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Best Animation Programs Top 20 list: The Midwest

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...October 10, 2012
Mid-West
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From sea to shining sea, there are excellent animation programs to be found in every corner of the nation and we’ve been on the hunt for them in. Today, we find ourselves smack in the middle of the nation for our fourth and final installment of our Best Animation Programs Top 20 list: the Midwest.

The following 20 Midwestern schools are worthy of your attention not because they fall into any singular methodology of teaching but because of various attributes that appeal to a variety of aspiring animators. We create our list series by first consulting animators, executives 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 and The Princeton Review).  We then do further research that takes into account additional criteria including curriculum, faculty, internship possibilities, location (as it pertains to industry hubs), campus life, accolades, tuition and more.

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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 alone. Lastly, we arrange the programs into numeric order – a true challenge that is never perfect but should serve as a very general guide. The best program will be the one best suited to you, after all. Without further ado, we give you the Top 20 Animation Programs in the Midwest:

20.  University of Cincinnati- Cincinnati, OH. Let’s start the list off with a bit of an underdog- at least in the animation realm- but a powerhouse school with an impressive alternative. The University of Cincinnati is one of the nation’s oldest and most distinguished public institutions for many good reasons. While it also does not offer an animation degree per say, its prestigious College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) boasts a variety of acclaimed degree programs that are applicable to those with a knack for design and a hankering for digital media. Specifically, the Bachelor of Science in Graphic Communication Design allows students to focus on 2D and 3D design through the use of core studies that include courses in time-based design including animation and games applications.

UC’s unique co-op program enables students to hold over a year’s worth of real world internship experience with numerous companies from Apple to IDEO. The bustling and vibrant downtown campus in Cincinnati allows for ample out-of-classroom experiences that include galleries, screenings, guest lectures and more. Though admittance is highly competitive, graduates of the program are not surprisingly well placed to enter fields ranging from animation and film effects to advertising and exhibition design. 

Current Tuition: $10,784 in-state; $25,816 out-of-state

More: Read out Q&A with Professor Ian Bellomy!

19.  University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, MI. Like the U of Cincinnati above, the University of Michigan offers selective courses in the study of animation and moving images through its School of Art & Design though it does not have an animation-specific degree. Many of its graduates in the School of Art & Design have found successful careers in the animation industry including Judd Winick (graphic novelist and comic book writer behind several TV animated series) and Dwayne McDuffie (the writer and producer of the Ben 10 franchise). How, you ask? UM starts off by focusing on the finer points of art and design in their B.A. and B.F.A. programs where undergrads learn the studio ropes from sculpting and drawing to problem solving and investigation. That’s followed by healthy doses of digital studio classes and, yes, animation courses taught by leading faculty members.

But let’s cut to the chase here. UM is one of the strongest universities in the country, consistently producing top-tier talent in all of its departments. If you’ve got the smarts and want to make an impact, you too could be one of the 25,000 (or so) students from around the country and the world who flock to Ann Arbor- aspiring animators included. Graduates are armed with a stellar degree, enviable network and an unbeatable work ethic that serves animators particularly well. Though it would be easy for UM to start their own animation department (they’ve got a whopping $7Billion university endowment), they’ve found that their students do equally as well, if not better, coming from a broader Art & Design perspective. We can’t argue with them, either.

Current Tuition: $13,437 in-state; $39,109 out-of-state


18.18. 
Columbia College- Chicago, IL. Columbia College is one of the nation’s oldest private arts colleges and boasts one of the largest film school enrollments. Its urban Chicago campus is also home to many budding animators who concentrate on both traditional and computer animation within the Film & Video Department. A state-of-the-art MoCap studio with two flying rigs offers just one compelling reason why students choose the program, along with other stellar facilities shared with the Interactive Media Department. Fundamental principles of the craft taught by veteran animators are another.

Testing the bounds of animation is encouraged at Columbia, where many of today’s students come in having done some interesting Flash-based animations and the like while still in high school. But the tried and true tenets of timing, performance and volume remain constant. The curriculum mirrors production practices and culminates in a collective senior film screened at the Chicago International Film Festival. 

Current Tuition: $20,094 full-time undergraduate

More: Read our Q&A with Director and Associate Professor Ron Fleischer!

17. Kendall College of Art & Design- Grand Rapids, MI. On the west side of Michigan sits the Kendall College of Art & Design with a Digital Media program ripe with opportunities for animation students. A broad approach to the fundamentals of art, design and technology serves as the cornerstone of Kendall's program. Students have their pick of classes in a virtual smorgasbord of the digital arts taught by a nice assemblage of veteran digital artists, as well.

Students have access to all of the necessary tools of the trade with hardware and software that is constantly being updated and refreshed. Thanks to its Dual-Enrollment program, motivated high school juniors and seniors can get a leg up by taking Kendall College classes at high schools throughout the state of Michigan for credit- a unique opportunity.

Current Tuition: $16,102 in-state; $23,976 out-of-state

1616.  Grand Valley State University- Allendale, MI. The Film & Video Production major in GVSU’s Communications Department combines liberal arts with professional studies for those seeking a well-rounded education that prepares them for the life of a versatile animator. Though the degree includes courses in the cinematic arts, students elect an area of emphasis that includes the Animation & New Media focus. Courses in 3D animation, digital post production, scriptwriting and post production are just a few that seek to develop film makers rather than button-pushers. History, theory and criticism are an important component of the curriculum along with student films.

Thanks to its location within the Film & Video department, animation students have access to a wide variety of equipment, faculty and opportunities. The prominence of the department at the university encourages students of all majors to cross-pollinate and provides a healthy integration not often found elsewhere. Many students are involved in the student television organization among other student and professional organizations on and off-campus.

Current Tuition: $9,716 in-state; $14,030 out-of-state

1515.  Bradley UniversityPeoria, IL. A top-ranked regional university in the Midwest, Bradley University offers several highly focused programs in its redesigned Department of Interactive Media that have been garnering some attention as of late. Bachelors in Animation & Visual Effects, Game Design and Web & Application Design draw diverse students from around the country and for good reason. Recently, the Game Design track received an honorable mention from the Princeton Review despite its beginnings just two years ago… we suspect we’ll see more from the department as time progresses.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the Department of Interactive Media is closely aligned with the Computer Science Department. While Interactive Media students hone in on the design elements of the craft, they also learn the intricacies and methodologies behind their art. All students spend the first two years of the degree program building a solid foundation, but that doesn’t stop them from diving into their areas of interest right away. Bradley prides itself on ensuring that their graduates have what it takes to meet the professional needs of a diverse field. Internships and client-driven projects allow undergrads to experience what awaits them after the classroom while peer-reviews, screenings and portfolio work all round out the student experience.

Current Tuition: $28,264 full-time undergraduate

14.  Kansas City Art Institute- Kansas City, MO. The Animation Department at KCAI has garnered attention in the brief years since its 2004 inception thanks to the accolades it has racked up. From a recent Student Academy Award to international film festival screenings and decorated alumni, the school has a knack for supporting and producing stellar animators able to perform in various environments. To start, the program utilizes working professionals whose own creative expressions have tremendous range. Whether you’re interested in classical or experimental animations; for clients or film studios, documentaries or non-entertainment applications, you can find a faculty member who has been there and done that. Additionally, the program rotates visiting artists and professionals in the studios as mentors to students.

The program prides itself on consistent, compulsory professional practice and many students participate in internship programs as well. But the real testament to KCAI’s animation department is the breadth of accomplished graduates it has already produced, with some going on to prestigious graduate studies in top animation programs such as Cal Arts and others heading right for the paychecks at Disney, DreamWorks, Digital Domain and others.

Current Tuition: $31,992 full-time undergraduate

13. Ohio Wesleyan University- Delaware, OH. Housed in the distinguished School of Fine Arts, OWU offers B.A. and B.F.A. programs in Computer Imaging and Graphic Design, both with rigorous studio art curriculums. Thanks to highly regarded faculty members and an array of courses offerings, animation-focused students will find ample guidance and opportunity. Both Computer Imaging and Graphic Design students master the finer points of the craft with enviable Mac workstations and a host of hardware and software. Study in animation is offered for advanced students.

Though a small school of just under 2,000 students, life on campus is active at OWU with some 100 student organizations to choose from. A strong emphasis on developing the whole individual is a hallmark of the school, and 80% of students volunteer through programs such as Habitat for Humanity.

Current Tuition: $39,150 full-time undergraduate

12.  Denison University- Granville, OH. Denison University is a small but nationally recognized private liberal arts college not far from the state’s capitol, Columbus. For our purposes, its Art Studio program is one of the most compelling for prospective animation students who seek a strong foundation in the arts and a studio emphasis. With a focus on the individual, the B.A. and B.F.A. degrees require both 2D and 3D work, but undergrads can take ample courses on new media and internet art forms as well. Drawing, sculpture and performance art courses create the building blocks, while animation-specific courses and independent study brings animation students to the next level.

Students with a keen interest in animation also find the school’s Cinema program chock full of interesting offerings that help budding animators such as courses on experimental film, screenwriting and theory. It’s not uncommon for students to double-major in Studio Art and Cinema for this reason.

Current Tuition: $42,280 full-time undergraduate

11.  Kent State University- Kent, OH. Through its unique 3-prongued approach, students at Kent State University can earn an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Design, Animation and Game Design... all rolled into one. Not only does the curriculum introduce students to the many facets of today’s computer animation technologies, but it technically prepares them for entry-level positions in diverse industries such as imaging, drafting and design, technical illustration and computer animation. This combined approach to three very popular majors allows graduates to readily embark on a Bachelor degree of their choice or on any number of possible career paths. Perhaps more compelling still for many undergraduates is the ability to gain a general understanding of an area before applying to one of KSU’s many bachelor programs, all of which apply 100% of the credits earned from the A.A.S. degree.

Current Tuition: $9,672 in-state; $7,632 out-of-state