Our 2014 list of the Top 100 Animation School Programs in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
When the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute merged in 1961 with the help of none other than Walt and Roy Disney, it became one of the most coveted artist’s communities on the west coast. Dubbed California Institute of Arts (better known as CalArts), the school quickly climbed the ranks to become one of the top ten schools for aspiring animators and America’s top college for students in the arts.
With famous graduates such as Chris Buck—2014 Oscar Winner for Best Animated Feature Frozen, Chris Sanders—2014 Oscar Nominee for Best Animated Feature The Croods, and Tim Burton to its credit, CalArts is the #1 animation school in the U.S..
Housed entirely in a 500,000-square-foot facility on a 60-acre campus, CalArts offers a variety of 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.
Besides access to 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, CalArts students live in the country’s #1 state for animators. California currently offers more lucrative employment opportunities for animators, filmmakers, and multimedia artists than any other place in the world.
The University of Southern California (USC) Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the former home of Kirk DeMicco. His film, The Croods, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film (2014). Over at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, you’ll find award-winning filmmakers such as George Lucas, Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, Judd Apatow and John Carpenter. The School also houses the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (HenchDADA), which offers innovative courses taught by award-winning animators such as Peter Chung (Animation for Concept and Layout Design).
USC, which ranked #3 on our list of top animation schools in 2013, sits in the heart of the Los Angeles—the entertainment capital of the world. It was established in 1880, but animation instruction at the school did not begin until 1941 and HenchDADA was born decades later in the mid-1980s. Instruction began with an animation elective and has grown into an extensive collection of coveted animation degree programs.
Home to 40,000 students (2012-2013) and two campuses—the 229-acre University Park Campus and 79-acre Health Sciences Campuses, USC 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).
Animation 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) at the company’s headquarters 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.
3. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers the largest collection of art and design programs and specializations in the U.S.—and possibly abroad. Established in 1978, SCAD has campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, and Hong Kong and a student body consisting of more than 11,000 students from all 50 states and 100 countries.
SCAD offers art and design degrees at all levels, as well as an endless number of minors. Options for animation majors include a BFA, MA, MFA and Minor in Animation, a BA, BFA, MA, MFA and Minor in Illustration, and BFA, MA, MFA and Minor in Film and Television. Listed among SCAD’s top five majors for fall 2011, the animation program offers access to ultramodern Mac and PC labs with Adobe Creative Suite, Maya, Motion Builder, Dragonframe, Houdini, NUKE, Massive, and more.
Atlanta students also have access to a real-world studio environment, in-house theater, and green screen lab at the SCAD Digital Media Center. All students have the opportunity to earn degree credit while studying abroad in exciting locales such as Australia, China, Dubai, France, Italy, Japan, and London. In addition, opportunities for SCAD students continue well after graduation. Around 91 percent of alumni respondents reported being employed, pursuing further education or both within nine months of graduation.
4. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has a large Film, Animation & Video Department that is proud to list alums such Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden who, in 2014, were nominated for an Oscar for the animated short film Feral; Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show), Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk, Elephant) and Robert Richardson (Inglourious Bastards, Django Unchained, Kill Bill: Vol. 1) among its many success stories. The Department attracts talent form around the world thanks to having one of the most competitive Film/Animation/Video programs in the U.S.
The BFA in Film/Animation/Video (FAV) offers the opportunity to produce a polished collection of animated works as well as experimental, documentary, or narrative projects. This fine arts college also offers access to classes and programs at adjacent Brown University and it’s an easy commute to the culture capital of the world—New York, as well as another major cultural center—Boston.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is one of the nation’s oldest schools of art and design.
The School was “founded and nurtured by women” in 1877, more than 40 years before women had the right to vote. Today, RISD is home to a co-ed student population of 2,420 (fall 2013) and more than 500 faculty members. This private, four-year art school sits on 51-acre urban campus, it owns a farm with an additional 33 acres of lawn and beachfront on Narragansett Bay, and it houses the popular regional attraction—the RISD Museum.
5. 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 renowned UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television (notable alums Francis Ford Coppola, Erick OH, Mariska Hargitay, Jim Morrison, and Tim Robbins), 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 the appropriate animation courses for credit.
Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, 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 animation and film studios to museums, theaters, and more.
6. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a private research university located just 5 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Founded in 1900, the school sits on a 143-acre campus and is home to more than 12,400 students and over 1,400 faculty members. Carnegie Mellon is also the former home of Andy Warhol, Nobel Prize in Economic Science winner John Nash Jr.—the inspiration for the Ron Howard film "A Beautiful Mind," and the inventor of emoticons (smileys). The school is also home to several programs for aspiring animators.
Options include a Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA), which is sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science (SCS) and the College of Fine Arts (CFA), a Masters of Entertainment (MET), and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Electronic & Time-Based Media (BFA ETB). Focus areas for the ETB program include animation, computational and interactive art, game arts, and video and performance.
Carnegie Mellon also offers a number of flexible degree options for aspiring animators. Students may choose the BCSA with ETC 5th-Year option leading to a Master of Entertainment Technology in ETC, the “regular” BFA where all students study animation, video, interactive media and more, and a Minor in Computer Science. Double major and double degree options are also on the menu.
All CMU art and design students are encouraged to get involved in the school’s study abroad program. Students have the opportunity to study in locations such as China, Japan, Germany, Spain, Brazil, France, and many others.
7. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida
Established in 1931 by John Ringling—co-founder of the Ringling Bros. Circus, Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) is home to North America’s #1 Computer Animation program (by 3D World Magazine) and it is listed among our top 10 animation schools in the U.S. In 2012, the school was named the #1 Digital Arts college in the world by ImagineFX, and RCAD graduates have worked on some of the highest grossing films of the new millennium (19 of the 25 top grossing films released in 2011 alone). The school also has alums such as Brandon Oldenburg to its credit. Oldenburg went on to become the co-founder of Moonbot Studios and he won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Short for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
Home to 1,364 students from across the U.S. and 53 foreign countries, RCAD offers a wide variety of programs aspiring animators. In addition to a BFA in Computer Animation, this private school of visual arts and design offers a BFA in Digital Filmmaking, Illustration, and Motion Design. Students that may be interested in opening their own studios may consider the RCAD Minor in Business of Art & Design.
8. New York University Tisch School of the Arts, New York, New York
With famous artists and filmmakers to its credit such as Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, M. Knight Shyamalan, Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men), and Billy Crystal, New York University Tisch School of Arts is without a doubt one of the world's most renowned art schools. Founded in 1965, this private school is home to more than 4,000 students enrolled in 5 divisions including the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, Skirball Center for New Media, Institute of Performing Arts, Department of Art and Public Policy, and the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television houses the BA in Film & Television with an Animation Core, the MFA in Animation & Digital Arts, and MFA in Film. Students may choose to study at the Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore—NYU's first degree granting campus outside New York City or at the school’s coveted NYC campus.
Founded in 1831, New York University is the largest private university in the U.S., it is home to more than 50,000 students; 14 schools, colleges, and divisions, and 16,000 employees. The school occupies five major centers in Manhattan. The largest is the Washington Square Center, which is in the heart of Greenwich Village—one of the City's most creative and historic neighborhoods.
9. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is home to several top computer graphics programs for aspiring animators. Offered through UPenn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, programs include Digital Media and Design (DMD), Graduate Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT), and the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation PhD (HMS). Many animators opt for the DMD program, which leads to a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Engineering-Digital Media Design or the CGGT program, which leads to a Master of Science in Computer Graphics and Game Technology.
Graduates of UPenn’s DMD program have worked on Oscar-winning animated films such as “Brave”, and many are currently employed at Pixar—one of the world’s top animation studios.
Founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania sits on 302-acre urban campus and it is home to 24,630 across four undergraduate and 12 graduate and professional schools. The school is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown Philadelphia—the city’s cultural center, and less than 2 hours from the glamour of NYC.
10. University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida
The University of Central Florida (UCF) School of Visual Arts and Design (SVAD) is one of the top schools of its kind. It offers an impressive 13 bachelor’s degree programs, 3 master’s degree programs, and 5 minors for aspiring artists of all kinds. Among them are a number of unique options for aspiring animators. Undergraduate programs include a BFA in Character Animation, a BFA in Experimental Animation, a BFA in Film, and a BA in Film – Cinema Studies. Master’s degree programs include an MFA in Emerging Media with a Digital Media or Studio Art and Computer Track, an MFA in Film – Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema, and an MA in Digital Media – Visual Language and Interactive Media. Minors include Digital Media and Film – Cinema Studies.
Students interested in studying multiple areas of art to better prepare for entry into the multi-faceted animation industry have a number of Art BA concentrations to choose from as well. SVAD offers concentrations in Illustration, Drawing and Printmaking, and Type and Design. Most SVAD classes are held at the Center for Emerging Media (CEM) in Downtown Orlando. The space houses the increasingly famous Florida Interactive Academy (FIEA), the Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology, and Entertainment (CREATE), the Advanced Design Lab (ADLab), Flying Horse Press, Citylab Orlando, and Vicon Entertainment's House of Moves motion capture studio.
With a student population of 60,000, the University of Central Florida (UCF) is the nation’s second largest university. It is home to 12 colleges offering 212 degree programs to students from all 50 states and 145 countries. Listed as one of the nations “Top Up-and-Coming” national universities by U.S. News & World Report, UCF sits on a 1,415-acre main campus with 600 acres dedicated to an arboretum, and scenic lakes and woods. The school also has 9 regional campuses located throughout Central Florida and a world-class study abroad program that allows students to study and conduct research in 37 programs in 18 countries.