Profiles of Animation, 3D Animation, Computer Animation, Cartooning, Illustration, and Web Animation Programs & Schools

Our 2017 list of the Top 50 Animation School Programs in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California (top 1% of schools considered) 

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the visual and performing arts. Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, the school is home to 1,449 students enrolled in more than 70 programs across six schools including the School of Critical Studies, The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance, the School of Art, the School of Film/Video, The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts, and the School of Theater. The School of Film/Video is the largest school at CalArts, accounting for nearly 30% of the student population. Programs offered include a BFA in Character Animation and BFA and MFA degrees in Experimental Animation.

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An introductory note from the editor:  

We started publishing US based regional and national lists in 2012 in response to myriad emails from aspiring animators seeking advice regarding the "best" schools in the US. The US-centric lists have been well-received, so much so that we now receive frequent requests to publish rankings of international animation schools. ACR staff writer and social media manager Tom Fronczak managed and authored this year's Top 100 International Animation Schools rankings. In preparing this year’s list, we considered hundreds of animation schools across the globe. Our end-goal is to give students access to ample information so they can make an informed decision about the school they choose to attend and the program they pursue.  

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Have you ever wondered why animators who live in California or New York earn more than those in say, Florida or Arizona do? Demand, competition, cost of living, and industry are just few reasons. Though salaries vary by state, animators are doing very well nationwide. The mean annual wage for multimedia artists and animators was $72,200 in May 2016. In 2012, the mean was $69,560. The lowest 10 percent of animators earned less than $38,520 in 2016, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $115,960. 

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So you want to be an animation director, huh? Well, congratulations! You’ve chosen one of the coolest careers in the entertainment industry, and we’re not just talking about the creative part. Animation is a growing industry with expected employment growth of six percent for the 2014-2024 decade. Add “director” to the title and growth increases to nine percent over the same decade. This is faster than average for all occupations. 

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Though women hold just 23.2% of union jobs in the animation industry, over the years there has been a steady increase in the number of women employed in animation. According to the The Animation Guild, women held 20.6% of union jobs fewer than two years ago. Keep in mind that many animators work independently too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the "Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers" industry has the second highest concentration of employment for animators and multimedia artists. This means figures for women working in animation could be higher. 

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New Zealand is one of the most beautiful island countries on earth. This small nation of less than 5 million people attracts more than 3 million visitors annually. This contributes billions of dollars to the economy. Another booming area that might surprise you is the film industry. According to Stats New Zealand, total revenue in 2015 from all screen industry businesses here was $3.22 billion. Collectively, these businesses employ an impressive 14,200 people.

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The global medical animation market is expected to be worth $301.3 million by 2021. Some estimates place the market at $514 million by 2024. Either way, the medical animation market is booming and the trend is expected to continue thanks to constant new discoveries, treatments, and technologies in science and medicine. Health and science organizations must keep pace with these advances so visualization specialists such as medical animators and illustrators are in high demand. 

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could earn an animation degree for less than $10,000 a year? What if you were an out-of-state student and the cost was less than $15,000 a year? In the past, we’ve compiled lists that consist of some of America’s most affordable animation schools, the most expensive to least expensive animation schools, and more.

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If you’re passionate about getting exposure for your animated film, chances are you’ve already submitted to major film festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto. While there’s nothing wrong with aiming high right out of the gate, narrowing your focus to film festivals dedicated exclusively to animation will increase your chances of acceptance. Fortunately, opportunities for today’s animated filmmakers to get their masterworks in front of a captive audience are endless. You see, there are hundreds, if not thousands of animation film festivals and competitions around the world that welcome first-timers and veterans with equal enthusiasm! 

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Though established film festivals such as Sundance and Tribeca welcome animation submissions, chances are slim that you’ll get in. Each year, Sundance receives more than 12,000 submissions for 118-125 feature film slots, 60-80 short film slots, 5-10 episodic project slots, and 20-40 virtual reality project slots. Tribeca receives more than 3,000 submissions for around 90 slots. Fortunately, there are ways to increase your chances of getting into a film festival. One way is to target festivals that have a specific animation category or those dedicated entirely to animation. 

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