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Top 50 Animation Schools and Colleges in the U.S. – 2016

Written by ACR StaffMay 2, 2016
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Our 2016 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)

Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, 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. With a population of 1,489 students enrolled in more than 70 programs at all degree levels, CalArts attracts a large population of aspiring filmmakers and animators. Around 26.9% of the student body is enrolled in the School of Film/Video, which offers BFA degrees in Character Animation and Experimental Animation. An MFA in Experimental Animation is also available.

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Dubbed the “Harvard Business School of Animation” by the Los Angeles Times, CalArts has produced hundreds of successful alumni who have generated more than $26 billion in box office grosses since 1985. 

2. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida (top 1% of schools considered)

Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) was established in 1931 by circus baron, art collector, and real estate developer John Ringling. The school opened with 111 courses and just 75 students. Today, RCAD sits on a 35-acre campus and is home to 1,300 degree-seeking students with 94% enrolled full-time, and 6% enrolled part-time. The school offers BA and BFA degree programs in 13 majors. The Computer Animation program, which was established in 1990, leads to a BFA and it is one of the most popular programs at RCAD. Around 20% of the student population is enrolled in the program.  

RCAD graduates go on to work at studios such as Pixar Animation Studios, LucasFilm, Warner Bros. and MTV. Some have started their own studios. Moonbot Studios is just one example. 

3. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (top 5% of schools considered)

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978. It is home to more than 12,000 students enrolled in over 40 majors and 60-plus minors. With campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France, SCAD offers several programs for aspiring animators through the School of Digital Media. Options include BFA (Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah), MA Savannah, eLearning), and MFA (Atlanta, Savannah, eLearning) degrees in Animation. A Minor in Animation is also on the menu.

Graduates of SCAD’s animation programs have landed positions at major studios such as Walt Disney Animation Studios, Digital Domain, and Bento Box Entertainment.

4. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (top 5% of schools considered)

Established in 1880, the University of Southern California (USC) is home to 43,000 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors. Program offerings for aspiring animators include a BA in Animation and Digital Arts and a BFA in Film and Television Production with heavy Animation and Interactive Media electives. The BA program is offered through The John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts at the School of Cinematic Arts. The BFA is offered through the Division of Film and Television Production of the School of Cinematic Arts.

USC also offers a Minor in Animation and Digital Arts along with several graduate programs for animators including an MFA in Animation and Digital Arts and an MFA in Interactive Media with heavy Animation electives. Graduates of the Animation programs at USC have been hired at Pixar Animation Studios, Rhythm and Hues, Industrial Light & Magic, DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Sony Pictures, Digital Idea, Illumination Entertainment, Digital Domain and many others. 

5. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island (top 5% of schools considered)

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is home to 2,481 students from across the U.S. and 57 other countries. This private art school offers 16 undergraduate and 16 graduate art and design programs. Founded in 1877, RISD has a large Film/Animation/Video Department (FAV) that highlights a variety of programs for aspiring filmmakers and animators. Offerings for animators include a BFA in Film/Animation/Video (BFA FAV). This program is listed among RISD’s top five most popular majors.

RISD boast famous alumni such as Seth Macfarlane, creator of Family Guy, Daniel Sousa, animator and director of the Oscar-nominated film Feral and Lance Wilder, animator for The Simpsons.

6. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York (top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1947 as “Cartoonists and Illustrators School,” School of Visual Arts (SVA) is home to 6,000 students at its Manhattan campus and has 35,000 alumni in 100 countries. With more than 30 program offerings for aspiring artists, SVA offers BFA degrees in Animation, Computer Art, and Computer Animation and Visual Effects. An MFA in Computer Art is also on the menu as well as a BFA in Cartooning and Continuing Education (CE) Animation courses.

SVA animation graduates can be found working at Sony ImageWorks, Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Curious Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Studios, Marvel Entertainment, MTV, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and many others.

7. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California (top 5% of schools considered) 

The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the Animation Workshop of the School of Theater, Film and Television. Founded in 1948 by William Shull, a Disney animator, the UCLA Animation Workshop is a three-year MFA program (MFA in Film, Television, and Digital Media) that accepts just 12 new students each year.

Students applying to the MFA program come from a variety of backgrounds; some have earned a BA or BFA in art or film studies, applicants also come from English, engineering, architecture, psychology, communications, and more. Animation graduates have landed positions at Pixar Animation Studios, and every major animation studio in Southern California; they have gone on to direct features such as The Simpsons Movie and Monster House and have directed with Tim Burton producing (the feature film 9). 

UCLA also offers a BA in Film Television and Digital Media with a Concentration in Animation for senior students. The BA program gives students the opportunity to study all facets of digital media, film, and television, as well as a full year of animation studies, followed by an internship.

Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, UCLA is home to 43,239 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The school offers 323 degree programs and majors through the College of Letters and Science, the university’s 11 professional schools, and more than 109 academic departments. 

8. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1887, Pratt institute is home to 4,617 students. The school offers 22 undergraduate degree programs, 26 graduate degree programs, and a variety of Certificate and Minor programs across five schools and The Center for Continuing and Professional Studies. The Pratt Institute School of Art offers a BFA in Digital Arts with Concentrations in 3-D Animation and Motion Arts, and 2-D Animation. The School also offers an MFA degree in Digital Animation and Motion Arts.

Pratt Institute School of Art alumni can be found working at major studios such as Walt Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks Studios, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, Curious Pictures, Sony Imageworks, Cartoon Network, and many others.

9. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1900, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is home to 13,650 students, enrolled in more than 100 programs across seven colleges. The College of Fine Art, School of Art offers a BFA in Electronic and Time-Based Media with a Focus in Animation and a Bachelor’s in Integrative Design, Arts and Technology (IDeATe) with a Concentration in Animation and Special Effects. According to CMU, “the Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network connects students and faculty from across the university through coursework and collaborative studio experiences.” It allows students from every college to take minors or concentrations in Animation, Special Effects, Game Design, and more.

In addition to the programs listed, the College of Fine Art, School of Art at CMU offers supportive courses that serve “to enrich the student experience in IDeATe.” Offerings include Advanced ETB: 2D Animation, Advanced ETB: Animation, Advanced ETB: Moving Image Magic: Visual Effects and Motion Graphics, and Animation, Art, and Technology. The school’s interdisciplinary programs combine art school and computer science.

10. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (top 5% of schools considered)

Founded in 1866 as the Chicago Academy of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. Home to 3,590 students enrolled in more than 25 programs, SAIC offers several programs for aspiring animators through its Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department (FVNMA). Options include a BFA or MFA in Studio with a Concentration Animation, and a Certificate in Studio.

Students in the FVNMA Department have access to world-class resources such as the Art Institute of Chicago Museum, on-campus galleries, and state-of-the-art facilities. Specifics include The Video Data Bank—the leading resource in the United States for videos by and about contemporary artists, The Gene Siskel Film Center—one of the country's premiere screening venues dedicated to promoting alumni, student, and faculty work, and The Donna and Howard Stone Gallery for film, video, and new media in the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing.