Our 2013 list of the Top 20 Animation and Game Design Schools on the West Coast.
For the record, we define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and Idaho.
For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) began with the merger of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music (est. 1883) and the Chouinard Art Institute (est. 1921). Roy O. Disney and his younger brother Walt Disney “guided” the merger in 1961 to form California Institute of the Arts. The school received accreditation in 1964. CalArts’ first academic year began in 1970 with 650 students (by 1971) and six schools including Art, Critical Studies, Design, Film, Music, and Theater & Dance.
Today, California Institute of the Arts sits on 60 acres, just 30 miles north of downtown LA, and it is home to more than 1,400 students from the U.S. and 44 other countries. This private art and design school offers a number of renowned programs for aspiring animators. In fact, in June 2012, the Los Angeles Times referred to CalArts as “the Harvard Business School of Animation.” In addition, Newsweek/Daily Beast ranked CalArts as the nation's number one college for students in the arts for 2011.
CalArts offers a BFA and MFA in Experimental Animation, a BFA in Character Animation, and a BFA and MFA in Film and Video. The school also offers a MFA in Art and Technology, a MFA in Integrated Media, and a BFA/MFA in Graphic Design. CalArts also offers a Digital Arts Minor. Double majors are available to “advanced third- and fourth-year undergraduates and graduate students whose skills, previous training and artistic interests warrant pursuing a degree in more than one School at CalArts.”
2. University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles California
The University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) was established in 1919 as the second campus in the University of California system. This high-ranking university is home to more than 41,000 students enrolled in more than 125 majors and 80+ minors. The school, which ranks 13th among the world’s top 400 universities by London Times Higher Education, also offers 100 certificate programs in 20 different fields through one of the largest extension centers in the nation—UCLA Extension.
University of California-Los Angeles offers one of the nation’s top MFA programs for aspiring animators. Offered through the School of Theater, Film and Television, the Animation MFA, also known as “The UCLA Animation Workshop,” was founded in 1948. Workshop students have access to the Walter Lantz Digital Animation Studio, which is a “state of the art facility and a matchless resource for instruction, research and student film production.”
UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts (DMA) offers a BA in Design Media Arts. This program is an excellent option for aspiring game designers. The BA in DMA features coursework in game design, video, narrative, network media, and visual communication. The Department, which also offers a MFA in Design Media Arts, is also home to the UCLA Game Lab. Supported by the School of Arts and Architecture and the School of Theater, Film and Television, the Game Lab is an “experimental research and development lab that fosters the production of computer games and game-related research.” Areas of focus include Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres.
Established in 1880, the University of Southern California (USC) began with just 53 students and 10 instructors. Today, this private, non-profit University sits on a 229-acre main campus, and it is home to 40,000 students and 3,200 full-time faculty. The school, which ranks 24th in the 2013 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of Best National Universities, offers some 300 graduate and pre-professional programs. Many of these programs are considered top-tier in the world of animation and game design.
Princeton Review has recognized USC as #1 in game design programs in North America for the past three years. The school’s game design and related programs are offered through the School of Cinematic Arts-John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts, and the Viterbi School of Engineering. The School of Cinematic Arts offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, Animation & Digital Arts, and Cinematic Arts with a track in Production. In addition, the School offers a BFA in Cinematic Arts and Film & Television Production, and a MFA in Interactive Media, Animation & Digital Arts, and Film & Television Production. Minors in Animation & Digital Arts and Science Visualization are also available.
The Viterbi School of Engineering offers a BS in Computer Science (Games), a MS in Computer Science (Game Development or Multimedia & Creative Technologies), and
a minor in Video Game Design & Management, Video Game Programming, 3D Animation, Interactive Multimedia, Game Audio, Game Entrepreneurism, Digital Studies, and Multimedia & Creative Technologies. The Multimedia & Creative Technologies Minor is also available online.
The University of Southern California also has a unique program for non-majors. These students may take a variety of two unit courses in Animation, Interactive Media, or Film & Television Production through the School of Cinematic Arts-John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts. Interactive Media courses may be applied towards most Game Minors.
4. California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California
California College of the Arts (CCA) has been around since 1907. With two campuses located in San Francisco and Oakland, CA., this top-rated art and design school is home to 1,950 students, enrolled in 32 graduate and undergraduate programs. The school, which offers majors in the areas of Architecture, Design, Fine Arts, and Writing, grants a wide variety of degrees including a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Architecture (BArch), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Master of Architecture (MArch), and a Master of Arts (MA).
CCA also offers a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and even a Master of Business Administration (MBA). The California College of the Arts MBA program is an excellent option for artists and designers that may be interested in establishing their own studios or other businesses..
Aspiring game designers and animators have a number of programs to choose from at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. CCA offers BFA degrees in Animation and Interaction Design as well as a BFA in related programs such as Film, Graphic Design, Illustration, and Visual Studies (minor also available). Students may also choose the Individualized Major (INDI), which is a cross-disciplinary program designed by the student. The INDI program, which leads to a BFA degree, offers study abroad opportunities in Iceland.
At the graduate level, California College of Arts offers MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Film, and Design Strategy. The school also offers a unique MFA program in Comics and a MA in Visual and Critical Studies. All students have access to “excellent state-of-the-art facilities, internships at “world-renowned organizations” such as Apple, Google, Frog, and Method, and sponsored courses through other schools in New York, New Mexico, and Texas.
5. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) is a renowned Catholic University located on a 142-acre “bluff-top campus” in West Los Angeles. Considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, Loyola Marymount is also one of the greenest. Established in 1911, LMU is home to more than 9,300 undergraduate, graduate, and law students. The school offers 60 major and 54 minor undergraduate programs, as well as 36 master’s degrees, one doctorate, and 12 credential programs.
Among LMU’s long list of offerings is an impressive program dedicated exclusively to Animation. The BA in Animation program is offered through the School of Film and Television, which ranks 18 among the 25 top film schools around the world by Hollywood Reporter (2012). The program, which produced accomplished industry professionals such as David Mirkin (Emmy Award-winning producer/director of The Simpsons) and Lauren Montgomery (Director, Warner Bros.), offers three in-demand tracks.
Students may choose between Traditional Animation, 3D Animation or Interactive Animation. The Interactive Animation track is the top choice for aspiring videogame animators. The School of Film and Television offers several related degrees including a BA in Screenwriting and a BA in Production (Film and Television).
The Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering has another option for aspiring game designers. The BS in Computer Science program is different from other CS programs. Students in this program work with Xbox 360 and PlayStation game consoles, as well as robots, iPhones, and other mobile devices. Graduates of LMU’s unique Computer Science program work in diverse fields such as Gaming, Arts and Entertainment, Digital Media Distribution, and Software Engineering.
6. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
The Gnomon School of Visual Effects is one of the few school’s in the U.S. solely dedicated to Animation, Game Design, and Visual Effects education and training. Founded in 1997, the school is home to more than 100 students, and it offers nearly 170 courses for all levels experience. Students have the option to complete many programs on-campus, online, or “fast-track” it. Depending on the program, students may complete coursework in 10 weeks or in one to three years.
The Entertainment Design program is a full-time, one-year track program for aspiring game designers. The Digital Production for Entertainment program—a hit with aspiring animators, is a two-year, full-time program. The Entertainment Design & Digital Production program is also popular among animators. This full-time program takes three years to complete. The Maya Fast Track program, which features a diverse collection of courses for aspiring animators, game artists, and visual effects artists, lasts just 10 weeks.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects does not offer degree programs. However, the curriculum is prized in the entertainment industry and it allows students to dive right into their “major” courses. Gnomon graduates work for top companies in the game and animation fields such as Industrial Light and Magic, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sony Entertainment, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Interactive Media Group, and more. The school has an impressive 96 percent placement rate.
7. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology began in 1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Institute was known as “DigiPen” back then—a simulation and animation company. By 1990, the company began offering a “dedicated training program in 3D computer animation” to meet the demand for qualified personnel. Today, DigiPen Institute of Technology is a fully accredited college with more than 1,000 students and campuses in Redmond, Washington, Bilbao, Spain, and Singapore.
DigiPen has a number of top-tier programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation, a BS in Computer Engineering, and a MS in Computer Science. Digipen also offers a Game Design Minor and several programs for students interested in sound design for games and animated productions. Options include a BS in Engineering and Sound Design (BSESD) and a BA in Music and Sound Design (BAMSD).
Aspiring animators will find a welcoming home at DigiPen as well. The school offers one of the nation’s top programs for animators. The BFA in Digital Art and Animation program prepares students for careers in Character Animation, Cinematic Animation, Effects Animation, Character Rigging, Texture Art, and more. The MFA in Digital Arts is another option worth considering.
DigiPen offers another unique program for students that are not quite ready to enroll in a degree program. The Non-Matriculated Studies program allows students to take courses in specific areas of Animation, Digital Arts, Game Design, and more. Should the student decide to matriculate, courses may be applied towards the degree program.
8. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) is located in a scenic beachside community with a large population of both established and emerging artists. Founded in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, LCAD is one of a few schools that hold both regional accreditation and national accreditation. Laguna College of Art and Design holds accreditation by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).
Laguna College of Art and Design is home to nearly 500 students. The school offers five undergraduate majors and a graduate program. The top undergraduate programs for animators and game designers include the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Animation and the BFA in Game Art. The school’s unique Game Art program is “project-based and highly collaborative,” yet students still receive “a foundation in classical training.” The program offers training using state-of-the-art industry software as well as partnerships with USC’s graduate program, GamePipe and the University of California-Irvine.
Laguna College’s Animation program “promotes the development of individual artistic skills and enhancing the creative imagination.” While animation students will master digital technologies, such as Maya software and digital production systems, “the LCAD Animation major is distinguished by requiring a solid grounding in traditional skills.” Other undergraduate offerings include BFA programs in Drawing, Graphic Design, Illustration, Painting, and Liberal Arts. The LCAD graduate division offers Master of Fine Arts degrees (MFA) in Drawing and Painting.
9. Chapman University, Orange, California
Established in 1861 as Hesperian College, Chapman University is one of California’s oldest private universities. Originally located in Woodland, California, Chapman University now sits on a 75-acre campus in Orange, California. The school, which ranks 6th in the Western region by U.S. News & World Report, is home to more than 7,000 graduate and undergraduate students from around the U.S. and more than 60 nations across the globe.
Chapman University offers more than 75 graduate and undergraduate degree programs, along with dozens of minor programs, throughout several colleges and schools. Aspiring game designers will find a number of offerings at Chapman University’s Schmid College of Science & Technology, School of Computational Sciences. Schmid offers BS degrees in Computer Science and Computer Information Systems with a Game Development Programming Minor.
Aspiring animators will find a number of top programs at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. The most popular program for aspiring animators is the BA in Digital Arts. Led by “Oscar-nominated animation director and computer graphics pioneer Bill Kroyer,” the program covers 2D animation, 3D animation, video game imagery, design, and a variety of visual effects. The program also offers “fully-networked computer labs and 34 individual editing suites” as well as opportunities to assist film students in the areas of Animation and Visual Effects.
The Dodge College of Film and Media Arts also offers BA, BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in all areas of film and film production. The College even offers a JD/MFA in Film and Television Producing and a unique MBA/MFA in Film and Television Producing. These options can help expand the students skill set and enhance opportunities in the entertainment industry.
10. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California
California State University-Northridge was founded in 1956. This public institution sits on a 356-acre campus in the heart of LA’s San Fernando Valley and it is home to nearly 36,000 students. Also called “Cal State Northridge” or “CSUN,” California State University-Northridge offers more than 170 programs throughout nine colleges.
The Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, Department of Arts, is home to CSUN's top-rated Visual Arts program. The program has several competitive options for aspiring animators. Options include a BA in Visual Arts with an Animation or Video/Digital Art concentration, a MA/Visual Arts with an Animation or Video/Digital Art concentration, and a MFA/Visual Arts with an Animation or Video/Digital Art concentration. Other related areas of concentration (at all degree levels) include Drawing, Graphic Design, and Illustration.
Aspiring game designers might consider checking with the Cal State Northridge College of Engineering and Computer Science, Department of Computer Science. The College offers a popular BS in Computer Science degree program that can prepare students for a career in art, business, entertainment, science, engineering, and medicine. The College also offers a Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science and a MS in Software Engineering.