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The Best Animation Programs in the South: Our Top 20 in the Southern U.S. Region

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...August 15, 2012
Did you know... Each student at The Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (DAVE School at Universal Studios Orlando) learns how to work at a studio by spending 12 weeks as a Production Artist on a school-produced film. As a result, they have produced dozens of shorts in class. Their animated Star Wars fan film, The SOLO Adventures, won the Lucasfilm award at Star Wars Celebration V! You can see it and many more at www.DaveSchool.com.
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So, you’re interested in animation programs in the charming American south? Lucky for you, the region offers a wide range of educational opportunities for future animators, but you might have to look a bit harder at times. That’s why we’ve compiled our own list of 20 southern schools worthy of your attention. Comparing programs can be akin to comparing apples to oranges, but we’ve tried to provide you with a solid list of programs that touch every area of animation. Mind you, when it comes to landing your first- or fifth- industry job, studios will first and foremost look at the applicant’s portfolio and personality. An education should provide you with the foundation you need to thrive.

You’ll notice our lists differ from others- we try to tell you as much information as we can fit to help you decide whether or not it’s of interest to you. How do we compile this list, you ask? We start by consulting animators and studio recruiters when we interview them for our ongoing Interview Series. We also take into account university-wide reviews by major surveyors who do this stuff for a living (like US News Best Colleges).  We do further research to expand the list by taking into account additional criteria including curriculum, degrees offered, faculty, internship possibilities, location (as it pertains to industry hubs), tuition and more. Because animation stretches far beyond the entertainment industry, it’s important that our lists represent all of the possibilities of an animation education so some schools may beat out others based on this distinction. Lastly, we arrange the programs into numeric order – a true challenge that is never perfect but should guide you to the right program to suit your needs.

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Without further ado, here is our Top 20 List of Animation Programs in the Southern United States! While you’re at it, you may wish to check out our Northeastern List and Western List, as well!

20. Southeastern Louisiana University Hammond, LA. Let’s face it: some geographic locations are blessed with an abundance of animation programs to choose from. New York, LA, Vancouver, Orlando… we know that these urban centers host a variety of visual and digital arts programs that are hard to surpass. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a solid animation program elsewhere, and Southeastern Louisiana University is a good place to kick off our list.  

A small department in a large school, the New Media & Animation program at SLU leverages a cross-discipline approach to integrate core curriculum with other disciplines. Its experimental pedagogy encourages students to leverage media and materials outside of their comfort zone while still taking coursework in 2D and 3D animation, digital video and computer art technologies. Recent graduates exhibit a balanced approach indicative of the program’s objectives. They appear just as comfortable creating in Maya as they are in Adobe AfterEffects or stop motion. There are some other interesting opportunities in store for serious animation students, including a regional college-run cable channel that often features animated spots from faculty and students. 

Current Tuition: $4,000 full-time in-state; $12,469 non-resident

19. Regent University Virginia Beach, VA. Regent University is the curveball on our list, but its B.A. in Animation has a slew of distinguishing characteristics that are difficult to overlook. For starters, it’s a solid art program that explores character, gesture, perspective and composition. Courses include 2D and 3D animation, storyboarding, writing, anatomy and more. Students also take practical courses in the business of animation and visual effects for television. Because the program is portfolio-based, all new graduates are armed and ready to find their first industry gig. 

Regent University is considered to be a leading inter-denominational Christian college whose students are required to take a few Christianity courses. The university was founded by Pat Robertson (of TV evangelist fame) who continues to serve as the school’s chancellor. Thanks in no small part to Robertson’s role as founder of Christian Broadcasting Network, the School of Communications (home to the Animation program) benefits greatly from top-of-the-line production facilities, software and labs- all available for student use any time of day or night. Students also receive considerable merit-based aid and scholarships. Additionally, the university offers ‘Early College’ credits to high-achieving high school juniors and seniors interested in accruing college credits at a fraction of the cost and less time.

Current Tuition: $7,425 per semester undergraduate

18. University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL. Within the vibrant arts scene of Birmingham sits a highly regarded Art & Art History Department with a few degrees that are entirely applicable to aspiring animators yet often off their radar.  Time-based media courses amply prepare students for futures in animation while broadening their horizons into other forms of visual arts. Undergraduates in the BA of Art Studio program take a range of courses that create visual artists able to master any technique that comes their way. The general elective liberal arts requirements can never be over-stated, creating storytellers of the highest caliber- something unmatched by software-specific programs. Also offered at UAB is a beefed up BFA in Studio Art which emphasizes portfolio work (critiqued twice annually), a broader range of required courses and, of course, higher expectations.

What else we really like about UAB’s programs:  a robust assortment of faculty members working in a variety of visual arts fields; outstanding facilities that include an enviable sculpture shop, printmaking studio, top-of-the-line drawing and graphic design labs, and a 20-station Macintosh lab complete with software and pre- and post-production tools; and the high caliber liberal arts education of a national university. We think it should be particularly appealing to students who want to develop their artistic skills while amping up their CV for graduate studies in animation elsewhere. 

Current Tuition: $7,174 undergraduate in-state; $16,414 non-resident

17.University of Louisiana at Lafayette Lafayette, LA. The Department of Visual Arts at UL Lafayette plays home to a small but budding Animation & Computer Arts concentration worth getting to know. Historical context is presented in pre-requisite courses that set the stage. Students then get into the nitty gritty, taking courses in modeling, lighting, texturing, rigging and even experimental work in stop motion and hand-drawn techniques. 

What caught our attention was that the forest isn’t missed for the trees at UL Lafayette. Storytelling, script writing and editing are all integrated into the curriculum and the objectives.  Senior year students culminate their education with a required animated short which they create from start to finish. The program’s visual resource center, opened seven days a week, contains all the necessary tools for learning the trade from Mac labs and projectors to the industry software including Maya, Adobe Suite and Final Cut Pro. Not bad for a school in the heart of the south!

Current Tuition: $4,456 full time in-state; $13,028 non-resident

16. East Tennessee State University Johnson City, TN. Impressive things are coming out of Tennessee’s Appalachia thanks to ETSU’s Digital Media Program. Bridging the divide between the arts and sciences, students gain technical expertise with digital media aesthetics and practical experience for a robust education. One of the best features of the program is that there is no shortage of options for undergrads and graduates alike to choose from. The B.S. features three distinctive concentrations in Digital Animation, Digital Visualization and Game Design that are comprehensive in their approach. Animation students receive enviable hours of figure drawing, modeling, lighting and rendering, effects and production.

Equally as compelling are the department’s graduate degrees which draw students from around the world. The M.S. in Technology is multidisciplinary in design with an emphasis on theoretical, aesthetic and technical knowledge. The recently added M.A. in New Media Studio is done in collaboration with the university’s Art & Design School and caters to artists with traditional backgrounds seeking to expand their technical expertise into areas such as 3D, MoCap and special effects.  Also of interest is the program’s impressive lineup of faculty who have come to northeastern Tennessee from distinguished programs and studios across the country. High educational value is another trademark of the program and thanks to an agreement with neighboring states, residents of half a dozen nearby states can qualify for in-state tuition at ETSU.

Current Tuition: $6,528 full-time in-state undergraduate; $20,766 non-resident

15.15. Memphis College of Art Memphis, TN. Memphis College of Art may not be a name you’re used to hearing (unless you’re from Tennessee), but let us acquaint you with MCA’s BFA in Digital Media. Offering a concentration in Animation, rigorous foundational coursework combine with 2D and 3D animation and studio electives to form the cornerstone of the program.

While you won’t find a lengthy faculty list, you will find small classes taught by working artists who are esteemed by their students and eager to help them grow and explore as artists. The school also attracts a nice revolving list of guest lecturers and visiting artists. And if all you know about Memphis is that it was home to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Muddy Waters, you have some catching up to do. Tennessee’s third largest city plays host to a plethora of eclectic art galleries, music studios and night life. The South Main Arts District has morphed into a smorgasbord for arts patrons who assemble regularly in galleries, while Broad Street is undergoing its own renaissance filled with non-commercial arts organizations and studio space. Add to that the diversity of the city, numerous cultural points of interest and even a film industry and you have a city ripe to welcome a new generation of budding artists.

Current Tuition: $26,250 full time annually

14.14. University of Georgia Athens Athens, GA. Ranked #23 of the 50 top national universities (US News Best Colleges 2011), many people are familiar with UGA. For those strictly interested in animation degrees, they may bypass the university because it does not have an animation program per say, but it’s worth the dig to find their highly relevant, outstanding equivalent. With a BA and MFA that can be tailored to animation in the Department of Theater & Film Studies, it’s a hidden gem that began from a partnership with UGA alumnus and critically acclaimed director Monte Markham to showcase students’ visual effects and animations projects for The History Channel. Talk about having that on your portfolio!

Today, the BA in Film Studies allows undergrads to focus on Computer Animation through use of its program electives. Students are equipped to explore the many possibilities of animation, from Artificial Intelligence to simulations of various sorts. The MFA in Dramatic Media has a breadth like few others and attracts a variety of grad students from very diverse backgrounds. It combines 3D animation with interactive media and live performance (MoCap anyone?). Graduates display a very high degree of technical expertise as well as aesthetic sophistication… it is an MFA from a prestigious research university, after all.

Current Tuition: full time in-state $9,472 undergraduate; full time non-resident $27,682

13.13. University of Central Florida Orlando, FL. Animators must be keenly aware of the world around them, drawing from their own experiences and the experiences of others to create compelling narratives and memorable characters. One look at UCF’s BFA in Experimental Animation and BFA in Character Animation, and you know that students are gaining the well-rounded education necessary to do just that.

Undergrads take the full range of required courses in liberal arts studies which include a healthy dose of art, global culture and world history to guide them as storytellers in our modern era. Courses in modeling, digital effects and compositing help them learn the craft while portfolio work emboldens them to test their own artistic voices and create bold, compelling pieces. Student films have been garnering attention and accolades, most recently at this summer’s New Hope Film Festival, dubbed the ‘Sundance of the East’, when the Character Animation class short film, Squeaky Business, took top honors among an international roster. Thanks to its location in the studio hub of Orlando, ample internship, networking and job opportunities abound.

Current Tuition: (Approx.) $5,584 full time undergraduate in-state; $21,063 non-resident

12.12. Florida State University Tallahassee/West Palm Beach, FL. FSU’s role as a leading national university is well known, but lesser known is its BFA in Animation and Digital Arts housed in the College of Motion Picture Arts- one of the eastern seaboard’s most distinguished. Among the standout reasons to consider their BFA in Animation is the very low student to teach ratio. Better yet, the working faculty members in the department are incredibly well respected with Academy Award winners in their ranks and hundreds of years of experience between them.

With a liberal arts core, the Animation and Digital Arts curriculum focuses on digital motion picture development with courses ranging from story and production to visualization and editing. Another unique element of the FSU program is its additional certificate programs and it’s Torchlight Program. Leveraged to provide students with additional courses on the current and emerging business practices of the motion picture industry, the non-degree granting program boosts the educational experience, helps students gain internships in the industry, and offers robust lectures and networking events.

Seminole country is officially in Tallahassee and all freshman students attend courses on the large campus, however those accepted into the Animation & Digital Arts program relocate to the West Palm Beach campus- famous for its white Atlantic sand beaches and now home to the program’s state-of-the-art facility.

Current Tuition: $5,825 full time in-state; $20,992 non-resident

11.11. George Mason University Fairfax, VA. Nearly every device with a screen plays games, equating to a very large video and computer game industry that brings in over $16M annually. Combining computer technology with the visual arts, a career in game design is the perfect fit for those possessing an aptitude for the sciences along with a keen interest in animation. And for those at the top of the class, GMU’s distinguished BFA in Computer Game Design Program leads the pack.  A true global stand-out in the computer game community, the department has partnered with an exceptionally large list of esteemed corporations, government agencies, non-profits and international universities for research and networking purposes. Among them- Microsoft Game Studios, Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University, the Prince William Economic Development Authority and the Serious Games Institute.