|1||California Institute of the Arts||top 3%|
|2||University of Southern California||top 6%|
|3||University of California Los Angeles||top 8%|
|4||Otis College of Art and Design||top 10%|
|5||Gnomon School of Visual Effects||top 15%|
|6||ArtCenter College of Design||top 15%|
|7||Academy of Art University||top 20%|
|8||San Jose State University||top 20%|
|9||California College of the Arts||top 25%|
|10||California State University-Long Beach||top 25%|
|11||Digipen Institute of Technology||top 30%|
|12||Loyola Marymount University||top 30%|
|13||Chapman University||top 35%|
|14||University of Washington||top 35%|
|15||California State University||top 40%|
|16||California State University-Northridge||top 40%|
|17||Woodbury University||top 45%|
|18||Laguna College of Art and Design||top 50%|
|19||Cogswell Polytechnical College||top 50%|
|20||SAE Expression College||top 50%|
Our 2018 list of the Top 20 Animation School Programs in the West. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.
1. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California (top 3% of schools considered)
In 1961, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) became the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the visual and performing arts. Established by Walt and Roy Disney, the school is home to more than 1,400 students enrolled in 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 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 has produced hundreds of successful alumni who have generated billions at the box office worldwide. The school lists Tim Burton, 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, and Mark Osborne (director of Kung Fu Panda) among its most famous alumni.
2. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (top 6% of schools considered)
Established in 1880, University of Southern California (USC) is home to 45,500 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors. Undergraduate offerings for aspiring animators include a BA in Animation and Digital Arts offered through The John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts (Hench DADA) of the School of Cinematic Arts (USC Cinematic Arts), and a BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production with Animation and Interactive Media electives offered through the Division of Film and Television Production, USC Cinematic Arts.
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 DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Pixar, Rhythm and Hues, Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Idea, Illumination Entertainment, Digital Domain and many others.
3. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California (top 8% of schools considered)
Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to nearly 45,500 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The school offers 125+ undergraduate majors across 109 academic departments, and more than 40 graduate programs including the Animation Workshop of the School of Theater, Film and Television.
Founded in 1948 by Disney animator William Shull, the UCLA 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 landed positions at Pixar, they have worked with directors such as Tim Burton, and on films such as The Simpsons Movie and Monster House.
4. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (top 10% of schools considered)
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis. Home to approximately 1,100 full-time students, OTIS offers 11 BFA degree programs ranging from Digital Media (Animation, Game and Entertainment Design, and Motion Design) to Toy Design. The school also offers MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing, and a variety of minors and certificate programs.
Specific programs for aspiring animators are offered in the Digital Media Department and 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. Sample courses for the programs include Storytelling for Digital Artists, 3D Animation, The Visual Language of Film, Games and Design, Creative Action Studio, and Animation Explorations.
Just a few recent employers of Otis graduates include Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Sony Imageworks, Nickelodeon, Electronic Arts, Sony Online Entertainment, and Blizzard Entertainment.
5. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Gnomon School of Visual Effects was established in 1997. The school, which has 600 graduates to date, offers a BFA and a Certificate in Digital Production. Individual animation courses are available and may be “mixed and matched” to suit students’ career goals. Options include Acting for Animators, Introduction to 3D with Maya, Character Sculpture, Color Theory and Light, History and Principles of Animation, History of Visual Effects, Animation and Visual Effects, Character Animation, Modeling, Motion Graphics, Storyboarding, Texturing and Shading, Timing for Animation, Animation for Games, Character Design, Character Modeling and Sculpting, Previsualization and Animatics, Stylized Character Creation, and Creature Animation.
Gnomon graduates have landed positions at some of the world’s top studios. A few include 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.
6. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California (top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design is home to approximately 2,100 students enrolled in 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs in a variety of Industrial Design, Visual, and Applied Arts Disciplines. The school, which also offers a joint MS/MBA program with the Drucker-Ito School of Management, has two campuses in Pasadena and satellite studios in Los Angeles (at the Peterson Automotive Museum), and Berlin. Programs for aspiring animators include Entertainment Design with a Track in Animation or Concept.
The Animation Track develops students in the disciplines of character animation, storyboarding, modeling, art direction, and lighting for 3D and 2D animation, while the Concept Track focuses on the skills and creative ability required of entertainment industry concept designers. Both programs lead to a BS in Entertainment Design.
Entertainment Design graduates from both Tracks are prepared for career opportunities as performance and action animators with companies such as Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, ILM, Sony, Blur, 343 and Riot.
7. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (top 20% of schools considered)
Academy of Art University was established in 1929. The school serves more than 7,200 students enrolled in dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs. Degrees are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and many programs are available entirely online. The School of Animation and Visual Effects offers AA, BFA, MA and MFA degrees in Animation and Visual Effects. A Certificate in Animation and Visual Effects is also available. These programs are available on campus and online.
Students take classes specializing in one main area of the industry. Emphasis is placed on creating a professional demo reel and/or portfolio in tune with the latest industry trends. Specialization areas include 3D Animation, 3D Modeling, Rigging, Animation Generalist, Animation Producing, Storyboarding, 2D Animation, Puppet Fabrication, Stop Motion Animation, Compositing, Dynamics, Lighting, and Matte Painting.
The MA program provides students an opportunity to work in 2D Animation & Stop Motion, 3D Animation, 3D Modeling, or Visual Effects, while focusing on storytelling with an emphasis on exhibiting technical skills and eliciting emotional responses. The MFA in Animation & Visual Effects program focuses on developing skills in any one of the many areas of expertise within the animation and visual effects industry. The program educates students in all aspects of animation and visual effects, from ideation to post production.
Graduates of the animation programs at Academy of Art University have landed positions at Blizzard Entertainment, CBS Interactive, Disney Interactive, DreamWorks Animation, Electronic Arts, Lucasfilm, NBCUniversal, Pixar, and Sony Computer Entertainment America.
8. San Jose State University, San Jose, California (top 20% of schools considered)
San Jose State University (SJSU) was founded in 1857 and it is home to more than 32,000 students enrolled in 145 areas of study, with an additional 108 concentrations, across eight colleges. The College of Humanities and the Arts, Department of Design offers a BFA in Animation/Illustration. Graduates of this program have worked on films from A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo to 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 20th Century Fox, Animation Mentor, Blue Sky Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Cogswell Institute, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Lucasfilm Animation, NBCUniversal Studios, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Sony/Columbia, The Art Institute of Las Vegas, Disney Animation, and Zynga.
The Department of Design also offers an MFA in Digital Media Art. The program is offered at the CADRE Institute, which “reflects the innovative atmosphere in Silicon Valley.” Academic programs emphasize artistic experimentation within a context of historical, cultural, and theoretical study. The program is intended for students with interest in contemporary research. CADRE's diverse community of faculty and graduate students produce artworks involving visualization, simulation, hypertextuality, information, mapping, telepresence, networks, and interactive systems.
Technical facilities include a wide range of computing resources. Students work across the boundaries of computer visualization, animation, digital video, multimedia, electronic sculpture, sound and virtual reality. CADRE supports its own networking environment and offers excellent opportunities to produce internet-based artworks.
9. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (top 25% of schools considered)
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is home to more than 1,500 undergraduates and 455 graduate students enrolled more than 30 degree programs. The Animation Department is home to the third largest major at CCA—the BFA in Animation. Students in the program receive guidance from “the best animators in the industry” from Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and Tippett Studio, among others. Students in the program also 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 landed positions at major studios such as Walt Disney Feature Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Pixar, Nickelodeon Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, and Cartoon Network, as well as game studios such as Electronic Arts, Phosphor Games, and Vigil Games.
10. California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, California (top 25% of schools considered)
California State University Long Beach (CSULB) was established in 1949. One of the 23 campuses of the California State University System, CSULB is home to 37,500 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across eight colleges. The College of the Arts, School of Art, offers a BFA with an Option in Illustration/Animation. 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 highlights heavy animation coursework including 3D Computer Animation, History of Animation, Digital Arts Production (Visual Effects, Computer Animation, Interactive Media), and others.
11. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington (top 30% of schools considered)
DigiPen Institute of Technology was founded in 1988. It is home to approximately 984 undergraduates and 78 graduate students from all 50 states and close to 50 countries. Ten graduate and undergraduate program options are available in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science. Offerings for aspiring animators include a BFA in Digital Art and Animation and an MFA in Digital Arts.
The BFA program is designed to prepare students to create artwork at the professional level. In addition to excellent drawing skills, students will gain production experience, familiarity with modern studio processes, and storytelling abilities. Sample courses include Animation, Human Anatomy, Art and Technology, Storytelling, Storyboards, 2D and 3D Animation, Cinematography, and Conceptual Illustration and Visual Development.
In addition to the Redmond campus, the BFA in Digital Art and Animation is available at the school’s international branch campuses including Digipen Europe-Bilbao and Digipen Singapore.
Graduates of Digipen have been hired at companies such as Activision, Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Online, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft.
Students entering the MFA in Digital Arts Program must have experience in animation, 3D modeling, digital painting, drawing, color theory and other areas. The program prepares graduates for careers in both academia and production. Possible roles include Animator, 3D Modeler, Character Artist, Senior Animator, Senior Character Artist, Texture Artist, and Professor of Fine Arts.
12. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California (top 30% of schools considered)
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) was established in 1911 and it is home to nearly 9,500 students enrolled in more than 170 major, minor, master’s degree, and doctoral programs across seven colleges and schools. The School of Film and Television is home to LMUs Animation Program. The cross-disciplinary BA in Animation includes 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.
LMU Animation students enjoy hands-on experience, access to the collaborative animation labs, and small class sizes, which encourages a high degree of student-faculty interaction in coursework.
The School of Film and Television also offers an Animation Minor that is available to all students, regardless of major.
13. Chapman University, Orange, California (top 35% of schools considered)
Founded as Hesperian College in 1861, Chapman University is home to approximately 8,305 students from 49 states and more than 60 different countries. Chapman offers more than 100 programs across nine colleges and schools, including the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. Dodge 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 some of the world’s top studios including Blizzard Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Digital Domain, Nickelodeon, Sony Pictures Entertainment/Imageworks, and many others.
14. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington (top 35% of schools considered)
Established in 1861, University of Washington (UW) is home to more than 56,000 students across three campuses located in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma. The school offers more than 570 degree options across 300+ programs and 16 colleges and schools. The Paul G. Allen School Computer Science & Engineering offers a BS in Computer Science, a BS in Engineering, and a PhD or Professional Master’s Program (PMP) in Computer Science & Engineering (CSE).
In both degrees, students can work with faculty and graduate students on research; collaborate with industry partners; tackle complex design and implementation projects in capstone courses; and tailor their degree to meet their interests and goals. Sample courses include Computer Animation, Computer Graphics, Advanced Digital Design, Digital Sound, Data Visualization, and Artificial Intelligence.
Students in both programs have access to three main labs at UW CSE. All are engaged in research spanning the areas of animation, computer game science, graphics, vision, and visualization. Labs include the Graphics and Imaging Lab (GRAIL), the Center for Game Science, and the Animation Research Labs. Per UW, The GRAIL group is known for “groundbreaking” 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, while 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.
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.
In addition to the Computer Science and Engineering Programs, University of Washington offers a BFA with a Major in Digital Arts and Experimental Arts (BFA DXARTS) and a PhD in DXARTS. Students in both programs have the opportunity to focus their work in a particular area of experimental arts (computer animation, digital video, digital media art, computer music and sound art, design computing, mechatronics, and so on). Whatever the chosen area, “artists and scholars working at DXARTS engage in teaching, learning, and research within the synergistic, multidisciplinary setting of the center's labs, studios, and classrooms.”
15. California State University, Chico, Chico, California (top 40% of schools considered)
Founded in 1887, California State University, Chico serves nearly 17,800 students enrolled in over 300 undergraduate and graduate academic programs across seven colleges, five schools, and 29 centers and institutes. The school offers several programs for aspiring animators.
The College of Humanities & Fine Arts (HFA), School of the Arts (SOA) offers an Electronic Arts BFA: Computer Animation. The College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management offers a BS in Computer Animation and Game Development (BS CAGD) and a Minor in Applied Computer Graphics.
Sample courses for the degree programs include Digital Modeling, 2D Design, 3D Design, Digital Animation, Animation Production, Motion Capture, 3D Character Animation, Computer Animation, Advanced Production, and Digital Lighting and Texturing. The Minor allows students to select three units from any CAGD courses and nine units from upper-division CAGD courses. Required courses for the program include Computer-Assisted Art, Digital Photography, and Concept Design and Storyboarding.
16. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California (top 40% of schools considered)
Founded in 1958, California State University Northridge (CSUN) serves more than 40,000 students enrolled in more than 140 programs. The school consists of nine colleges, including the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, which houses the Department of Art. Several programs are available through the Department and include a BA Visual Arts with three Animation Tracks: 2D Animation Design, 3D Animation, and Game Design, and MA and MFA degrees in Visual Arts with a Concentration in Video/Digital Art.
Curb College Department of Art students have the opportunity to participate in industry and studio events, organized studio tours, and ongoing collaborative educational partnering with DreamWorks studios and Seoul Institute of the Arts. Students also participate in industry events and internships with Nickelodeon, Disney, Film Roman, Warner Bros., and others. Students in all programs have access to two award-winning student run animation clubs—the Animation Students League of Northridge and the Game Development Club.
17. Woodbury University, Burbank, California (top 45% of schools considered)
Founded in 1884, Woodbury University is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in Southern California. The school, which serves approximately 1,177 students, has campuses in Los Angeles/Burbank and San Diego. The school also has a Gallery called WUHO Gallery in Hollywood. Woodbury offers 20 undergraduate and graduate 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 BFA Program.
Because Woodbury promotes “cross-disciplinarity,” Animation students may study in other areas such as Game Art & Design, Media Technology, and Filmmaking. Students may also 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. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California (top 50% of schools considered)
Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) is home to more than 600 students and it offers 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 for a number of major and other studios including Cartoon Network, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, Nickelodeon, Obsidian Entertainment, Pixar, Renegade Animation, Sony, South Park Studios, Titmouse, and Zynga.
19. Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California (top 50% of schools considered)
Founded in 1887, Cogswell Polytechnical College serves more than 600 students enrolled in a number of Technology, Animation, Audio, Business and Games programs. Options for animators include a BA in Digital Art & Animation with four concentrations including 3D Modeling, 3D Animation, Entertainment Design, and Technical Art. Core courses for the program include Sketching, Figure Drawing, Sculpture, Storyboarding, 2D Design, Color Theory, Perspective and Rendering, and Principles of Management.
The remaining courses will depend on the concentration. Sample courses for the 3D Animation Concentration include Drawing Animation, Scripting: Python, Media Works for Animation Students, 3D Animation, Storyboarding, 2D Animation, Character Rigging, Acting, and Animation Portfolio.
Graduates of the Digital Art & Animation Program work at places like Pixar and DreamWorks, and have developed characters in blockbuster animation films like Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Deadpool.
20. SAE Expression College, Emeryville, California (top 50% of schools considered)
SAE Expression College is part of the SAE Institute, which consists of more than 50 campuses in more than 25 countries. Established in 1976, the Institute offers accredited bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, and diplomas in the areas of Audio, Animation & Visual Effects, Digital Film, Game Development, and Entertainment & Music Business. In the U.S., SAE Institute provides programs to more than 1,100 students across eight campuses in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York, San Francisco, and San Jose. SAE Institute also has SAE Expression College in Emeryville, offering programs in all areas of digital art.
Options for aspiring animators include a Bachelor of Applied Science in Animation & Visual Effects that takes as few as 32 months to complete. Courses include Drawing Bootcamp, Media Sound & Visual 1, Concept & Imaging, Compositing 1, 3D Modeling 1, Concept Art, Introduction to Animation, 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 SAE Expression College campus occupies over 102,000 square feet in two buildings and consists of offices, classrooms and laboratories, and faculty and student lounges. Specialized classrooms include the Meyer Sound Performance Hall, Marshall McLuhan Lab, Sound Stage, Stop Motion Room, Green Screen, Jimi Hendrix Suite, Game Audio Suites, and Avid Pro Tools Workstations.