2021

What are the top schools with animation MFA programs for 2021?

Top 20 Animation Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Programs - 2021 College Rankings
RankingSchoolState
1California Institute of the ArtsCalifornia
2Savannah College of Art and DesignGeorgia
3University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
4School of Visual ArtsNew York
5University of California Los AngelesCalifornia
6Pratt InstituteNew York
7Rochester Institute of TechnologyNew York
8Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia
9School of the Art Institute of ChicagoIllinois
10DigiPen Institute of TechnologyWashington
11University of Central FloridaFlorida
12DePaul UniversityIllinois
13San Jose State UniversityCalifornia
14California State University-Long BeachCalifornia
15Texas A&M UniversityTexas
16The Ohio State UniversityOhio
17University of Texas at DallasTexas
18Minneapolis College of Art and DesignMinnesota
19Clemson UniversitySouth Carolina
20Columbus College of Art and DesignOhio

For our graduate degree rankings, we have evaluated animation schools and programs with the best Master of Arts (MA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Science (MS) options. To determine which degree matches your career goals, it is important to understand how each qualification differs.

The Master of Arts (MA) is an advanced degree that focuses on areas such as the humanities. MA degrees are typically available in the areas of communications, English, teaching, literature, linguistics, art, and languages. Seminars are the main method of learning for MA programs and many programs do not require a thesis.

The Master of Science (MS) degree option typically focuses on science, technology, engineering,  and math. This advanced degree often includes immersive lab work, scientific research, analysis, and evaluation. Unlike MA programs, most MS programs require a thesis.

The Master of Fine Art (MFA) is academically recognized as a terminal degree and it is typically awarded in the visual, fine and performing arts. The MFA degree demands the highest level of professional competency in these areas and practicing artists must exhibit the highest level of accomplishment through the generation of a body of work.

Below are the Top 20 Animation MFA Programs for 2021.

1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
California Institute of the Arts

The animation program at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is housed in the School of Film/Video—the largest school at CalArts. Graduate programs options include an MFA degree in Experimental Animation.

This three-year program encourages students to “seek out poetic, lyrical, structural and other modes of experimentation with the materials and forms of the moving image,” says the school. “Students are trained to become makers,” as well as “critically minded contributors to the advancement of animation history and theory.” Courses such as Post-Production Sound for Experimental Animators and The Digital Path for Animation are part of the program, as well as Experimental Animation Thesis Production. Graduates will leave the program with two film projects.

Throughout MFA program, students will work closely with a mentor to achieve their academic and professional goals.

The Animation Program at CalArts has produced hundreds of successful alumni including Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), Chris Buck (Frozen), John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), Mark Andrews (Brave), Stephen Hillenburg (creator of SpongeBob SquarePants), and Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), to name a few.

2. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) houses the School of Digital Media, which offers an MFA in Animation at both the Atlanta and Savannah locations, and through eLearning.  Through [email protected], incoming BFA students also have the opportunity to earn their BFA and the MFA in an accelerated and continuous program of study. The BFA/MFA can be completed in as few as five years.

The MFA requires 90 credit hours of study, with many of the same courses as the MA program. Additional courses include titles such as Media Theory and Application, and Storyboarding and Previsualization. MFA students will also complete three thesis courses: Animation MFA Thesis Exploration and Research, Animation MFA Thesis Visual Component Production, and Animation MFA Thesis Completion. A Graduate Internship is also part of the program.

Graduates of SCAD’s Animation Program have landed positions at major studios such as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Pixar, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

3. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California

The John C. Hench Division of Animation + Digital Arts in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California (USC) offers an MFA that encourages collaborations with students from Thornton School of Music, the Kaufman School of Dance, the School of Dramatic Arts, the Viterbi School of Engineering, and the School of Architecture.

The three-year MFA allows students to “further their animation knowledge and refine their production and motion design skills,” says the school. More than 25% of MFA degree units are open electives in the School of Cinematic Arts. Students also benefit from “top-tier” weekly guest lecturers and the opportunity to complete a final thesis film or project.

Many graduates of the Animation Program at USC have gone on to become independent filmmakers, while others go on to work for major feature and animation studios such as Digital Domain, Digital Idea, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination Entertainment, Industrial Light & Magic, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Pixar, Rhythm and Hues, Sony Pictures, and many others.

4. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) houses the Computer Arts Department, which offers an MFA in Computer Art.

Founded in 1986, the MFA Computer Arts Department was the first MFA program in the U.S. to focus on computer art. The program emphasizes creativity and a multidisciplinary approach to producing innovative animation, motion graphics and experimental art within a collaborative state-of-the-art production environment. Students in the program benefit from guest lectures that cover all areas of animation, motion graphics and visual art, workshops, visiting artists, and internship opportunities.

Graduates of the MFA animation and computer arts programs at SVA have gone on to open their own studios or land positions at some of the world’s top companies and digital studios including Blue Sky Studios, Disney Animation, DreamWorks Animation, ILM, MTV, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Warner Bros. Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and independent studios around the world. They have become Academy-Award winners, Emmy-Award winners, Grammy winners, MacArthur Fellows, and Guggenheim Fellows.

5. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
University of California Los Angeles

University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the UCLA Animation Workshop. Offered in the School of Theater, Film and Television (STFT), Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media (FTVDM), the Workshop was founded in 1948 by Disney animator William Shull.

This three-year MFA program accepts just 12 new students each year, and “serves as an instruction and production center for both traditional and CG animation,” says the school. This includes 2D and 3D character animation; experimental; stop-motion; cut-out; interactive work and more.”

Students in the program have the opportunity to work in the “state-of-the art Walter Lantz Digital Animation Studio,” where they gain “hands-on knowledge about the latest CG innovations that continue to transform the animation field.” Just a few course highlights include Computer Animation for Film and Video, Animation Timing, Interactive Animation, Real Time Animation: Puppetry, and The Disney Feature: Then and Now.

Graduates will leave UCLA’s Animation Workshop with one completed traditional film, one computer film, one interactive project, and one thesis film. Program alumni have landed positions at Pixar and they have worked with directors such as Tim Burton, and contributed to films such as Monster House and The Simpsons Movie.

6. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
Pratt Institute

Pratt Institute’s School of Art houses the Department of Digital Art and Graduate School of Art, home to the MFA in Digital Animation and Motion Arts.

In the 60-credit program, students create “evocative” narrative and non-narrative films using 2D and 3D digital animation techniques, live action, and motion graphics. A number of electives are available including Advanced Digital Animation Techniques, Character Animation, Character Design, Compositing and Special Effects, Lighting and Rendering, Motion Dynamics, and Storyboard and Storytelling.

Students in the MFA program have many opportunities to intern at NYC production studios such as Cartoon Network, Curious Pictures, and Psyop Studios. Outside of NYC, options include Blue Sky Studios, Disney, and Sony Imageworks, to name a few.

After graduation, Pratt alumni can be found working at top studios such as Augenblick, Blue Sky Studios, Digital Domain, Disney Animation Studios, Gameloft, Industrial Light & Magic, NBCUniversal, Inc., Rhythm and Hues Studios, Sony Imageworks, and Titmouse.

7. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York
Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) houses the College of Art and Design - School of Film and Animation, which offers an MFA in Film and Animation with four options—2D Animation, 3D Animation, Production, and Screenwriting. Students in the program “create live-action production, scripts, 2D, 3D, or stop-motion animation that is unique,” says the school.

All options require two years of coursework and a thesis project. Opportunities for independent studies, internships, and concentrations through electives are also part of the program as well as required screenings for all student-produced films.

RIT graduates have gone on to hold research engineering roles at places like Sony and Dolby and have positions in filmmaking and animation at Lucasfilm and other major companies. MFA graduates work at top animation studios such as Blue Sky Studios, Disney, DreamWorks, Electronic Arts, Industrial Light and Magic, and Nickelodeon.

8. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University’s School of Animation and Visual Effects (VFX) is the only school of its kind to teach in a studio production environment known as StudioX.

The MFA in Animation and Visual Effects “focuses on developing skills in any one of the many areas of expertise within the animation and visual effects industry,” says the school. “The program educates students in all aspects of animation and visual effects, from ideation to post production.”

Course highlights include 3D Modeling & Animation (Maya), Acting for Animators, Perspective for Characters & Environment, Storyboarding for Thesis, Traditional Animation, and Visual Effects for Animation. MFA students will also take several Directed Study courses and Special Topics, as well as Animation: Thesis Completion, Final Portfolio Preparation, and ANM 900: Internship.

School of Animation and Visual Effects graduates have gone on to land positions at top studios such as Blue Sky Studios, Industrial Light & Magic, Laika, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Weta Digital and many others.

9. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) houses the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department (FVNMA), which offers an MFA in Studio with a Concentration Animation.

The Department says it “endorses and encourages experimentation with radical form and content,” and is “open to many approaches to and understandings of experimental media art.” The Department is “dedicated” to helping students develop their “art practice in a variety of forms and contexts including the use of high definition video, new media art, experimental 3D animation, hand-drawn animation, and filmmaking.”

Students in the FVNMA department are taught by “award-winning pioneers,”  “revolutionaries,” and working professionals in the fields of experimental film, video, animation, nonfiction, narrative, installation, glitch, interactivity, art games, curating, archiving, and web-based art projects. Students also learn from “internationally renowned artists, critics, historians, and curators who regularly visit through the department and SAIC's Visiting Artists Program.”

Other FVNMA Department highlights include graduate projects and fall and spring critique weeks for MFA students, as well as access to world-class resources such as the Art Institute of Chicago Museum, on-campus galleries, and state-of-the-art facilities.

Examples include The Gene Siskel Film Center, The Donna and Howard Stone Gallery for Film, Video, and New Media at the Modern Wing, and The Video Data Bank, which is considered the leading resource in the United States for videos by and about contemporary artists.

Famous SAIC alumni include Cynthia Rowley, David Sedaris, Georgia O’Keeffe, Elizabeth Murray, Jeff Koons, LeRoy Neiman, Michelle Grabner, Nick Cave, and Richard Hunt.

10. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology

DigiPen Institute of Technology offers an MFA that allows students to build on their foundation and “expand beyond traditional arts,” says the school. Students will hone their craft in digital media and “focus on new areas of specialization” in the digital media industries. The MFA culminates with an advanced thesis project that allows students to develop and present an original body of work that is both personal and reflective of their strongest capabilities as a digital artist.

In addition to the thesis project, students will have the opportunity to collaborate with their fellow artists on team-based projects including games and films as part of elective coursework. These collaborative projects give students “firsthand experience creating 2D and 3D digital assets in a setting that reflects the professional studio environment.”

Graduates of the MFA program are prepared to seek positions in both academia and production. Possible roles include Animator, 3D Modeler, Character Artist, Professor of Fine Arts, Senior Animator, Senior Character Artist, and Texture Artist.

Graduates of the Digital Art Programs at DigiPen have been hired at companies such as Activision, Amazon Game Studios, Animation Collective, Apple, ArenaNet, Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Online, DreamWorks Interactive, Electronic Arts, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Riot Games, Sony Online Entertainment, Sucker Punch Productions, Walt Disney Imagineering, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Zynga, and many others.

11. University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida
University of Central Florida

University of Central Florida’s (UCF) College of Arts and Humanities houses the School of Visual Arts & Design (SVAD), home to the MFA in Emerging Media Program.

The MFA has an Animation and Visual Effects Track and is a terminal scholarly and creative degree suitable for students wishing to pursue careers as professors in higher education or as creative leaders in industry.

This full-time, three-year cohort program is designed to “emulate the professional studio environment, providing each student with an opportunity to assume an artistic leadership role. The principal emphasis is placed on narrative film structure and the entrepreneurial aspect of animation as related to studio and job creation.” Courses for the program provide “exposure to time-based media, performance art, video art, sound works, kinetic sculpture, computer-based art, and art using the Internet.”

Highlights include Animation and Visual Effects Production, Directing for Animation and Visual Effects, Editing for Animation and Visual Effects, Media and Music for Animation and Visual Effects, Technical Problem-Solving for Animation and Visual Effects, and Visual Development and Design for Animation and Visual Effects, Visual Effects for Animation and Live Action. Students will also learn about guerilla marketing and models of film distribution.

Courses for the MFA program are designed to give students the “ability to understand the collaborative function of a commercial studio.” Labs and studios are equipped with the same industry-standard software and hardware used in professional studios. 

Emerging Media graduates have been hired at major animation and gaming studios such as Blizzard Entertainment Electronic Arts, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Riot Games, Reel EFX, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Some SVAD alumni have been hired at companies, government agencies, and other organizations outside of entertainment. Examples include DISTI, Lockheed Martin, NASA, and the U.S. Navy.

12. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) is home to the School of Cinematic Arts, which houses the Animation Program. The School’s upper level pathway—the MFA in Animation—is the “premier degree” of the graduate program, says the school, and it is designed for students who are interested in “creating original animated films and artwork as their main vocation, and is the terminal degree in the field.”

Students in the program have the opportunity to work with game development teams, participate in CDM’s annual Premiere Film Festival, which showcases the best of student work in animation and cinema, and study and intern in Los Angeles for three months through the school’s innovative LA Quarter Program.

Past participants in the LA Quarter program have interned at Warner Brothers, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Studios, Disney, Nickelodeon, The Mill, The Jim Henson Company, Titmouse Animation, Bix Pix Animation, and others. Back at home, students will also benefit from CDMs relationship with Chicago’s largest game development and animation studios.

Animation students also benefit from the visiting artist series, which brings “innovative practitioners and industry leaders to the DePaul campus for film screenings, on-stage conversations, and professional panels.” Past artists have visited from Disney and Pixar. The student organization Animation Lodge and Project Bluelight are other program highlights.

The Lodge is a place where students can network, build their portfolios, work on group projects, and discuss animation trends and techniques. Project Bluelight is a professional, educational, and community outreach program where students receive hands-on experience in motion picture production.

Graduates of the CDM Animation Program at DePaul have been hired in animation roles at Blizzard Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation, Electronic Arts, Google, Laika Studios, Nickelodeon, Phosphor Studios, Synapse Games and Wargaming, to name a few.

13. San Jose State University, San Jose, California
San Jose State University

San Jose State University’s (SJSU) College of Humanities and the Arts houses the Department of Art and Art History, which offers an MFA in Digital Media Art.

This three-year program is part of the CADRE Institute, which “reflects the innovative atmosphere in Silicon Valley,” says the school. The program includes art history, independent study, seminars, and studio courses and students will “work across the boundaries of” animation, computer visualization, digital video, electronic sculpture, multimedia, sound, and virtual reality.

As students make their way through the program, they will be monitored through a series of open faculty reviews and exhibition of works. A final exhibition in the University Art Gallery is also a requirement of the program.

14. California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, California
California State University-Long Beach

California State University-Long Beach (CSULB) houses the College of Arts’ School of Art, which offers an MFA in Studio Art with an Illustration/Animation Track.

The program allows students to customize 39 units of study based on their “preparation, interests and talents,” says the school and it “centers on each student developing a strong personal and independent creative vision.” Students will “create a focused body of work in the form of an exhibition as the culminating experience of the degree.”

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

Texas A&M University (TAMU) houses the College of Architecture’s Department of Visualization, which broadly defines animation within “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 Department’s 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.

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.

16. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University (OSU) houses the College of Arts and Sciences, home to several departments that offer MFA programs for animators.

The Department of Art offers an MFA degree in Art with an emphasis in Art and Technology that emphasizes the creation of animation, interactive art and experimental forms in the context of art making. The Department of Design offers an MFA degree in Design focusing on Digital Animation and Interactive Media. This program emphasizes the production of creative research-based projects in the user-centered context of design.

All paths in animation encourage students to explore courses in 3D modeling, 2D/3D animation, video game production, augmented and virtual reality, digital imaging, digital video, interactive visualization, interactive art, game art and design, Art Games, motion capture, procedural content generation for games, real-time rendering, photogrammetry and more.

Students in both programs have the opportunity to work on individually defined or team-based projects while utilizing state of the art facilities, equipment, and interdisciplinary expertise in the school’s many special labs, including the school’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD).

17. University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
University of Texas at Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) houses the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC), which offers an MFA in ATEC with an Animation Pathway.

The ATEC curriculum “provides exposure to arts, science, technology, history, design, criticism, new knowledge creation, and complex understandings,” says the school. Master’s degree students “deepen their expertise in an area and develop understanding in adjacent topics.”

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.”

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 Program 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.

18. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) offers an MFA in Visual Studies. Housed in an all-MFA studio and gallery space, which includes 50 individual studios, smart classrooms, facilities for creative making, and a large gallery space, the 60 credit hour program allows students to pursue creative work in areas such as Animation, Comic Arts, Drawing/Painting, Filmmaking, Illustration, Installation Art, and Web and Multimedia.

Other program highlights include an internship, study abroad opportunities to places such as Italy, Japan or the UK, and the Master’s Trip to NYC. MCAD students have interned at the Massachusetts Museum of Art, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Walker Art Center and during the Master’s Trip, students and alumni have the opportunity to visit art and design venues, artist studios, creative agencies, and more.

19. Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson University

Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences houses the School of Computing, which offers an MFA in Digital Production Arts (MFA DPA).

This professional degree program offers a unique blend of instruction in art, computer science, computer engineering, graphic communications, performing arts, philosophy, and psychology, combined with courses targeted at production techniques specific to the animation, visual effects, and electronic games industries. Course highlights include 3D Modeling, Compositing, Computer Animation, Computer Games, FX, Lighting, Rigging, Simulation, and Visual Effects.

The MFA has a mandatory thesis with a DPA focus. Topics include animation, video game design, virtual reality, and visual effects, among others.

MFA DPA program graduates have worked on films such as Frozen, Hobbit, How to Train Your Dragon, Rio, and The Croods. DPA alumni can be found working at industry leaders such as Blue Sky Studios, DreamWorks, EA, ILM, Pixar, ReelFX, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

20. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio
Columbus College of Art and Design

Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) offers an MFA in Visual Studies. Students in the program have executed individual projects from animation and video to interactive design and illustration. The school says that the program “stresses studio mastery, individual scholarship, and real-world practices such as organization, communication, clarity of thought, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills.” The school has built an environment to fuel collaboration, experimentation, and creation as students’ work on their individual projects.

MFA students work in a personal studio that can be accessed 24/7. The 13,700-square-foot graduate facility also houses faculty offices, a lounge, and an exhibition space. Students also have access to CCAD’s library, plus many labs, shops, the Tad Jeffrey FabLab, computer complexes, darkrooms, studios, and digital printing facilities.

Other MFA program highlights include visiting guest artists, designers, and scholar’s each semester who teach workshops and seminars, engage in one-on-one mentoring with students, and lecture as part of CCAD’s visiting scholars’ series, and participation in an off-campus experience. Options include individual mentoring with an artist or professional, foreign study, or an internship with a nonprofit or business. Experiences have taken students to places such as Chicago, Honduras, Ireland, New York, Oregon, and Seattle.

Students in the MFA program may also participate in CCAD’s International Exchange Program, which highlights study at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China; Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile; Xi’an Fine Arts Academy, Xi’an, China, and Northumbria, Newcastle, England. Students may also study at CCAD-approved programs at Studio Art Centers, Florence, Italy, and University of Arts London, London.

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