Our 2017 rankings of the top 20 animation school programs on the West Coast. We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California (top 5% of schools considered)
Established in 1961, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the visual and performing arts. The school offers more than 70 programs across six schools including the School of Critical Studies, The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance, the School of Art, the School of Film/Video, The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts, and the School of Theater. The School of Film/Video is the largest school at CalArts, accounting for nearly 30% of the student population. Programs offered through the school include a BFA in Character Animation and BFA and MFA degrees in Experimental Animation.
Crowned the “Harvard Business School of Animation” by the Los Angeles Times, CalArts is home to 1,449 students and it has produced hundreds of successful alumni who have generated billions at the box office worldwide. The school lists Mark Andrews (director and screenwriter of Pixar’s Oscar winning animated feature Brave), Eric Darnell (co-director of Antz, Madagascar, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Mark Osborne (director of Kung Fu Panda), and Tim Burton among its most famous alumni.
2. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (top 5% of schools considered)
University of Southern California (USC) is home to 44,000 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors. Established in 1880, USC houses the School of Cinematic Arts (USC Cinematic Arts), home to The John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts (Hench DADA) and the Division of Film and Television Production. Hench DADA offers a BA in Animation and Digital Arts, while the Division of Film and Television Production offers a BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production with Animation and Interactive Media electives.
Graduate offerings include MFA degrees in Animation and Digital Arts and Interactive Media with heavy Animation electives. Minors in Animation & Digital Arts and Game Animation are also on the menu. Graduates of both the undergraduate and graduate animation programs at USC Cinematic Arts have landed positions at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Pixar, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures, Industrial Light & Magic, and many others.
3. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California (top 10% of schools considered)
Founded in 1919, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to nearly 45,000 students enrolled in more than 125 undergraduate majors across 109 academic departments. More than 40 graduate programs are available as well, including the Animation Workshop of the School of Theater, Film and Television. Founded in 1948 by Disney animator William Shull, the Animation Workshop is a three-year MFA program that accepts just 12 new students each year. Before applying to the program, students typically earn a BA in Film and Television or a BFA with a Concentration in Animation at UCLA. The BA program gives future MFA students the opportunity to study all facets of digital media, film, and television, as well as a full year of animation studies, followed by an internship.
Once in the program, students have access to the exclusive Summer Institute Symposium, which provides the opportunity to “meet and listen to some of Hollywood’s most accomplished professionals.” Past guests have included Simon Kinberg (writer-producer, X-Men: First Class, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), Meg LeFauve (writer, Inside Out), Zak Penn (writer, The Incredible Hulk), Chris Gorak (director, The Darkest Hour), John Hegeman (chief marketing officer, New Regency Productions), and many others.
Graduates of UCLA’s animation programs have worked with directors such as Tim Burton and on films such as The Simpsons Movie and Monster House. Many graduates have also been hired by major studios such as DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, and Pixar.
4. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs to a population of 2,133 students. Degrees are offered in a variety of Design, Visual, and Applied Arts Disciplines. With two campuses in Pasadena and satellite studios in Los Angeles (at the Peterson Automotive Museum), and Berlin, ArtCenter, also offers a joint MS/MBA program with the Drucker-Ito School of Management.
Programs for aspiring animators include BS degrees in Entertainment Design with a Track in Character Animation or Concept Design. According to the school, Entertainment Design graduates are “prepared for career opportunities as performance and action animators with companies such as Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, ILM, Sony, Blur, 343 and Riot.”
5. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington (top 15% of schools considered)
Established in 1861, University of Washington (UW) is home to 58,819 students and three campuses located in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma. The school offers more than 579 degree options across 16 colleges and schools. Programs for aspiring animators are offered through the University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering Department (UW CSE). Options include BS degrees in Computer Science or Engineering and a PhD or Professional Master’s Program (PMP) in Computer Science & Engineering (CSE). All programs offer heavy animation coursework and access to the department’s three main labs dedicated to research in the areas of Animation, Computer Graphics, Game Science, Vision, and Visualization.
Labs include the Graphics and Imaging Lab (GRAIL), the Animation Research Labs, and the Center for Game Science. According to the Department, “The GRAIL group is known for ground-breaking research in computational photography, games for science and education, 3-D reconstruction, Internet photo collections, object recognition, human shape and motion analysis, information visualization, and animation.” The Animation Research Labs “is a multi-disciplinary effort that brings together faculty and students from UW CSE, the Department of Architecture, and the Schools of Art, DXARTS, Drama, and Music.” The ARL “is focused on advancing the state-of-the-art in animation through teaching, research, and computer-animated production in collaboration with experts from Disney Animation Studios, Bungie, Industrial Light & Magic, Microsoft Game Studios, Pixar, and many others.”
Researchers at the Center for Game Science “use gaming to solve grand challenges, crowdsource human problem-solving to aid scientific discovery, and improve student interest and achievement in mathematics.”
6. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (top 20% of schools considered)
California College of the Arts (CCA) was founded in 1907 and it is home to nearly 2,000 students enrolled more than 30 degree programs. The Animation Department is home to the fourth largest CCA major—the BFA in Animation. According to the school, students will receive guidance from “the best animators in the industry” from Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and Tippett Studio, among others. Students in the program “receive feedback and visual storytelling advice from actual industry animators and directors of such animated films as Toy Story, Star Wars, and Brave.”
Graduates of CCA’s Animation program have been hired by studios such as Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Bento Box Entertainment.
7. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California (top 20% of schools considered)
Gnomon School of Visual Effects is home to more than 350 students enrolled in a variety of programs and courses. Offerings for aspiring animators include a three-year Certificate in Entertainment Design & Digital Production with Specialized Tracks in Visual Effects Animation and Character & Creature Animation; a two-year Certificate in Digital Production for Entertainment with Specialized Tracks in Visual Effects Animation and Character & Creature Animation, and a BFA in Digital Production with heavy animation coursework,
Gnomon also offers a variety of individual animation courses that may be “mixed and matched” to suit students’ career goals. Courses levels include Foundational, Intermediate, High Intermediate, Advanced, and High Advanced. Just a few options include Animation and Visual Effects, Animation for Games, Character Animation, Character Development, Character Texturing and Shading, Creature Animation, Environment and Design, History and Principles of Animation, Houdini Effects, Motion Graphics, Storyboarding, and Visual Structure.
Gnomon graduates have been hired at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Industrial Light & Magic, DreamWorks, Digital Domain, Blizzard Entertainment, Reel FX, Electronic Arts, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Nickelodeon Animation, Rhythm & Hues, and Marvel Entertainment, to name a few.
8. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (top 25% of schools considered)
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) is home to approximately 1,070 full-time students enrolled in 11 BFA degree programs ranging from Digital Media (Animation, Game and Entertainment Design, and Motion Design) to Toy Design. Established in 1918, OTIS also offers MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing, along with a variety of minors and certificate programs. Specific programs for aspiring animators include a BFA in Digital Media with an Animation Major, a Digital Media Minor, and a Digital Media Arts Certificate with a Specialization Track in Animation.
Just a few recent employers include Blizzard Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Electronic Arts, Pixar, Disney, Sony Online Entertainment, DreamWorks, and Sony Imageworks.
9. Chapman University, Orange, California (top 25% of schools considered)
Founded as Hesperian College in 1861, Chapman University offers more than 100 programs to a population of approximately 8,305 students from 49 states and more than 60 countries. Chapman also houses nine colleges and schools, including Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. The College offers a BFA and a Minor in Digital Arts that allows students to develop, design, and produce their own projects and contribute animation or visual effects to fellow students. Students also have the opportunity to intern at studios such as Cartoon Network, Blizzard Entertainment, Digital Domain, Sony Pictures Entertainment/Imageworks, and Nickelodeon.
10. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (top 30% of schools considered)
Academy of Art University was established in 1929 and it offers dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs to a population of approximately 7,959 students. The School of Animation and Visual Effects at Academy of Art offers AA, BFA, MA and MFA degrees in Animation and Visual Effects. These programs are available on campus and online. BFA emphasis areas include 2D Animation and Stop Motion, 3D Animation, 3D Modeling, Storyboarding, and Visual Effects. The School also offers an Online Award of Completion (OAC) and a Certificate in Animation and Visual Effects.
Graduates of the animation programs at Academy of Art University have been hired by Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, Lucasfilm, NBCUniversal, and Sony Computer Entertainment America, CBS Interactive, and Disney Interactive, to name a few.
11. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington (top 30% of schools considered)
DigiPen Institute of Technology (est. 1988) is home to more than 1,000 students from all 50 states and close to 50 countries. The school offers program options in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science. Offerings for aspiring animators include a BFA in Digital Art and Animation. According to the school, students in the program will develop “excellent” drawing skills and storytelling abilities, and they will gain production experience and experience with modern studio processes. Sample courses include Animation, Human Anatomy, Art and Technology, Storytelling, Storyboards, 2D and 3D Animation, Cinematography, and Conceptual Illustration and Visual Development.
The BFA in Digital Art is available at the school’s Redmond campus and two international branch campuses including Digipen Europe-Bilbao and Digipen Singapore. Digipen graduates have been hired at companies such as Activision, Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Online, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft.
12. San Jose State University, San Jose, California (top 35% of schools considered)
Founded in 1857, San Jose State University (SJSU) offers 145 areas of study, with an additional 108 concentrations to a population of more than 32,000 students. Among SJSU’s eight colleges is the College of Humanities and the Arts, home to the Department of Design. The Department offers a BFA in Animation/Illustration. Graduates of the program have worked on films such as A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Shrek.
Graduates have also been hired at more than 135 animation studios, game design companies, film studios, and academic institutions. Just a few include Animation Mentor, Blizzard Entertainment, Blue Sky Studios, Cartoon Network, Cogswell Institute, Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Lucasfilm Animation, NBCUniversal Studios, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Sony/Columbia, The Art Institute of Las Vegas, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Zynga.
13. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California (top 35% of schools considered)
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) established in 1911 and it offers around 170 major, minor, master’s, and doctoral programs to a population of 9,295 students. LMU also houses seven colleges and schools, including the School of Film and Television, home to the Animation Program. Offerings include a BA in Animation and an Animation Minor. This BA program is cross-disciplinary, so it focuses on 3D Filmmaking, Advanced Storytelling and Production Techniques, Interactive Design, and Visual Effects. An internship during the Spring semester, senior year, is also part of the program. The Animation Minor is available to all students, regardless of major.
14. California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, California (top 40% of schools considered)
One of the 23 campuses of the California State University System, California State University Long Beach (CSULB) is home to 37,430 students enrolled in more than 300 programs. Established in 1949, CSULB also houses eight colleges, including the College of the Arts, home to the School of Art. Animation program offerings include a BFA with an Option in Illustration/Animation. School of Art students may choose the Animation or Illustration Track, but they may take courses in both tracks and work with students in both tracks in the digital lab. An MFA/MA degree is also available.
This advanced degree is "designed with a dual emphasis on tailoring programs of study to individual students while fostering shared experience among a community of students.” Also part of the College of the Arts is the Department of Film & Electronic Arts, which offers a BA in Film and Electronic Arts. The program features heavy animation coursework including courses such as 3D Computer Animation, History of Animation, Digital Arts Production (Visual Effects, Computer Animation, Interactive Media), and many others.
15. California State University-Fullerton, Fullerton, California (top 45% of schools considered)
Established in 1957, California State University Fullerton (Cal State Fullerton) consists of eight colleges that offer more than 100 degree programs to a population of more than 40,000 students. The College of the Arts (Department of Visual Arts) offers more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate programs for artists. Programs for aspiring animators include a BFA in Art with a Concentration in Entertainment Art/Animation.
Through a partnership with Nickelodeon Studios, the Entertainment Art/Animation area has “developed educational opportunities to further the career goals of its students.” In addition to Nickelodeon, graduates of the program have landed positions at Lucasfilm, Sony Games, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Cartoon Network, Disney Feature Animation, Disney TV Animation, and Electronic Arts, to name a few. Students have also worked on productions such as Superman Returns, Avatar, Spiderman 3, SpongeBob Squarepants, Alvin and The Chipmunks, Ice Age 2, and The Simpsons.
16. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California (top 45% of schools considered)
Established in 1961, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) is home to more than 600 students enrolled in twelve undergraduate majors and four graduate degrees. Options for aspiring animators include a BFA in Animation and a BFA in Illustration with an Emphasis in Entertainment. The Animation BFA provides the opportunity for students to participate in master class workshops each summer where they learn from leaders in the field. Each year, LCAD also hosts the LCAD Animation Film Festival that “showcases the best work from all levels of (the schools) animation artists.”
LCAD Animation graduates have worked at studios such as Sony, South Park Studios, Cartoon Network, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, Nickelodeon, Titmouse, Obsidian Entertainment, Pixar, Zynga, and Renegade Animation, to name a few.
17. Woodbury University, Burbank, California (top 50% of schools considered)
Founded in 1884, Woodbury University is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in Southern California. Home to approximately 1,283 students, Woodbury has campuses in Los Angeles/Burbank and San Diego. The school also has a Gallery called WUHO Gallery in Hollywood. Woodbury offers 18 undergraduate majors and eight gradate majors across four colleges and schools including the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Architecture, the School of Business, and the School of Media, Culture & Design. The School of Media, Culture & Design is home to the Animation Program.
Because Woodbury promotes “cross-disciplinarity,” Animation students may study in other areas such as Filmmaking, Game Art & Design, and Media Technology. In addition to the opportunity to study other disciplines, animation students may participate in Woodbury’s internship program and the Animation Club, which hosts events, speakers, and exhibitions. Internship opportunities include positions at Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Chiodo Bros., Bix Pix Entertainment, Blur Studios, Walt Disney Imagineering, Walt Disney Animation, Renegade Animation, Hasbro Studios, and others.
18. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California (top 50% of schools considered)
California State University Northridge (CSUN) consists of nine colleges that serve a population of more than 40,000 students. Founded in 1958, CSUN offers more than 140 programs, including a BA Visual Arts with a Concentration in Animation and MA and MFA degrees in Visual Arts with a Concentration in Video/Digital Art. Programs are offered through the Department of Art at CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication. Curb animation students have the opportunity to participate in industry events and internships with DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, Disney, and Film Roman, to name a few.
19. SAE Expression College, Emeryville, California (top 55% of schools considered)
SAE Expression College (formerly Ex’pression College) was established in 1998. The school offers five bachelor’s degree programs in Digital Arts to a population of more than 500 students. Animation programs include a Bachelor’s of Applied Science (BAS) in Animation & Visual Effects that teaches the fundamentals of animation design, art, and visual effects (VFX) through hands-on training. Students will take courses such as Current Industry Techniques, Dynamic Effects, Motion Studies, Character Rigging, Creative Pre-Production, Animation Body Mechanics, Facial Animation & Lip Sync, Live Action Compositing, Reel Production, and Popular Culture. The BAS program is designed to get students into the field in as few as 32 months.
20. Academy of Interactive Entertainment, Seattle, Washington (top 55% of schools considered)
Established in 1996, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) has seven campuses in the U.S. and Australia, and a dedicated Online campus. The school offers a variety of Game Design and Animation programs including an intensive Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media, Specializing in 3D Animation & VFX for Film, an Advanced Diploma of Professional Game Development, Specializing in Game Art & Animation, and a Certificate II in Creative Industries (Media), 3D Animation Foundations. The Advanced Diploma Programs take two years to complete, full-time or 1.5 years, intensive, and they are also available part-time, online.
The Certificate Program offers 10, 15 and 20-week options and it is available online and on campus. Courses cover Animation, 3D Modeling, Texturing, Lighting, Rendering, Character Design, Environment Design, and Short Movie Production.