It is the least expensive option for learning animation. Many people complete two years at a community college and then transfer to a four year college. You can use the website Assist.org to see if a community college has an articulation agreement to transfer credits to a four year college you are interested in.
Sacramento City College offers an Animation Certificate or Associate Arts Degree in Animation (AA) and another in Animation and Game Design and another in Game Design. We are very fortunate to have a program of this quality so close to us.
De Anza Community College has an animation program with both a certificate and an Animation emphasis in Film and Television Production. They are located in the Bay area, in Cupertino – the home of Apple Computer.
Santa Monica College – Academy of Entertainment & Technology offers certificates of achievement on Animation and Digital Media
College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita) in Southern California offers certificates and A.A. degrees in Animation Production and Computer Animation. They are located less than a mile from CalArts.
4-Year Public Colleges – California State University System
There are 23 campuses in the California State University System, but only about eight of them have animation programs. Five CSU colleges (San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach, Fullerton and Northridge have a partnership with DreamWorks called DreamCrits. Students are selected to participate based on a competitive portfolio review. See this Cal State Fullerton video on it.
San Jose State offers a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Animation/Illustration. Located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, they may have some great internship possibilities with Pixar, DreamWorks, and EA nearby. They have a highly -regarded program that is difficult to get into. Community College transfer students need a 3.8 college GPA to qualify for admission.
CSU Fullerton has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA) in Entertainment Art/Animation. This is a list of courses form their department. Read about their program here. Watch this video about their internship program with DreamWorks. Fullerton is located about 20 minutes from Disneyland. The entertainment art/animation program has about 200 students. It has seven faculty members, four of whom are full-time.
CSU Long Beach offers a five-year Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) – Option in Illustration –Animation Track. Their alumni include Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the first woman to direct a feature length animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award, Kung Fu Panda 2. Check out this school reel from 2014.
CSU Northridge has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Art – Animation Emphasis in their Art department. Check out their activities page. Northridge is located in Northern Los Angeles County, a few miles from Burbank, which is where many animation studios are located and a number of animation related events.
San Francisco State University has an Animation Emphasis in their B.A. Cinema Program. A portfolio review is required for admission.
CSU Chico offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Electronic Arts – Computer Animation Studio emphasis. They also have a Bachelor of Science Degree (BS) in Applied Computer Graphics. This is a list of courses from their department.
CSU Channel Islands offers a B.A. in Art with a specialization in Digital Art and Time Base-Media.
4-year Public Colleges – University of California System
Some UC campuses offer a few individual animation classes, but no undergraduate major. There are programs in game design.
UCLA has offers a Bachelor’s degree through their School of Theater Film and Television with a specialization in animation. This is a small program. They also have minor and a Master of Fine Arts program in Animation, in addition to a Ph.D. UCLA is a very competitive school to get into and usually requires a very high GPA. However, this department selects students based on their artistic and creative potential.
UC Santa Cruz offers a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science: Computer Game Design. This is a well-regarded program.
UC Irvine offers a B. A. Studio Arts with Emphasis in Digital Media; B. S. Computer Science with Emphasis in Game Culture and Technology. (The emphasis of Game Culture and Technology is available to students majoring in Computer Science, Informatics, Information and Computer Science, or Studio Art)
4-Year Private Universities in California
Cal Arts - California Institute of the Arts (Valencia) offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Character Animation and another in Experimental Animation within their School of Film/Video. This school was founded by Walt Disney. Their graduates dominate the animation industry. It is a prestigious and expensive school, with tuition over $36,000 a year. Only 30% of applicants are accepted. You will need to work on creating a portfolio well ahead of time, including a filled sketchbook. Do a YouTube search for “accepted Cal Arts portfolios” and the last year to see examples of these sketchbooks. They have distinguished alumni that include Tim Burton (directed Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride, Batman, Planet of the Apes, etc.) Brad Bird (directed The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant), Brenda Chapman (directed Prince of Egypt and Brave), Eric Darnell (directed Antz & Madagascar), Steven Hillenburg (creator of SpongeBob), John Lasseter (directed Toy Story, Bugs Life), Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise (co-directors of Beauty and the Beast, Hunchback of Notre Dame), Henry Selick (directed Nightmare Before Christmas, James and Giant Peach, and Coraline). They admit about 40 students a year into the Character animation program.
University of Southern California- USC (Los Angeles) School Of Cinematic Arts offers a Bachelor of Arts in Animation and Digital Arts. They also have a game design program offering a degree in Interactive Media and a MFA. This is the most expensive program, but USC has alumni with deep connections in the entertainment industry. They admit only 15 students a year, so you will need a very high GPA, SAT scores and strong portfolio. This school does very well when it comes to Student Academy Award nominations.
Academy of Art University (San Francisco) has perhaps the most extensive animation curriculum of any college. This college is noted as one that “is easy to get in, but hard to graduate from.” They require no formal portfolio, although having one may allow you to skip introductory classes. Low entry standards mean that a high number will drop out in the first two years. Those who complete the program will have worked very hard and have a high skill level. This is a private for-profit college and is expensive, but not as expensive as some. They have what is described as an “urban campus.” This means they own 40 buildings spread across the city. Learn about this controversy, if you are interested in this school.
Cogswell College (Sunnyvale) offers a Bachelor of Art in Digital At and Animation. They also offer degrees in Digital Arts Engineering, which is applicable to game design. This is a long established, but very small school with an enrollment of about 200. They primarily serve students already living in the Bay Area, but they have a very good reputation. They are also a non-profit college, so their tuition is less that most private colleges (about as much as you would pay to go to a UC), about $19,000 a year. However, rent will be expensive.
Ex’pression College for Digital Arts (Emeryville) offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Animation and Visual Effects. Their program can be completed in three years. They also offer a game design program. This is a private for-profit college and is expensive – costing many over $100,000 for a degree. They do not have the regional accreditation of the other schools on this page.
Woodbury University is the oldest college in southern California. It is located in Burbank, near many studios. They have an Animation department. They have a free 7 week summer workshop for high school students (if you have a place to stay in L.A.)
Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles) offers a degree in Digital Media, which includes animation and game design.
Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles) offers a Bachelor of Arts degree from their small animation program that is within their School of Film and Television.
Chapman University (Anaheim) has a B.F.A. degree in Digital Arts.
4-Year Universities Outside of California
Florida State University has a five-year BFA in Animation and Digital Art.
Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) offers a Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA)
School of Visual Arts (New York, NY). They offer a Bachelor’s degree in animation. The website claims, “SVA is considered a primary source of animation talent for both coasts. Our graduates work at Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks SKG, Blue Sky Studio and Nickelodeon.”
Kansas City Art Institute (Missouri) offers a BFA in Animation.
Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY) offers a BFA in animation.
Texas A&M (College Station, TX) offers a Bachelors of Science in Visualization out of their College of Architecture.
New York University has an animation section within their BFA offered by the Tisch School of the Arts.
Canada has a long tradition of government support for animation. As a result, there a number of colleges with good programs.
Toronto is the entertainment production center of Canada.
Sheridan College (Ontario) This is a highly regarded program offering a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in animation.
Concordia University (Toronto) offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film Animation.
Seneca College (Toronto) has a certificate program in animation.
Max the Mutt Animation School (Toronto) offers a 3-year diploma. This is a private career vocational school for animation.
Certificate programs are another option, particularly if you already have a college degree and what to develop your skills and build a portfolio. The course in these programs are genraly not transferable to other colleges and are not accredited.
San Francisco State’s Extension Program offers an Animation Certificate. This is coursework that does NOT transfer to a college degree and they expect you to have already completed 56 college credits.
The American Animation Institute. (Burbank) This is run by the Animators Guild (IATSE Local 839 – the union for animators). They offer inexpensive evening classes taught by experienced professional animators but no certificates. They recommend their classes for people who are currently studying animation in school. They focus on traditional hand drawn 2D animation. This is a great resource for people living in the L.A. area.
Animation Mentor is an 18 month online program. It pairs you with an industry mentor. This seems like a good program for people living in a place without a college near them.
The Animation Academy (Burbank) has an evening program for people living in L.A. The costs are reasonable.
The Animation Collaborative (Emeryville – across the street from Pixar Studios.) They offer evening workshops that meet once a week, but as of yet, no they have no certificate program. However, the instructors largely come from Pixar or Dreamworks and have impressive resumes. The cost is very expensive, what you would expect from a private college.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects (Hollywood) This program has a good reputation. They also have an online program.
Boston University (Watham, MA and Washington, D.C.) They have a certificate program in 3D animation, with both 3D animation and game art as part of its Center for Digital Imaging Arts.
How can I follow what’s going on in the industry?
Read industry magazines and follow key websites to learn about the work flows, techniques and people used on professional projects.
Cartoon Brew Regular news on what is going on in the animation industry. Many people in the animation industry check this website every day, and so should you.
Animation World Network (AWN) The website of the Animation World Network.
Animation World Magazine This is an online magazine of the Animation World Network.
FX Guide A website with lots articles and visual effects used in current films.
Gamasutra The business of games website.
Animation Magazine A glossy magazine for animators. (You can buy this at some comic shops)
Cinefex This is a slick magazine dedicated to visual effects. (You can buy this at some comic shops)
Are there organizations I should join?
Career in the entertainment industry are often made through contacts. Knowing the right people is important. Anywhere you can network with other in your industry is important.
If you are a woman you should consider joining Women in Animation.
Are there any conferences I should attend?
AISFA-SF and San Francisco State University host a free annual “Careers in Animation” conference, usually in March.
CTN Animation eXpo This is a major industry convention held in Burbank every November.
SIGGRAPH has an annual convention in July or August, usually every other year it is held in Los Angeles. The 2013 conference is scheduled for July 21-25, 2013 in Anaheim.
What is a Demo Reel and what should I put in it?
A demo reel is a short video that shows clips from your past work to showcase your skills. It is required by employers in the game and animation fields. All work you do as a student should be considered with an eye for how you might use it in your demo reel. Only your best stuff goes on the reel, and always begin the reel with your very best clip, as it relates to the job you are going for. Read this article from Pixar on what to put on your demo reel. Watch this video from Sony Pictures Imageworks with their Animation Reel Tips.
If you can obtain either a paid or unpaid internship at a production studio, you will learn a lot and start making connections that could lead to employment. Internships are difficult to obtain, but you should try to secure one while you are in college. Internships can provide experience in a working studio and are a great thing to list on your resume. They can also open the door to a paid position. See the jobs listings bellow, which often have internship information.
Search for jobs
See what jobs are currently open and what top employers are looking for. Remember that these top companies hire only the best, and your portfolio must be at a high level. This animator notes that you should apply for a job within 24 hours of learning about it. That means you must have several portfolio types ready to go at a moments notice. Check these links regularly to note changes. Many smaller firms hire animators and most people in the field will work for a smaller studio.
Check out this interactive map of CG related studios.
Feature Film & Television Animation Studios
DreamWorks Animation (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar)
Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars)
Disney Toon Studios (Direct-to-video unit – Bambi II, Tinkerbell)
Walt Disney Television Animation (the production unit for the Disney Channel – Phineas and Ferb, Fish Hooks). Check out Disney’s Internship listings.
Nickelodeon Animation Studio (AKA NickToons) (Burbank, CA)(SpongeBob Squarepants, Penguins of Madagascar)
Paramount Animation Created in 2011 after the success of Rango.
Blue Sky Studios (owned by Fox) (Simpsons, Family Guy, Ice Age, Robots)
LucasFilm Animation (LucasFilm Recruiting) (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Also see The Jedi Masters Program a 12 week internship for recent college graduates.
Sony Pictures Animation (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Smurfs)
Sony Pictures Imageworks (Alice in Wonderland)
Illumination Entertainment (Owned by Universal) (Despicable Me, The Lorax)
Warner Bros. Animation (Legends of the Guardians, MAD, Scooby Doo)
Rainmaker Entertainment (Barbie)
Universal Animation Studios (Curious George 2)
Frederator Studios Largest independent cartoon studio produces work for Nickelodeon (Fairly Odd Parents; Adventure Time)
Laika is an animation studio owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight. It was formerly Will Vinton Studios, which specialized in stop-motion animation. They are based in Portand, Oregon. (Coraline, Para Norman, Mr. Peanut commercials)
Visual Effects Companies
Industrial Light and Magic (San Francisco, CA)
Tippett Studios (Berkeley, CA) A visual effects company with an emphasis on CG animation (film series work includes Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Twilight
Weta (New Zealand)
He is a list of the most successful game studios.
Job Search Engines
What if I don’t get a job right I graduate from college?
It may take a while to land your first job in the industry. Do not give up, keep developing your portfolio. Read this advice on what to do after you graduate.
What will it be like after I graduate from an animation program?
Read one animator’s experience two years after graduating from college.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you might have.