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Top 25 Animation Schools on the West Coast - 2014

Written by ACR StaffApril 17, 2014
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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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Our 2014 rankings of the Top 25 Animation Schools on the West Coast. 

We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and Idaho. 

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.




1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
Housed entirely in a 500,000-square-foot facility on a 60-acre campus, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) offers an impressive assortment of leading animation programs at the certificate, undergraduate, and graduate levels. Offerings include a BFA in Character Animation, BFA and MFA degrees in Experimental Animation, and an MFA in Integrated Media in Experimental Animation. The school, which is home to around 1,441 students (Fall 2012), also offers a Certificate and Advanced Certificate in Experimental Animation, a Certificate in Character Animation, and Advanced Certificate in Integrated Media in Experimental Animation.

Established in 1961, CalArts offers a state-of-the art animation laboratory (one of the largest in the country), animation portfolio development workshops, and renowned visiting artists from around the world. The school is also the former home of Tim Burton and Chris Buck—2014 Oscar Winner for Best Animated Feature Frozen to its credit as well as Chris Sanders—2014 Oscar Nominee for Best Animated Feature The Croods. In addition, because CalArts is located in the #1 state for film and animation, students have access to more lucrative employment opportunities than any other place in the world.

2. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
Established in 1880, the University of Southern California (USC) sits on 229-acre main campus in the heart of the Los Angeles—the entertainment capital of the world. The school’s John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (HenchDADA) offers a BA, MFA, and Minor in Animation & Digital Arts, a Minor in 3D Animation, and a Minor in Science Visualization, which launched Fall 2012. USC also offers a BFA in Film and TV Production and a PhD in Cinematic Arts (Media Arts and Practice).

HenchDADA students have access to private workstations throughout 4 state-of-the-art animation studios, the opportunity to study abroad at Studio Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, Italy, and exclusive internships at TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) in Tokyo, Japan. Many USC animation graduates go on to work at sought after production studios such as Sony Pictures Imageworks, Pixar, Nickelodeon Studios, and Rhythm & Hues. Some are even famous.

The Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the former home of Kirk DeMicco. His film (along with 2 CalArts graduates), The Croods, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature (2014). Over at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, you’ll find a long list of alums that includes award-winning producers and directors such as George Lucas, Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, Judd Apatow and John Carpenter.

3. University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
The University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) was established in 1919. Around 1947-1948, the school introduced the now famous UCLA Animation Workshop as a collection of animation classes. A formal MFA program was created in 1971. Housed in the UCLA Animation Workshop, the MFA Program has dozens of accomplished animators and filmmakers to its credit. Just a few include Neil Affleck and Scott Alberts (The Simpsons), Oscar-nominated filmmaker Shane Acker (9, Total Recall (2012), Lord of the Rings), David Silverman (The Simpsons Movie), and Gil Kenan (nominated for Best Animated Feature, Monster House- 2007). 

Graduates of the MFA program also work in many of the world’s top animation and game studios including DreamWorks Animation, Disney Imagineering, Walt Disney Animation Studios, DreamQuest, and Electronic Arts: EA Games. Part of the celebrated UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, the UCLA Animation Workshop accepts approximately 12 new students each year in the fall quarter. However, according to the program website, all UCLA students, graduate and undergraduates, can enroll in single animation courses for credit.

UCLA is home to 42,163 students (Fall 2013) from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The campus sits on 419 acres just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean and at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. The location is convenient to just about everything from top animation and film studios to famous museums, theaters, and more.

4. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) offers 5 undergraduate majors and a graduate department. Accredited by both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and national accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) LCAD offers a BFA in Animation, a BFA Illustration, and a BFA and MFA Degrees in Drawing and Painting.

Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, LCAD sits on a 9-acre campus and it is home to more than 450 students. The campus, which offers state-of-the-art production facilities and quick access to Los Angeles (just 50 miles away) and San Diego (73 miles), is located in one of the world’s most beautiful beach towns—and an art-lover’s dream. Laguna Beach is home to more than 100 art galleries and one-of-a-kind shops, more than 20 professionals artists in residence working in private studios (open for tours), the International Art Festival, a Monthly Art Walk, and California’s oldest museum—The Laguna Art Museum.

5. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California
Founded in 1911, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) was “the first school to build a motion-capture lab offering classes in pre-visualization and virtual cinematography–a production method used in James Cameron’s Avatar,” according to LMU. The school, which sits on a 142-acre campus overlooking West Los Angeles, has an entire program dedicated to animation and is home to famous alums such as Raul Guerra (Family Guy), Lauren Montgomery (Wonder Woman), Jay Oliva (Superman: Doomsday), and Pete Oswald (ParaNorman, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs).

Offered through the School of Film and Television, LMU’s BA in Animation prepares students for careers in 3D Animation, Flash Animation, Storyboard Art, Character Design, Directing, and many others. Home to 9,500 students enrolled in 100+ degree programs and more than 50 Minors, LMU also offers an MFA in Film and Television Production for students that may be interested in enhancing their education and career opportunities. 

6. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California
The Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication at California State University-Northridge (CSUN) is home to the Department of Art. The Department offers a BA in Visual Arts with Concentrations in Animation, Drawing, Illustration, and Video/Digital Art. An MA/MFA in Visual Arts with a Concentration in Drawing, Illustration, and Video/Digital Art is also on the menu. All CSUN Art programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

In addition to a wide variety of program offerings to choose from, CSUN students have easy access to Los Angeles and all of the major studios and entertainment companies it has to offer as well as internship opportunities at Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, and Film Roman (owned by Starz Inc. and The Weinstein Company).

California State University Northridge (CSUN) sits on 353 park-like acres in the San Fernando Valley—just 16 miles from Los Angeles and 8.2 miles from Burbank—home of Warner Bros., Disney Interactive Studios, and more. Also called “Cal State Northridge,” CSUN is home to 36,208 students enrolled in more than 175 programs across 8 academic colleges.

7. California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, CA
California State University-Long Beach (CSULB) offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Art with an Option in Illustration-Animation Track. Students may choose the 4-year or 5-year plan, both of which offer a variety of animation, design, illustration, and drawing courses. The CSULB College of the Arts has several other programs that may be pique the interest of students wishing to enhance their education and career opportunities. They include a BFA with an Option in Drawing and Painting, a BA in Film and Electronic Arts, and a BA in Design.

Established in 1949, California State University Long Beach sits on a 322-acre campus just 22 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles and 15.9 miles from Huntington Beach (Orange County). The school, which is home to 35,592 students from 43 states, 56 California counties, and 90 foreign countries, offers 85 baccalaureate degree programs, 64 master’s programs, and 4 doctoral degree programs.

8. California State University-Fullerton, Fullerton, California
California State University-Fullerton, better known as “Cal State Fullerton” or “CSUF,” houses more than 9 colleges that offer 240+ degrees. Among them are several top-tier programs for animators. Offered through the College of the Arts, Department of Visual Arts, options include a BFA in Entertainment Art/Animation, a BFA in Illustration, and a BFA in Drawing. The Department also offers MA and MFA in degrees in Illustration and Drawing. Students interested in enhancing their education may also choose a Minor in Art.

California State University-Fullerton was established in 1957. It sits on a 236-acre main campus just 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The school has a student population of 38,325 from 81 nations, all 50 states, and just about every county in the State of California.

9. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University was established 1929. It sits on a 3-acre campus in the San Francisco Bay Area and it is home to more than 18,000 students. The Academy offers BFA and MFA degrees in Animation and Visual Effects; AA, BFA, and MFA degrees in Animation & Visual Effects (online), and AA, BFA and MFA degrees in Illustration and Film. The Academy also offers an Animation Online Award of Completion (OAC) and offers

Thanks to a convenient Bay Area location, the Academy of Art University is close to Industrial Light & Magic and Zynga and it is just an hour from Silicon Valley—home to DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, and numerous start-ups.

10. San Jose State University, San Jose, California
San Jose State University offers several competitive programs for aspiring animators including a BFA in Art with a Concentration in Animation/Illustration and a BFA in Art with a Digital Media Concentration. SJSU also offers an MFA in Art with a Concentration in Digital Media and a Minor or BA in Radio, Television and Film (BA RTVF). Students have the opportunity to create feature and short films through SJSU’s Spartan Film Studios and participate in the educational initiative “DreamCrits.”

The initiative is a partnership between DreamWorks Animation and SJSU Animation/Illustration, which gives students the opportunity to have their work critiqued by professionals at DreamWorks’ Redwood City campus. Graduates of SJSU’s animation and digital media programs have found work at DreamWorks, Apple, LucasFilm Animation, Electronic Arts, Zynga, Nickelodeon, and many others.

Established in 1857, San Jose State University (SJSU) is home to more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in more than 134 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs with 110 concentrations. The school, which sits on a 154-acre campus in Downtown San Jose, offers access to the world’s top technology companies and studios. Apple, Google, Intel, EBay, Electronic Arts, Facebook, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, and Zynga are just a few.

11. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects is a non-traditional program that is career focused. The school, which is home to more than 400 students, has been around since 1997. Although young, Gnomon has made a name for itself in the competitive animation and digital art industries by offering unique programs that prepare students to enter the field.  

Located in a 40,000 sq. ft. facility in the heart of Hollywood, Gnomon offers two certificate programs and an entertainment design foundation track. Options include Entertainment Design (One-Year Track), Digital Production for Entertainment (Two-Year Program), and Entertainment Design & Digital Production (Three-Year Program). Gnomon also offers a variety of online courses from Character Animation to Games Tools and Techniques.  

Many Gnomon graduates have found success in the animation, film, and gaming industries. They work at major studios and companies DreamWorks, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sony Interactive, Digital Domain, Electronic Arts, Activision, Rock Star Games, and Blizzard, to name a few.

12. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
Founded in 1988, DigiPen Institute of Technology offers BA, BFA, BS, MS, and MFA degrees in all areas of digital art and entertainment. Programs for aspiring animators include a BFA in Digital Art and Animation, and an MFA in Digital Arts. With a student population of more than 1,000, DigiPen’s main campus consists of more than 100,000 square feet and features several art studios, multiple auditoriums, several classrooms, a library, and more.

Digipen has additional campuses in Singapore (Digipen-Singapore) and Bilbao, Spain (Digipen Europe-Bilbao). Students at both campuses are taught the same curriculum as U.S.-based students. As such, DigiPen-Redmond states that DigiPen-Singapore students “are poised to take advantage of the rapidly growing Asian digital media sector.” 

13. Woodbury University, Burbank, California
Woodbury University was established in 1884 as Woodbury's Business College. The school sits on a 22.5-acre campus in Burbank—near Disney, DreamWorks, NBC, Universal, and Warner Bros. Home to more than 1,500 students, Woodbury University also has a campus in San Diego.

The main campus in Burbank is home the School of Architecture, the School of Business, the Institute of Transdisciplinary Studies, and the School of Media, Culture & Design (MCD). 
The School of Media, Culture & Design offers several programs for aspiring animators including a BFA in Animation, a BFA in Film, and a BS in Media Technology.

The Animation BFA is the top choice for aspiring animators as it “provides students with a thorough comprehension of the design process through critical and creative thinking, theoretical and historical study, along with conceptual and experimental exploration,” according to the School of MCD. Students will immerse in a range of studios (Animation, Stop Motion, Digital Animation, and Art) as well as an intense series of Foundation courses and an intriguing collection of Electives such as Acting and Improvisation, Iconic Films, The Costumed Figure, and more. 

14. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Home to more than 1,100 students, Otis College of Art and Design offers a variety of programs for aspiring animators in the areas of Communication Arts and Digital Media. Offerings include
a BA and a Minor in Illustration through the Communication Arts Program, a BA in Digital Media with a Focus in Animation or Motion Design, and a Minor in Digital Media through the Digital Media Program.

The Animation Program is the former home of DreamWorks’ Raymond Zibach, who received an Academy Award nomination for Kung Fu Panda, and dozens of other former students that now work at Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, WETA, ILM, Sony Imageworks, Nickelodeon, Electronic Arts, Blind, Brand New School, Imaginary Forces, Troika, Zoic, Sony Online Entertainment, and Blizzard.

Founded in 1918 Otis College of Art and Design was Southern California’s first professional independent school of art and design. The school sits on a 5-acre main campus on LA’s Westside and it has campuses in Downtown LA—in the heart of the Fashion District, Culver City, and the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. All locations are in driving distance to Burbank (studios galore) and all of the studios and job opportunities Los Angeles has to offer.

15. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California
The Art Center College of Design offers several high-quality programs for aspiring animators and other artists hoping to break into the competitive entertainment industry. Offerings include a BS in Entertainment Design with a strong Animation Focus, a BS in Entertainment Design, a BFA in Illustration, a BS in Interaction Design, and a BFA in Fine Art, which explores all genres including Film/Video and Illustration.

Besides access to a premier collection of art and design programs, Art Center College of Design is situated on one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. The inspirational structure, which is considered a work of art in itself, is perched atop a 175-acre hillside campus overlooking the City of Pasadena. Although it feels like it’s a world away, the campus is located a mere 10 miles from the bustle of Los Angeles and just 11.5 miles from the famed Burbank Media District.

Founded in 1930, Art Center College of Design is home to more than 1,700 students. Graduates of the Art Center have worked on films such as 300, Armageddon, Star Wars, Pocahontas, The Simpsons Movie, Jurassic Park III, and many others.


1616. The Art Institute of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, California

The Art Institute of California-San Francisco offers quick and easy access to more animation studios than you can imagine. It is also right in the center of a massive community of innovative start-ups—something the region is famous for. Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, and Zynga are just a few established studios in the area.

To keep up with the demand of the industry here, the Art Institute of San Francisco offers several highly competitive animation programs than can prepare students to become a part of San Francisco’s alluring animation scene. Offerings include an MFA in Computer Animation, a BS in Media Arts & Animation, and a BS in Visual Effects & Motion Graphics. Graduates of The Art Institute of California-San Francisco have found employment at top companies such as MTV, Time Warner, Nintendo of America, Walt Disney & Affiliates, Yahoo Broadcast Services, Microsoft, and the Fox Entertainment Group.

17. California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California
California College of the Arts (CCA) offers a BFA in Animation, a BFA in Film, a BFA in Illustration, a BFA in Interaction Design, and a BFA in Visual Studies. A Minor in Visual Studies is also on the menu as well as an impressive collection of graduate programs. Graduate offerings include a rare MFA in Comics, an MFA in Film, an MFA in Visual and Critical Studies, and a Fine Arts MFA.
Students may choose to study at CCA’s 2nd campus in Oakland. This historic 4-acre campus is located in the Rockridge district, just 2 miles south of the renowned University of California at Berkeley.

Established in 1907, California College of the Arts sits on a 4-acre main campus in the San Francisco Bay Area. The College is home to nearly 2,000 students enrolled in more than 30 programs. Areas of study include Fine Arts, Design, Writing, and Architecture.

18. University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho
Established in 1889, the University of Idaho is home to 12,493 students, the famous Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival, 10 colleges and a graduate school, and an impressive collection of art, entertainment, and design programs. Among the school’s 250 degree programs is a comprehensive program for aspiring animators—the BS in Virtual Technology & Design. This program features study in the areas of 3D Modeling, Animation, Art and Design, Storytelling, Character Design, Spatial Design, 4D Design, Computer Science, World Building, and more.

Students wishing to enhance their education and career opportunities may be interested in several other programs including the BA in Art, the BFA in Studio Art & Design, and the BA/BS in Broadcasting & Digital Media. The BA in Art offers an Emphasis in Digital Imaging and Interactive Design, and the Broadcasting & Digital Media program covers Digital Video, Film, and Emerging Technologies.

19. Academy of Interactive Entertainment, Seattle, Washington
One of the first colleges in the world to offer specialized training for 3D Animation and Video Game Development, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) offers an Advanced Diploma of Professional Game Development Specializing in Game Art & Animation and an Advanced Diploma of Screen & Media Specializing in 3D Animation & VFX for Film. Programs take 2 years to complete and students attend full-time.

Established in 1996 in Canberra, Australia, AIE “career focused” programs, rather than “degree focused,” programs. The school enrolls more than 100 lucky students each year and it offers quick access to both established studios and start-ups throughout the City of Seattle, Redmond, Bellevue, and Kirkland. ArenaNet, Nintendo of America, Time Warner, and Pixar are just a few.

Please note that AIE has 5 campuses including three in Australia, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and two in the U.S.—Seattle, Washington and Lafayette, Louisiana. Animation programs may be taken at the Seattle or Lafayette campus.

20. The Art Institute of Seattle, Seattle, Washington
The Art Institute of Seattle offers a wide variety of programs for animators including a BFA in Media Arts & Animation, a BS in Visual Effects & Motion Graphics, and a BFA in Digital Filmmaking & Video Production. The school also offers an AAA in Video Production and a Diploma in Digital Design.

Founded in 1946 as the Burnley School for Professional Art, The Art Institute of Seattle is situated on Seattle’s Elliott Bay Waterfront—just minutes from dozens of established studios and start-ups around Seattle and in Redmond, Bellevue, and Kirkland. It is home to around 2,800 students, enrolled in more than a dozen art and design programs.

21. Ex'pression College, Emeryville, California
Established in 1998, Ex’pression College is home to more than 1,000 students and it offers 4 top-tier programs for aspiring animators. Offerings include Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) Degrees in Animation & Visual Effects, Digital Filmmaking, Interaction Design, and Motion Graphic Design. The Animation & Visual Effects Program prepares students for a career in 3D Animation, Video Production, Film, and more.

Ex’pression College has two campuses—one in Emeryville, the other in San Jose. The Emeryville campus is just 20 minutes from San Francisco, and the San Jose campus is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Just a few major studios in these areas include Industrial Light & Magic, Zynga, DreamWorks Animation, and Pixar. In addition to access to major studios and start-ups looking for fresh talent, all Ex’pression students have access to state-of-the art equipment and facilities on-campus and world-class instruction by successful artists in their respective fields.

22. Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington
Established in 1971, Evergreen State College is a unique school that has no formal majors, but it offers more than 60 fields of study to explore. This fully accredited college is home to 4,398 students and it awards Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Arts & Science (BAS) Degrees. Animation students typically choose the Visual Art and Media Emphasis which leads to a BA. Students have the option to focus on Animation, Film, Video, Drawing, Writing, or all of the above.

No matter which field or focus area students choose, all artists will have access to Evergreen Animation Labs—which consists of 2D and 3D labs, the Oxberry Animation Stand—a prized table system for shooting 2D animation, and excellent Study Abroad opportunities in places such as Fiji and Russia. Internships are also on the menu and may take place at local or national companies.

Evergreen State College is fully accredited and it is home to 4,398 students.

23. Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, Oregon
Founded in 1909, Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is Oregon’s leading college of art and design. It is also one of the top schools in the region for aspiring animator’s. Programs for aspiring animators fall under 4 categories: Animated Arts, Illustration, Video + Sound, and Drawing. Degrees are as follows: Animated Arts (BFA Media Arts), Illustration (BFA Design Arts), Video + Sound (BFA Media Arts), and Drawing (BFA Studio Arts).

In addition to the offerings listed above, PNCA offers a Post-Baccalaureate Residency, which lasts two semesters and offers study in the areas of Animation, Illustration, Intermedia, Video and Sound, and Drawing, to name a few. An MFA in Visual Studies is also on the menu and it is offered through PNCA’s Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies.

In addition to a variety of programs options, animation students have access to PNCA’s Studio Annex, which houses 92 state-of-the-art private studios, a 2,000 square feet critique and exhibition hall, and The Computer Arts Center, which houses professional equipment and ample studio space. Pacific Northwest College of Art is housed in 3 academic buildings in Portland’s Pearl District. The school is home to 1,450 students enrolled in more than a dozen programs.

24. The Art Institute of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
Established in 1997, The Art Institute of California-Los Angeles is home to hundreds of students enrolled in more than a dozen art and design programs. Popular programs for aspiring animators include the BS in Media Arts & Animation, a BS in Visual Effects & Motion Graphics, a BS in Digital Cinema & Video Production, and an AS in Video Production. 

Located in the beachy City of Santa Monica, The Art Institute of California-Los Angeles occupies around 107,000 square feet of computer lab, design lab, classroom, library, and lounge space. The Art Institute’s convenient location places it in driving distance from ABC, CBS, Columbia, Disney/Capital Cities, Paramount, Television City, Universal Studios, and more.

25. The Art Institute of Portland, Portland, Oregon
Established in 1963, The Art Institute of Portland is home to hundreds of students enrolled in Design, Fashion, Culinary, and Media Arts Programs. The school’s Media Art Programs attract animators from across the region, other parts of the U.S., and several other countries. Offerings include a BFA in Media Arts & Animation, a BFA in Digital Film & Video, and a BFA in Visual Effects & Motion Graphics.

Portland is home plenty of start-ups as well as established animation studios such as Deep Sky Studios, LAIKA, ADI, and Happy Trails Animation. The City is also home to the Oregon Film Department, the Northwest Animation Festival, the Portland Art Museum, and a very large population of artists. Located just a few hours from Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, Portland is also home to IFC's hit show "Portlandia."