The program is among the most academically rigorous of any on our list, featuring a comprehensive approach that couples computer science with the arts to mimic the industry itself. To navigate the challenges, Game Design students learn from a robust faculty of professionals who have combined their love of the industry with a passion for teaching and research. To gain acceptance, applicants will need a full arsenal of high marks and a sophisticated portfolio. It’s also highly recommended that prospective students attend an open house- giving them the opportunity to see first-hand the demands of the program while allowing them to discuss their goals with faculty, staff and current students.
Current Tuition: full time in-state $9,420; full time non-resident $27,564
10. Florida International University Miami, FL. Treasure is often found where you least expect it, hiding in the shadows and only visible to those who have the keen sense to search for it. A career in animation can be a bit like finding treasure… it’s a path, rather than a destination. While the ability to use the latest software is nearly pre-requisite to many jobs in the industry, studios again and again tell us that a solid foundation in art trumps any single ability to use the latest technical tool (which is, after all, just waiting to be ousted by the next gen software). For students perhaps possessing tech savoir-faire and keen to further develop their art skills in the context of becoming better animators, Florida International University’s Studio Art program is one that we’ve found to be often cited.
From Drawing and Sculpture to Photography and Digital Art, the Studio Art program covers the groundwork for students who are often highly sought after by studios upon graduation. A strong mentorship program and faculty critiques are cornerstones of FIU’s programs and complete the educational experience. With some 33,000 students in the cultural capital of Miami, the university attracts a diverse array of aspiring artists. As a publicly funded state school, tuition rates for Florida residents are equally as compelling. Undergraduate applicants should expect a 39% acceptance rating, and graduate applicants will need a strong portfolio of their work to stand out in the crowd.
Current Tuition: $4,431 full time undergraduate in-state; $16,830 non-resident
8. Digital Media Arts College Boca Raton, FL. DMAC is a small school on Florida’s Atlantic coast that has caught the attention of many in the industry who are interested in hiring animators ready to roll from day one. With a BFA in Computer Animation and an MFA in Visual Effects Animation programs, the school leverages its skilled industry professionals in very low student to faculty ratios. Emphasis is placed on portfolios that will eventually help to land graduates their first jobs in the industry. From screenplays to storyboards and modeling to lighting, BFA students are immersed in every step of the production process. Successful animators never stop learning, and the MFA program in Visual Effects is particularly appealing to current animators looking to further develop their skills using advanced techniques while earning an advanced degree in the process.
True to the school’s vision to serve as an artistic mecca for students, you’ll find graffiti room replete with leather couches under its 33,000 square foot facility. A MoCap green screen, labs and gallery allow all students access to the tools they need to develop their own artistic vision and voice. Though a small school, clubs and organizations are encouraged and mostly fall within the artistic realm- Anime Sketching or an FX Club, anyone? If you need even more inspiration, stroll over to the beach during downtimes and take in the views.
Current Tuition: $528 per credit hour.
7. University of South Florida Tampa, FL. The University of South Florida boasts a multidisciplinary Digital Video & Electronic Arts program that is not to be overlooked for those with an interest in the digital arts. Though not without parameters, students are encouraged to tailor their curriculum to suit their own needs and are given all of the tools and resources necessary to do so. Housed in the School of Art & Art History, undergrads receive high level technical training in the latest industry equipment with an emphasis on pre- and post-production skills. They also have 24-hour access to an enviable Adobe software studio, a 16-seat Apple studio and a ‘media cage’ (featuring top of the line cameras, recorders and more) where they can explore possibilities and develop their individual artistic voices.
As a national public university, USF offers students a complete education that can further broaden horizons on its lush Gulf Coast home just a stone’s throw from industry opportunities. Florida state residents will have a hard time finding better tuition rates, as well. Accordingly, USF’s acceptance rating sits at just 44%, so interested high school students should bolster their applications ahead of time.
Current Tuition: $5,198 full-time in-state; $16,007 non-resident
6. Texas A&M University College Station, TX. Founded as a men’s college for agricultural and mechanical studies (hence the A&M), Texas A&M today ranks #58 nationally (US News) and offers a wide variety of majors to co-eds. For our purposes, we are smitten with its Visualization Department (VizLab) in the College of Architecture. Catching our attention with an impressive lineup of undergraduate and graduate offerings, the VizLab program blends fine arts with 3D design and technology and has made a formidable splash in the industry.
Fostering a modern-day visualization renaissance, the curriculums of each of the degrees in the program combine science with art. Undergrads take tantalizing courses in the principles of design, science and technology in art, and computing for visualization. To fully develop their repertoire and experience, all undergraduates are required to spend a semester abroad or hold an industry internship. And like other stand-out programs on our list, the department participates in the annual SIGGRAPH conference, offering students a chance for their work to shine. Impressive faculty and student research exemplifies the program’s holistic approach while alumni can be found working at all of the big visual effects and animation houses including Laika, DreamWorks, Blizzard, Pixar and more.
Current Tuition: $8,387 undergraduate in-state; $22,817 non-resident
5. Full Sail University Winter Park, FL. A host of for-profit digital art schools have cropped up in recent decades catering to the burgeoning CG industries and generally promising marketable skills for graduates. Frankly, it can be tough to ascertain which are worth their weight in gold… especially when tuition rates hover near the $30,000 mark annually! While not everyone will succeed at Full Sail, you are guaranteed to have access to some of the most jaw-dropping, heart-racing state-of-the-art facilities and tools anywhere… it’s up to you to use them wisely.
Full Sail’s Orlando-area campus is unambiguously grand with constantly updated technologies that prove to be virtually unmatched at smaller or less costly schools. But, as readers of this site and its Interview Series know all too well, tools can only get you so far. So let’s skip the talk about the impressive campus (though we encourage you to have fun with the websites virtual tour) and get to the meat and potatoes. The university offers a plethora of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Animation, Game Design, Digital Arts and more that are offered on campus and (hold your breath) online. You’ll find Full Sail’s graduates splattered across the industry working in junior and senior roles alike. The school is quick to point out its wildly successful graduates whose achievements are well known (like Pixar’s Kris Klein), but it’s worth noting that its job placement rating to the industry is high and many of its programs have garnered considerable accolades (particularly from the Gaming industry).
If you have the aspiration to make it in the incredibly competitive animation or game design industries, you’ll find ample opportunity at Full Sail to develop your skills. Leverage the faculty, the technology, the local Orlando studio connections, the student organizations and the career development crew to get into ship shape and set you on your path. Once you’ve graduated, take advantage of their free open door policy to ramp up your skills, as well.
Current Tuition: (Vary by degree) $15,333 per semester in Computer Animation (5.25 semesters to graduate).
4. University of Texas at Dallas Dallas, TX. Animation programs on the cutting edge are often those that seek to bridge the gap between technology and art, and UT Dallas’ Arts & Technology Department is no different. What is unique is the way in which the program combines an array of faculty and students with varying interests- from performance artists and gamers to programmers and designers. The B.A. in Arts & Technology is tailored to each student and includes animation, interactive games, virtual worlds, sound design and more. An M.A. in the department works similarly, as does the MFA and PhD programs.
Thanks to UT Dallas’ enviable position as a leading national university, there is no shortage of lectures, internships and organizations for students to participate in. Among the best is the work being done at the university’s Computer Graphics & Animation Lab, where graduate, undergraduate and post-doc students share their knowledge and ideas for research in computer graphics, animation and simulation, virtual reality, modeling and more.
Current Tuition: $11,168 full time in-state; $28,194 non-resident
3. DAVE School (Digital Animation & Visual Effects School) Orlando, FL. Digital Animation & Visual Effects School has worked hard to earn its reputation as one of the best places to learn the craft of animation. Conveniently situated on the Universal Studios back lot in Orlando, DAVE School’s one year training programs beckon budding animators and visual effects artists for more reasons than one. While you won’t find the broad, liberal arts or science-based curriculums that you will elsewhere, the school offers compelling programs that get dedicated students up to speed for a fruitful career including: Fundamentals of Computer Animation, Digital Modeling and Texturing, Movie Magic- the Art of Visual Effects and Stereoscopic 3D Production.
DAVE always seems to be weaving the latest tools of the trade into its curriculum and objectives. Students gain daily experience with AutoDesk Motion Builder, LightWave 3D, ZBrush and more. A massive green screen, MoCap system and labs under a 35,000 square foot facility further allures those eager to learn the ropes by using the industry’s latest favored equipment. Strong graduation and high employment placement are hallmarks of DAVE, which seeks to get graduates to production-level competency within just 12 short but grueling months. Talk to many in the industry and they will affirm that while education is always what a student puts into it, DAVE graduates possess the generalist skills that get them up and going while setting them up for a fruitful career. Frequent visits by hiring studios, career coaching and even the ability for graduates to re-take classes for free all contribute to alumni success for those who seize the opportunities.
Current Tuition: Unpublished
2. Ringling College of Art & Design Sarasota, FL. Ask just about any animator or studio recruiter for their short list of top animation programs and our money says Ringling will be on it. RCAD has been one of the premier art schools in the country since its founding in 1931 by the famous circus magnate, John Ringling. But the school’s animation program does anything but clown around. True to its objectives as an art college, Ringling emphasizes a well-rounded approach to animation which continually attracts the industry’s attention. Its deliberately broad curriculum leaves no stone left unturned. Enviably, new students are welcomed to the sunny shores of Florida’s Gulf Coast with a new Apple MacBook, and it was recently dubbed the ‘Most Wired US Campus’ with a 2:1 computer to student ratio!
Of course, tools only get you so far. Strong narrative skills, a keen sense of the world and a desire to rise to the top are all hallmarks of Ringling graduates. It’s little wonder that the program’s students have garnered top honors including 8 Student Academy Awards to date. Ringling also hosts a large number of recruiters from the world’s top animation studios and art companies. Many students land coveted internships that set them on enviable career paths. Though the overall acceptance rate at Ringling is relatively favorable at 74%, Computer Animation applicants should spend time bulking up their (required) entrance portfolio for an edge.
Current Tuition: $33,930 full-time annually
1. Savannah College of Art & Design Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah. Take a BFA in Animation. Add an MA and MFA with various minors. Boast a stellar list of faculty members and an enviable dose of industry recruiters. Spread the whole thing out over two continents and top it off with a nearly stellar graduate job placement rating. Yup… we’re speaking about Savannah College of Art & Design’s Animation Department, which tops our southern list. SCAD students choose from a smorgasbord of course offerings that touch every area of interest. Each program is renowned for its robust training that leverages industry input and trends alongside tried and true pedagogy. Don’t take our word for it: over 500 international companies actively recruit their graduates each year from SCAD including Walt Disney, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Electronic Arts, SPI, Rhythm & Hues and too many others to list.
The school boasts three campuses offering animation degrees and students at each have it good… really good. Classic Antebellum architecture greets Savannah campus; in Atlanta, a new state-of-the-art 60,000 square foot facility allows them to train in a real-world studio environment with the latest technology; and recently SCAD’s embraced a global direction with the opening of its Hong Kong campus in the electronic district of the city. With so many directions to choose from, we had to give top honors to Savannah College of Art & Design.
Current Tuition: $30,510 full-time undergraduate