What are the top animation schools in the southwest for 2021?

Top 10 Animation Schools in the Southwest - 2021 College Rankings
1Brigham Young UniversityUtah
2Texas A&M UniversityTexas
3University of Texas at DallasTexas
4Rocky Mountain College of Art and DesignColorado
5University of Colorado DenverColorado
6Arizona State UniversityArizona
7New Mexico State UniversityNew Mexico
8Sam Houston State UniversityTexas
9University of Advancing TechnologyArizona
10Oklahoma Christian UniversityOklahoma

Our 2021 rankings -our tenth annual- of the Top 10 Animation 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
Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University (BYU) was founded in 1875 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). With 30,745 undergraduate students, BYU says it has the largest undergraduate enrollment of any private university in the U.S. The school also serves close to 2,800 graduate students enrolled in 88 master's degree programs, and 32 doctorate programs. Around 187 undergraduate majors and 110 undergraduate minors are also offered across dozens of colleges and departments.

The College of Fine Arts and Communications, Department of Design offers a BFA in Animation and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Department of Computer Science offers a BS in Computer Science with a limited enrollment Animation Emphasis. In the BFA program, students study digital and traditional animation, illustration, figure drawing, and other topics. They also have opportunities to visit artist, film and gaming studios, study abroad, and complete an internship.

All students will work on personal and group projects, and major films, and develop portfolios that will help them secure a position in the animation industry.

The 79-hour BYU Computer Science Animation Emphasis gives students a strong background in computer science fundamentals (38 hours), which is complemented by courses in visual arts (21). Course highlights include 3D Computer Graphics, 3D Visual Effects, Computer Programming, Concepts of Programming Languages, History of Animation, Interactive Graphics and Image Processing, Lighting for Three-Dimensional Graphics, Photography for Animation, Shader Processing, and Video Game Production.

Students in both programs have the opportunity to gain entrance to the BYU Center for Animation (est. 2010), which operates under the direction of three colleges—the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Fine Arts and Communications, and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. Accepting just 20-25 students each year through the BFA or BS program, the BYU Center for Animation is a competitive, highly dynamic, hands-on program structured to provide students with the skill sets necessary for success in the animation, live-action, special effects, and game industries.

Graduates of the animation programs at BYU have landed positions at gaming and feature film companies such as Blizzard Entertainment, Blue Sky Studios, Digital Domain, Disney, DreamWorks, Hasbro, ILM, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Riot Games, and Sony Pictures Animation.

2. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University

Established in 1876, Texas A&M University (TAMU) is the state’s first public institution of higher learning. With the College Station campus covering more than 5,200 acres and serving more than 69,000 students, Texas A&M is also among the nation’s largest universities. The school serves an additional 5,200 students at branch campuses in Galveston and Qatar and at the School of Law, Higher Education Center at McAllen, and Health Science Center locations across Texas.

Texas A&M offers 133 undergraduate degree programs, 175 master's degree programs, 92 doctoral degree programs and five first professional degrees in 17 colleges and schools. The College of Architecture’s Department of Visualization, which broadly defines animation within “Visualization,” offers several programs for aspiring animators. Options include BS, MS, and MFA degrees in Visualization.

The Visualization program started one year after the Texas A&M University Visualization Laboratory was established in 1988. The Lab and Program were created “in response to clear indications that digital visualization was going to play a highly important role in digital communication,” says the school. Today, “the visualization academic programs produce leaders in the fields where art and science merge.”

The BS in Visualization is a 120 credit hour studio-based program that integrates aspects of fine arts, 3D design, and digital technology into the studio experience. The program focuses on “the processes of creation, design and development of the visual experience.”

The MFA in Visualization (MFA-V) is one of the few programs of its kind in the U.S. This 60 credit hour, interdisciplinary program “is a technology infused visual arts oriented degree,” that helps students “master the use of artistic visual communication and expression through the combined use of digital and analog mediums.” Course highlights include 3D Modeling and Animation, Computer Animation, Digital Compositing, Facial Modeling and Animation, Form, Installation and Environment, Physical Computing for Art and Design, Rendering and Shading, and Visual Storytelling.

The MFA is a non-thesis program that also includes two Contemporary Art Studio Seminars, four hours of Professional Practice, 20 hours of Professional Study, and a Professional Internship worth three credit hours.

The MS in Visualization has thesis and non-thesis options. The thesis option requires 32 hours of study and the non-thesis option requires 36 hours, including a Capstone Project and Graduate Seminar. Course highlights for the programs include 3D Modeling & Animation, Design Communications, Digital Image, Image Synthesis, and Time Based Media.

Visualization graduates, also known as “Vizzers,” can be found working as creative talent for Hollywood’s leading animation and special effects studios. Just a few include Blue Sky Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar, Reel FX, Rhythm & Hues Studios, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

3. University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
University of Texas at Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) traces its roots back to 1961 when the founders of technology company Texas Instruments established the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest (GRCSW). In 1967, the Center changed its name to the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies and to University of Texas at Dallas in 1969.

An official member of the University of Texas System, today UT Dallas serves more than 28,000 students enrolled in more than 140 academic degrees in eight schools. The School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) offers programs that blend science, technology, engineering, art, & management (STEAM). Four options are available for aspiring animators: a BA in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication with an Animation Pathway, (BA ATEC), an MA in Arts and Technology (MA ATEC), an MFA in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (MFA ATEC) with an Animation Pathway, and a PhD in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (PhD ATEC).

The ATEC curriculum “provides exposure to arts, science, technology, history, design, criticism, new knowledge creation, and complex understandings,” says the school. Undergraduate students “acquire foundational skills in media studies, cultural theory, computer programming, and creative production.” Master’s degree students “deepen their expertise in an area and develop understanding in adjacent topics.” Students in the doctoral program “demonstrate mastery in methods of research, analysis, and creative practice, informed by history, theory, and aesthetics.”

The Animation Pathway “blends creative storytelling with technology to encourage experimentation in form, content, and medium and emphasizes 3D animation, which includes various artistic and technical disciplines such as modeling and texturing, character rigging, lighting and composition, computer programming and scripting, as well as character movement and acting.”

ATEC students have the opportunity to take a total of 15 credit hours/five courses in Animation, Design, Storytelling, and Games, to name a few. Courses such as Topics in Animation, Topics in ATEC, and Topics in Game Development are also available. Other program highlights include seminars and lectures, project and portfolio-based exercises, applied and experimental research, and guest speakers from industry giants such as Blue Sky Studios, Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar.

Graduates of the ATEC programs at UT Dallas are prepared to seek careers in animation and other areas of entertainment, as well as new and emerging fields such as medical and scientific visualization.

4. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver, Colorado
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design

In 1963, educator and illustrator Philip J. Steele founded Rocky Mountain School of Art as a proprietary institution in the foothills of Colorado. Steele’s mission was to make the school a “community of creatives” that that would instill in all students a passion for creativity, innovation, and a desire for lifelong learning in the fine and applied arts. Today, the school has a new name—Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) and it is considered one of the nation’s premier art and design institutions.

Serving more than 1,000 students, RMCAD offers 16 degree and certificate programs offered in campus/hybrid and online formats. More than 100 students are enrolled in the schools Animation Program, which offers both 2D and 3D Animation emphases.

Animation program highlights include 2D and 3D Drawing, Character Design, Line of Action, Modeling, Stop-Motion, and Storyboarding. With small class sizes, students will explore these areas and every level of animation through hands-on training led by experienced artists in the field.

The animation programs at RMCAD may be completed in four years and they lead to the BFA degree. Students will leave the programs with a polished portfolio of their work.

RMCAD animation graduates are prepared to seek positions such as 3D Artist, Animator, Character Developer, Digital Videographer, Flash Developer/Designer, New Media Designer, and many others. Alumni have landed positions at Blue Sky Studios, Industrial Light & Magic, Lola VFX, and Pixar, to name a few.

5. University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Colorado Denver

The University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) began as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1912. The school became an independent campus in 1973 and one of the four campuses of the University of Colorado System. What began in one building in downtown Denver has grown to more than 125 acres and more than 15,000 students enrolled each year.

More than 100 degree and 76 certificate programs are offered in 13 colleges and schools. The College of Arts & Media houses the Department of Visual Arts (VA) and the Digital Animation Center (DAC), which offer a BFA in Visual Arts with an Emphasis in 3D Graphics and Animation.

The DAC “provides the labs and technological core of the academic program, while creating a community of student collaboration. Most professional digital content creators work with as many as 500 other artists; the DAC is one of the only college level programs preparing students for this environment, focusing on individual artistry while simultaneously fulfilling the broader vision of a final production.”

The 3D Graphics and Animation Emphasis “is a competitive and rigorous four-year curriculum,” says the school, consisting of 120 credit hours, total. The program focuses on “preparing students to work in a wide variety of fields that use animated digital computer graphics (CG), including entertainment, film and television, gaming, medicine, and science.” Course highlights include Advanced Character Animation, Character FX, Dynamic Simulation, Environment Production, Preproduction for Look Development, Surface Modeling, and Texturing and Shading.

To fine-tune the emphasis, students are also required to take at least twelve semester hours of Visual Arts electives such as Digital Cinematography, Digital 3D Methods: Motion Graphics for Animators and Storyboarding for Cinema and Game Previsualization. An 18-month Capstone experience, which begins development in the junior year, is also part of the program.

To date, DAC student senior short films have been seen in over 300 national and international film festivals in 22 countries. The school says its student films have been seen by hundreds of thousands across the globe, winning more than 75 Best Animated Short awards in non-student categories.

6. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
Arizona State University

Arizona State University (ASU) was founded in 1885 as the Arizona Territorial Normal School. Originally housed in a modest school building, ASU opened with just 33 students training to become public school teachers. Today, the school has four campuses and more than 70,000 students, making it the third largest university in Arizona.

ASU offers 800 fully accredited degree programs in 16 colleges and schools. Programs for aspiring animators are offered in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School of Art and School of Arts, Media and Engineering, and in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Polytechnic Campus.

The Herberger Institute for Design, School of Art offers a BFA in Art with a Concentration in Animation and an Art MFA. The Institutes’ School of Arts, Media and Engineering offers a BA in Digital Culture (Graphic Information Technology) with a Digital Media – Media Arts & Design Track, and a Minor and Certificate in Digital Culture. The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering offers a BS in Graphic Information Technology with a Game Art and Animation Track.

The BFA in Art – Animation consists of 120 credit hours of study, including 45 upper division requirements. Dozens of electives are offered for students wishing to enhance the degree with experience in other areas such as game design. Course highlights include 2D Digital Animation, 3D Computer Imaging and Animation, Animation Motion Studies, Encounters with Contemporary Art, Professional Practices for Design and the Arts, Storyboarding and Narrative Sequencing, and The Art Experience.

Elective highlights include 3D Computer Graphics Modeling and Representation, Animating Virtual Worlds, Animation for Film, Computer Animation and Video, Digital-Physical Systems, Experimental Video Art, Fantasy Figure Foam Carving, Game Development, Game Engine Development, Graphics for Games, Guerilla VFX, Moving and Interactive Systems in Sculpture, Prototyping Dreams, Video Game Art, and Visual Effects.

Students will also complete an Animation Capstone that allows them to produce a “substantial animation project of their own devising,” says the school. Students may complete an individually produced short film in any medium or full-length film produced in collaboration with other students. An internship is offered as well.

The Art MFA allows students to select a focus from a range of media including animation, ceramics, intermedia, metals, painting and drawing, photography, printmaking, sculpture, textiles, and woods. Besides access to a range of focus areas, MFA students benefit from individual studio spaces at Grant Street Studios, professionalization workshops, teaching opportunities, and visiting artist and scholar lecture series.

The Art MFA program culminates in a solo thesis exhibition in one of the school’s art galleries including Harry Wood Gallery, Northlight Gallery, and Step Gallery.

The Digital Culture Programs in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering allow students to complete a wide variety of animation courses through electives and the Digital Media – Media Arts & Design Track.  2D Animation, 3D Computer Imaging and Animation, Animation for Film, Animation Motion Studies, Games & Play, Illustration, Motion Graphics & Animation, Stop-Motion Animation, and Visual Effects are just a few course highlights.

The Game Art and Animation Track in the Graphic Information Technology BS Program has five required classes: 3D Computer Graphics Modeling and Representation, Computer Animation, Image Editing and Manipulation, Introduction to Video Game Art, and Special Topics. This 120 credit hour program also includes courses such as Creative Thinking and Design Visualization, Digital Illustration and Publishing, Digital Video Techniques, Graphic Communications, Multimedia Design, Planning and Storyboards, and Web Authoring.

Students in this program will complete a senior project and a three credit hour Professional Portfolio Design and Presentation course.

Graduates of the animation programs at ASU are prepared for a wide range of careers in animation, game art, illustration, modeling, motion graphics, multimedia art, special effects, video game design, visual media, and many others.

7. New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University (NMSU) was founded in 1888 as Las Cruces College. The NMSU system, which consists of five colleges, serves more than 36,000 students enrolled in over 100 programs across seven colleges and a graduate school. The Las Cruces campus, which serves more than 14,000 students from 49 states and 89 foreign countries, is NMSU’s largest campus.

The College of Arts and Sciences is the largest college at NMSU, teaching every freshman and offering degrees to over 6,000 majors. The college houses 24 academic departments, including the Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts (CMI). The Institute offers a Bachelor of Creative Media in Animation & Visual Effects (BCM-ANVE) or Digital Filmmaking. A Minor in Animation & Visual Effects and Certificates in Graphics and Animation and Creative Media are also available.

The 120 credit, cross-disciplinary BCM-ANVE program has two pathways: 2D Production Studio and 3D & VFX Production Studio. Students in the program will study all aspects of digital filmmaking and digital arts, whether they are aspiring animators, directors, cinematographers, visual effects artists, or writers.

The CMI curriculum, which focuses on the art, craft, and business of storytelling, consists of courses such as 2D Animation, 3D Animation, 2D and 3D Production Studio, Character Design and Development, Digital Illustration, Drawing for Animation, Modeling, Motion Capture Techniques, Previsualization, Rigging for 3D Animation, Screenwriting, Sets and Environment, Visual Effects, and Writing for Animation.

Other program highlights include internship and study abroad opportunities, access to a state of the art digital projection screening room, post-production lab, animation lab, and production space, and free entry into the Las Cruces International Film Festival.

8. Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas
Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University (SHSU) was founded in 1879 as the Sam Houston Normal Institute, which trained teachers for the public schools of Texas. Today, SHSU serves more than 21,500 students, making it one of the largest universities in Texas. The school offers over 90 bachelor's degree programs, more than 60 master’s degree programs, and 10 doctoral programs, including the nation’s first PhD in Forensic Science.

Programs at SHSU are in eight colleges, including the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication—home to the Department of Art. Here, aspiring animators can earn a BFA in Computer Animation.

One of the most popular programs in the Department of Art, the Computer Animation program offers a highly collaborative experience in 2D and 3D animated storytelling to a diverse student body. Students in the program take courses such as 2D Animation, 3D Animation for Interactive Games, 3D Computer Animation, Character Animation, 3D Modeling, the History of Animation, and Pre-Visualization.

In addition, all art majors will spend a semester in the W.A.S.H. (Workshop in Art Studio and History) program, which emphasizes contemporary and collaborative art practices. Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue careers in advertising, film and television animation, game development, internet media, and publishing.

9. University of Advancing Technology, Tempe, Arizona
University of Advancing Technology

University of Advancing Technology (UAT) was founded in 1983 as the CAD Institute, where students were trained in computer-aided design and engineering. Today, this private and family-owned University serves more than 1,000 students enrolled in dozens of associate, bachelor, and master degree programs in areas including Business & Innovation, Creation & Simulation, Cybersecurity, Digital Arts, Game Studies, and Software Engineering.

Programs for aspiring animators include a BA in Game Art and Animation that the school describes as a “computer animation degree.” The program consists of 120 credit hours, including 36 major credits. Per the school, “students in the Game Art and Animation program will gain an insight into what is involved at all levels of game development to create 2D and 3D art and animation assets for multiple video game platforms such as PC, consoles, mobile, online and VR.” They will also “master the artistic principles used in video game art asset creation such as color theory, lighting, shading, anatomy, perspective, scene staging, modeling low polygon and high polygon, 3D modeling texturing, rigging and key frame and motion capture animations.”

Course highlights include Advanced Materials, Characters and Vehicles Animation, Concept Art, Environmental and FX Animation, Figure and Character Sculpting, Game Art and Animation Fundamentals, Game Texturing, Industry Professional Development, and Shaders and Lighting. Students will also take three Game Production Studio courses (Production Studio I-III), where they will collaborate and create games in a simulated production studio. An internship is also part of the program.

UAT BA in Game Art and Animation graduates will be prepared for jobs such as animator, character artist animator and rigger, character artist modeler and texture artist, environment artist animator, environment artist modeler and texture artist, mechanical mesh animator and rigger, mechanical mesh modeler and texture artist, and many others. The program takes eight semesters to complete.

10. Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University (OC) began in 1950 as Central Christian College, with an enrollment of 97. Today, the school serves 2,250 students enrolled in 60 undergraduate majors and 30 additional areas of study, and seven graduate areas of study. Programs are offered through 14 academic departments operating in one of five colleges (academic divisions). Programs for aspiring animators are offered through the College of Engineering, Department of Computer Science and the College of Liberal Arts, Department of Art & Design. Options include a BA, BFA, and BS degrees in Gaming & Animation and a 3D Modeling n& Animation Minor.

The BA is designed for individuals wanting a general background in art or a vocation in the field of arts and its related industries. This 126 credit hour program includes 18 hours of foundation courses, six hours of art and design history, six hours of a foreign language, and 27 hours of gaming and animation. A minor or electives may be used to reach 126 credit hours. Course highlights include 3D Modeling and Animation, Animation Principles, Digital Painting, Gaming and Animation Studio, Motion Imagery, and Team Game Production. A Gaming & Animation Capstone is also part of the program.

The BFA program exposes students to the film, video and animation disciplines and game design. Per the school, the program emphasizes communication design, self-expression, and experimentation. Students will “develop a grasp of industry-level skills and artistic techniques” including texturing, unwrapping, animating, rigging 3D models, game level design, 2D animation techniques, audio production and interactive design.

Course highlights include 3D Modeling & Animation, Animation Principles and Practices, Figure Drawing History of Gaming and Animation, Form and Communication, Illustration, Interactive Media Design, Media Production, Motion Imagery, and Technology of Computer Graphics. Students will also complete Gaming and Animation Studio, Team Game Production, The Business of Branding Yourself, and the Gaming & Animation Capstone.

The BS requires 126 credit hours of study to graduate, including 84 credit hours in the major as follows: computer science core (45), communication (3), mathematics (6), computer science upper division (9), gaming and animation (15), and electives (6). Course highlights include 3D Modeling, Computer Simulation, Human Computer Interaction, Game Technology, Game Programming, Computer Graphics, Game History and Development, Mobile Applications Development, and Team Game Production.

OC’s 3D Modeling & Animation Minor consists of 21 credit hours of study. Course highlights include 3D Animation & Modeling I & II, Digital Sculpting, Game Technology, and Texturing, Rendering, and Lighting.

In addition to preparing students for positions in animation and game design, industries such as 3D visualizations, VR and AR technologies, the Gaming and Animation programs at OC prepare students for careers in 3D visualizations, aerospace, education, energy, finance, government, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, technology, and VR/AR. Each industry offers opportunities in solution technologies such as database technologies, gaming, Internet, mobile, user interface, and visualization.