What are the top animation school programs in Illinois for 2023?

Top 5 Illinois Animation School Programs - 2023 College Rankings
1DePaul UniversityChicago
2School of the Art Institute of ChicagoChicago
3Columbia College ChicagoChicago
4University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago
5American Academy of Art CollegeChicago

Our 2023 ranking -our twelfth annual- of the top animation school programs in Illinois. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

1. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University (DePaul) houses the School of Cinematic Arts, home to the Animation Program. Listed as a Top Film School by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the School of Cinematic Arts features courses taught by award-winning filmmakers, access to a state-of-the-art, 32,000 square foot production facility known as DePaul Cinespace Studios, and seven degree options for animators including the Animation BA, BFA, MA, MFA, BA/MA, and BFA/MA, and the Computer Science (CS) + Animation (CS+ANI) with an Animation Technical Director (TD) Concentration. An Animation TD Minor is also available.

In addition to award-winning filmmakers, courses for the animation programs at DePaul are taught by members of one of the largest full-time animation faculties in the nation. They teach courses such as 3D Animation Production, Cinema, Animation and Art, Screenwriting, Motion Graphics, 3D Design and Modeling, Stop-Motion Animation, Narrative Development, Storyboarding, Drawing, and Motion Capture.

The BFA program has concentrations in 3D Animation, Visual Effects Animation, Cinema, Storyboarding and Character Design, Game Art, and Motion Graphics. While the BA does not offer a concentration, animation students may enhance their skills in a focused areas through major and open electives.  The MA allows students to concentrate in 3D Animation, Motion Graphics, Storyboarding and Character Design, Technical Artist or Traditional Animation. Course examples for the program include Advanced Topics in Visual Effects, Animation Figure Study, Topics in 3D Animation, Game Art Pipeline, and 3D Animation Production.

The Animation MFA follows the project model. Students will spend their time creating a single project with the assistance of an MFA co-chair and MFA faculty mentors. The program is designed for animators who have earned an undergraduate degree in the visual arts. Examples include Animation, Art, Illustration, Graphic Design, and Film.

The multidisciplinary CS+ANI is designed for students seeking technical artistic roles in animation and game development. In addition to the Concentration in Animation TD, the program offers a Concentration in Game Art TD. Course examples for the program include Motion Graphics Foundations, 3D Design and Modeling, 3D Animation, Optimized C++, Animation Production, Advanced 3D Rigging, Concepts of Programming Languages, and Game Art Pipeline. Students in the CS+ANI benefit from interdisciplinary collaborative group project experiences with teams of students majoring in 3D animation, game art, storyboarding and character design, game design, and game programming.

All DePaul Animation students may participate in the Los Angeles Quarter Program. This 10-week immersion program allows students to intern at major Hollywood studios such Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Studios, Nickelodeon, The Jim Henson Company, Titmouse Animation, Bix Pix Animation, Warner Brothers, and many others.

Other program benefits include the visiting artist series, where past guests have included artists from Disney and Pixar, access to the Animation Lodge, and participation in Project Bluelight. Students at The Lodge collaborate on group projects, network, and build their portfolios. Bluelight provides hands-on experience in motion picture production to all interested students.

Graduates of the Animation Programs at DePaul University have been hired by major studios and gaming companies such as Electronic Arts (EA), Google, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Blizzard Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation, LAIKA Studios, Disney Animation Studios, Wargaming, Warner Bros. Animation, BioWare, and Iron Galaxy Studios.

DePaul University provides exceptional academics and real-world experiences to prepare students for a changing world. With nearly 21,000 students across more than 300 academic programs, DePaul has two campus locations in Chicago. Students richly benefit from the city’s many opportunities. In turn, DePaul is one of the forces that shapes Chicago’s future. The university was founded in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), a Roman Catholic religious community dedicated to following the ideals of St. Vincent de Paul. DePaul is among the nation’s top universities for diversity because of its long tradition of providing a high-quality education to students from a broad range of backgrounds. DePaul is one of the largest private, nonprofit universities in the Midwest and one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation.

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

The Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department (FVNMA) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has a Studio Program that offers a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate and BFA and MFA degrees in Studio. The BFA has Liberal Arts or Visual Critical Studies Thesis Options and all programs offer extensive coursework in animation. Course examples across pathways include Puppet Animation, 3D Character Animation, Sonic and Optics, Type and Image in Motion, Advanced Experimental 3D, Advanced Drawing for Animation, Motion Graphics and Visual Effects, Advanced Screenwriting, Writing and Art Direction for Animation, Visualization and Storyboarding,

Other FVNMA Department highlights include interaction with visiting artists; access to state-of-the-art film, editing, and production equipment, the Art Institute of Chicago Museum, and on-campus galleries; and graduate seminars, screenings, and performances. In addition, FVNMA MFA students have the opportunity to participate in Critique Week. This week-long event takes place each semester. The entire faculty, along with invited visiting artists and designers, form panels designed to critique students work. All classes are suspended during this time.

Graduates of SAIC’s FVNMA Department are prepared to seek careers in animation, film, games, digital media, and more.

Founded in 1866 by a group of 35 artists, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the nation’s oldest accredited independent schools of art and design. Serving more than 3,500 students, SAIC offers over 50 areas of study in 24 academic departments. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Since 1948, the school has been accredited as a charter member by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

3. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

The School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) houses the Interactive Arts and Media Department (IAM), home to the Animation Program. Students in the program have access to state-of-the-art animation production spaces including Cintiq, stop-motion, and traditional animation labs, as well as the Equipment Cave, Game Lab, Sound Studio, and Open Lab. IAM program options include a BA in Animation, and BFA degrees in Computer Animation or Traditional Animation.

An Animation Minor that explores object, stop-motion, and hand-drawn animation is also available. Students in this program will use industry-standard editing and storyboarding software to create a story reel for a final project. All IAM Animation Programs provide the opportunity to begin animating in the very first year.

Course examples across programs include Alternative Strategies in Animation, Computer Animation: Keyframing, Environmental Design & Modeling, Animation for Comics, Stop-Motion Animation, Animation Maquettes, Character Design and Modeling, CVFX: Compositing, Advanced 3D Digital Sculpting, Character Design and Modeling, Cartooning, Acting for Animators, and Screenwriting: Writing the Short Film. 

Select BFA students will have the opportunity to participate in the Animation Studios in LA Program. This one credit course provides allows students to explore career opportunities at major Hollywood animation studios. Events include tours, portfolio reviews, and employment screenings. Participating studios have included DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, and Warner Bros.

As a senior, BFA students will produce an animated film as a solo project, serving as producer, editor, and director. Films will be presented at Manifest—Columbia Colleges annual art festival showcasing graduating students work.

Animation BA students will have the option to work with a team or individually to create a film during the final year of the program. BA students will also spend the final year fine tuning their demo reels.

Graduates of the Animation Programs at Columbia College Chicago have launched their own studios, they have gone on to win Oscars and Emmy Awards, and some alumni have worked on films and series such as The Lion King, Robot Chicken, Brave, Frozen, Pocahontas, UP, The Lego Batman Movie, Coco, and Finding Dory. Columbia College graduates have been hired at networks and studios such as Disney, Warner Bros. Animation, Nickelodeon, Pixar, DreamWorks Studios, Cartoon Network, and Weta Digital.

Columbia College Chicago was established in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. The school serves nearly 6,700 students enrolled in more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In addition to programs in creative areas such as communication and writing, media and digital, and music and sound, Columbia offers business management programs. Columbia College Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has several pathways to study animation. Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Literatures, Cultural Studies and Linguistics (LCSL) is the Moving Image Arts Minor. The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts’ School of Art & Art History is home to the Moving Image and New Media Arts BFA Programs, and the Art MFA Program.

The 18-20 credit hour Moving Image Arts Minor consists of courses such as Moving Image Arts, Filmmaking, and Communication Technologies. The Moving Image BFA Program explores experimental and documentary filmmaking. Emphasis is placed on production coursework, independent study, and seminars in Digital Animation and Film & Video. Students will complete at least 129 credit hours of study, with 61 credits in the major and up to a dozen credit hours of electives. Course examples include 3D Space: Animation, Introduction to Filmmaking, Introduction to Creative Coding in New Media Arts, and Topics in Drawing. Advanced Critique and the BFA Thesis Project are also part of the program.

The UIC New Media Arts BFA is interdisciplinary, allowing students to focus in areas such as animation. The curriculum for the program covers 3D Animation, Physical Computing, and Mobile Application Design, to name a few. Course examples include Topics in New Media Arts: Intermediate Game Play, 3D Space: Animation, Creative Coding, and Information Aesthetics.

The University of Illinois at Chicago provides private studio spaces for all Art MFA students. This highly interdisciplinary program is a combination of collaborative projects, seminars, individual projects, research, advanced critique courses, and coursework from other Departments at UIC. Course options run the gamut from Drawing and Painting to New Media Arts and Moving Image.

All MFA students will present a public exhibition and complete a thesis or final project. The UIC Art MFA requires 64 credit hours to graduate.

University of Illinois at Chicago serves nearly 34,000 students, making it the largest university in the Chicago area. With roots dating back to 1859 when the Chicago College of Pharmacy was founded, UIC offers more than 250 degree programs and 85 minors across 16 colleges and schools. The University of Illinois at Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

5. American Academy of Art College, Chicago, Illinois
American Academy of Art College

American Academy of Art College (American Academy of Art) has one pathway to study animation—the BFA in 3-D Modeling and Animation. Consisting of 122 credit hours of study, the program begins with foundation coursework which covers the fundamentals of art, anatomy, and life drawing. A number of class projects during the first year of the program will help prepare students for entry into the 3-D Modeling and Animation Area.

Upon completion of foundation coursework, 3-D Modeling and Animation students move into courses such as Advanced Character Animation, 2-D Computer Animation and Digital Video, Environmental Modeling, Storyboarding, Materials and Lighting for the 3-D Artist, Web Design., and Advanced Projects in 3-D Modeling and Animation. Academy of Art Animation students will produce a portfolio and demo reel during the final year of the program.

Graduates of the Animation Program at American Academy of Art College have been hired in variety of roles at local and national studios. Job titles include 2D or 3D Animator, VFX Artist, Motion Graphics Designer, Background Artist, Game Artist, Film/Video Editor, and Art Director, among others.

The American Academy of Art College has been training professional artists since 1923. The school serves approximately 170 students enrolled in six programs leading to a BFA degree. The American Academy of Art College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).