Our 2013 list of the Top 10 Animation and Game Design Schools in the Southwest. We define the Southwest as Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Established in 1875 as Brigham Young Academy, Brigham Young University (BYU) is home to 30,290 students from 110 countries. The campus, which sat on just one acre of land in 1875, now sits on 560 acres in the Utah Valley. The campus houses 300 buildings and 10 colleges, which offer more than 280 academic programs at all degree levels.
Brigham Young University is famous for offering some of the nation’s best art, technology, and engineering programs. The school’s art and technology programs are housed in the College of Fine Arts and Communications and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. The Colleges offer a number of programs (and related programs) for aspiring animators. The BFA in Animation is an interdisciplinary degreeprogram and it is the top choice for aspiring animators. The second most popular option is the BS in Computer Science with an Animation emphasis.
Game designers may also appreciate BYU’s animation programs. They offer some of the same courses as many game design programs. Just a few required courses include Programming, Computer Graphics, 3D Computer Graphics, Special Effects, Storytelling, Character Animation, and Character Design. Related programs for both animators and game designers include the BFA in Illustration, the BA in Visual Arts with an Emphasis in Illustration or Graphic Design, and the BA in Interdisciplinary Humanities with an Emphasis in Film.
2. The University of Texas-Austin, Austin, Texas
Established in 1883, the University of Texas-Austin (UT Austin) is home to more than 50,000 students, making it the largest school in the University of Texas system and one of the largest public universities in the U.S. Situated on a 350-acre main campus, UT Austin houses 17 colleges and schools, along with 24,000 faculty and staff. The school offers more than 400 academic programs and it’s listed at number 25 in the 2012-13 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
The University of Texas-Austin has several offerings for aspiring game designers and animators. The recently launched Game Development program is an interdisciplinary undergraduate BS program that prepares students to “design, develop, create assets, and provide leadership for the rapidly growing video game industry both in Texas and around the world.” Students have access to Austin IGDA (a nonprofit advocacy group for the video games industry in Austin, Texas) and UT Austin’s Electronic Game Developers Society—EgaDS!
Another fine option for animators and game designers is the 3D Production curriculum. The College of Communication, Radio, Television, Film (RTF) plans to launch the nation's first 3D production curriculum in Fall 2013. 3D production students will produce a variety of 3D content and “explore recent 3D innovations, such as “glasses-free” 3D for television, tablets, cell phones, and small display devices.”
Other excellent options include MFA degrees in Film & Media Production and Screenwriting and a BS in Radio-Television-Film (RTF). The BS in Radio-Television-Film offers courses such as 2D Animation, 3D Production, CG for Film and Games (includes animation and visual/FX using Autodesk Maya), Interactive Digital Storytelling, Interactive Media and Game Development, Visual Effects and Motion Graphics, Advanced Visual Effects, Writing for Interactive Games & Media, and Editing.
3. New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
New Mexico State University became the state’s first Honors College at its founding in 1888. This NASA Space Grant College sits on 3,500 acres and it is considered one of the most diverse public institutions in the U.S. With more than 14,400 students enrolled in over 140 programs, New Mexico State University ranks in the top tier among the Best National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.
Also called NMSU, NM State or NMSU-Las Cruces, New Mexico State University has a large collection of art and design programs that’s as diverse as the school’s student body. Many of these programs have won a variety of awards. NMSU’s College of Arts & Sciences’ Creative Media Institute (CMI) recently received the Telly Awards’ Bronze Medal, the Accolade Award of Merit, and the Communicator Award of Distinction. CMI is home to NMSU’s Bachelor of Creative Media (BCM) degree program.
The Bachelor of Creative Media program offers two degrees—the Bachelor of Creative Media in Animation & Visual Effects (BCM-ANVE) and Digital Film Making (BCM-DFM). Foundation courses for both programs cover all aspects of digital filmmaking and digital arts, while the remaining courses are more specific to individual focus areas (ANVE or DSM). All CMI students have access to a “state of the art digital projection screening room, post-production lab, animation lab, and production space.” The Creative Media Institute also offers minors in Animation & Visual Effects and Digital Film Making.
4. University of Colorado-Denver, Denver, Colorado
The University of Colorado-Denver (UC Denver) originated in 1912 as an extension of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Today, the school consists of the Denver campus and the Anschultz Medical Campus and it is home to more than 17,000 students. In addition to a large student body, UC Denver offers more than 132 programs in 13 schools and colleges.
Although UC Denver is one of the nation’s top public urban research universities, the school has also built an excellent reputation in the world of animation and digital design. Aspiring animators and designers have several options to choose from. The most popular option is the BFA with an emphasis in 3D Graphics & Digital Animation or Digital Design. Other worthy options include the BFA with an emphasis in Illustration or Transmedia or the BFA in Film and Television. Minors are also on the menu and include Digital Design, Studio Art, and Theater, Film, & Video Production.
5. Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Established in 1911, Southern Methodist University (SMU) welcomed its first few students in 1915. Since then, the school has expanded to 685 acres, three campuses (Dallas, Plano, Texas and Taos, New Mexico), and more than 11,000 students. With a main campus that sits just five miles north of downtown Dallas, SMU offers more than 100 majors and minors throughout seven schools.
Ranked in the top one-fourth of the “Best National Universities” by U.S. News & World Report, and number 15 for "Happiest Students" by Princeton Review, Southern Methodist University has a number of top-rated offerings for artists and designers. The Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering at SMU offers a BS in Computer Science with a specialization in Game Development and the Meadows School of the Arts
offers a BFA in Studio Art/Master’s of Interactive Technology (M.I.T.) in Digital Game Development.
Listed in Parade Magazine's 2010 College A-List, the Meadows School of the Arts
works in partnership with the Guildhall at SMU. The Guildhall is the school’s “premier” graduate video game education program. The two schools manage the BFA/MIT program, which “coordinates with the Art Creation and Level Design tracks in Game Development.” To date, the program has produced hundreds of successful graduates, employed at more than 140 video game studios around the world.
Other related programs include a BFA in Film and Media Arts, a BA in Creative Computation, and a Graphic Design Minor. The Creative Computation BA allows students to study in a variety of areas such as 3-D Modeling and Animation, Interactive Design/Development, Software Engineering, Web Design, Mobile Application Development, Social Media, and more. This program may be a good fit for animation students that would like to develop skills in multiple areas art and design.
6. The University of Texas-Dallas, Dallas, Texas
Founded by the developers of Texas Instruments, the University of Texas-Dallas began as the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest in 1961. In 1967 the Center became the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (SCAS). Finally, in 1969, SCAS became the University of Texas-Dallas, also known as UT Dallas or UTD. At just 44 years old, the school already ranks in the top 100 by Kiplinger's and in the top 100 Universities in the world under 50 years old by Times Higher Education.
UT Dallas sits on a 500-acre campus in the heart of North Texas and it is home to 19,727 students, enrolled in 134 degree programs. The school offers an admirable collection of degrees for aspiring game designers. In fact, few universities offer all degree levels for game designers. Even fewer offer a PhD. In addition to the PhD, UT Dallas offers a BA, MA, and MFA in Arts and Technology with a strong focus in Game Design and Animation.
Introduced in 2004, the Arts and Technology program (ATEC) is listed as one of UTD’s most popular majors. Thanks to this innovative program, UT Dallas made the list of “Top Schools for Video Game Design” by Princeton Review. The ATEC graduate program also made the list of “Top 10 Graduate Programs” by Princeton Review.
The ATEC program features courses such as Computer Game Design, Computer Game Development, Computer Animation, Serious Games, Sonification, Game Pipeline Methodologies, Translations of Time & Space, and Interactive Narrative. A final project is required, and complementary majors are on the menu. The BA and MA in Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) are the most popular complementary programs.
7. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, Colorado
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) ranks ninth among Western regional public universities and ninth nationally for public undergraduate engineering by U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1965, UCCS is home to more than 10,000 students, enrolled in both on-campus and online programs, and it offers around 60 degree programs.
Program offerings range from the usual suspects to the unique. PGA Golf Management, Homeland Security, Sports Management, Geropsychology, and the Bachelor of Innovation are just a few of the schools distinctive programs. The UCCS Bachelor of Innovation™ Family of degrees caught the attention of U.S. Senator for Colorado Michael Bennet, who visited UCCS “specifically to discuss its unparalleled BI degree programs.” The BI in Game Design and Development, Computer Science, and Information Systems, are just a few members of the Family.
Established in 2007, the BI in Game Design and Development is the Family’s youngest member. However, the program has quickly become one of the regions top choices for aspiring game designers. Other offerings include the MS in Computer Science with a Games and Media Integration Option and a Game Design and Development Minor.
Offered through the College of Engineering & Applied Science, the MS program is for students interested in advanced study in the areas of Animation and Movie Making, Games, VR/HCI, Complex Systems, and Wearable Computing.
Related program offerings include a BA in Visual and Performing Arts with a Film Studies option and a BA in Communication with a Digital Filmmaking & Media Arts track.
8. The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
The University of Utah (The U) was established in 1850 as Deseret University. The school, which sits on a 1,535-acre campus in “the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain range,” is the oldest and largest university in the state of Utah. The U is home to more than 30,000 students, enrolled in more than 190 graduate and undergraduate programs.
The University of Utah has a number of impressive rankings in the area of technology. The U ranked number one in generating startup companies by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) and number 35 in Web Presence in North America by Webometrics Ranking of World Universities. The school also has several well respected programs for animators and aspiring game designers.
The Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) program was developed by the Department of Film and Media Arts in collaboration with the School of Computing. The EAE program offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. At the graduate level, the Entertainment Arts and Engineering: Master Games Studio (EAE:MGS) academic program features a Game Arts track (MFA), a Game Engineering track (MS), and a Game Production Track (MFA).
The undergraduate program is described as follows, “The Department of Film and Media Arts offers a transcript emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Students in the emphasis must actively pursue either a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film & Media Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science.” The Department also offers an Animation curriculum for students interested in Animation Production, and an MFA in Film Production. The School of Computing offers a five year combined BS/MS program as well.
9. Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Baylor University (BU) is a Christian college that was chartered in 1845, making it the oldest continually operating university in Texas. The school, which sits on a 1,000-acre campus on the Brazos River, houses 11 colleges and more than 15,000 students. Ranked number 77 in U.S. News & World Report’s annual review of colleges and universities, Baylor University offers an impressive 250 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs.
Baylor University offers several programs and related programs for aspiring animators and game designers. The Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Science with a Video Game Development specialization is offered through the School of Engineering and Computer Science. The program features a “Computer Science core, with a three-course game development sequence, and a four-course media production sequence.” This program is offered in cooperation with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Film and Digital Media Division of Communication Studies.
The Film and Digital Media Division of Communication Studies also offers a Bachelor's degree and a minor in Film and Digital Media (FDM). The program allows students to study areas such as Animation, Film, Video, Audio, Screenwriting, Media Effects, and New Media Production. Graduates of the FDM program have produced animated films, documentaries, short films, and more. The FDM Division also offers a MA in Communication Studies where students can take advanced courses in the areas listed above.
10. University of Advancing Technology, Tempe, Arizona
The University of Advancing Technology began as the CAD Institute in 1983.
Established as a school for engineers and architects, the school offered professional development training and certifications. In 1997, CAD Institute became the University of Advancing Computer Technology and in 2002, the school became the University of Advancing Technology (UAT). Today, the University of Advancing Technology consists of a 50,000-square-foot campus in Tempe with easy access to downtown Phoenix.
Home to more than 800 students, the University of Advancing Technology offers 20 undergraduate degrees “in advancing technology disciplines” and five graduate degrees. The most popular programs are the AA/BA in Game Design, the AS/BS in Game Programming, and the AA/BA in Digital Video. The school also offers top tier AA and BA programs in Game Art and Animation, Serious Games and Simulation, Digital Media, and Virtual Modeling and Design. A competitive BA in Digital Video and a MS in Game Production and Management are also offered.
Many UAT programs are offered virtually through UAT-Online. Online offerings include the BA in Game Design, Virtual Modeling and Design, and Game Art and Animation as well as the BS in Game Programming. UAT-Online allows students to “learn interactively, in short (5-week) intensive courses.”