What are the top animation school programs in Illinois for 2024?

Top 5 Animation School Programs in Illinois - 2024 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 2024 ranking -our thirteenth 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 (CDM) at DePaul University (DePaul) houses three schools including Cinematic Arts, Computing, and Design. Across schools, students have access to more than 65 degree programs and minors.

Within the School of Cinematic Arts is an Animation program that features courses taught by award-winning filmmakers who are part of one of the largest full-time animation faculties in the nation; access to a state-of-the-art, 32,000 square foot production facility known as DePaul Cinespace Studios; and the new Jarvis Student Center for Innovation and Collaboration. This 8,000 square-foot open space focuses on industry partnerships and multidisciplinary professional learning across emerging technologies. Collaborations and projects between students and faculty emphasize innovation and community needs.

Cinespace and other CDM/SCA studios and facilities provide access to latest industry animation software, tools, and technologies. This includes Cintiq labs, professional animation and effects software, 3D printing, stop motion stages and fabrication studios, sound studios, 3D motion capture, and motion control.

The Animation program at DePaul University has seven degree options including the Animation BA, BFA, MA, MFA, BA/MA, and BFA/MA, and the Computer Science (CS) + Animation (CS+ANI) BS with an Animation Technical Director (TD) concentration. An Animation TD minor is also available.

The Animation BFA has concentrations in 3D Animation, Visual Effects, Motion Graphics, Storyboarding and Character Design, Cinema, and Game Art. While the Animation BA does not offer a concentration, students in this program may enhance the degree in focused areas through major and open electives. Examples of major electives include Digital Puppet Animation; Visual Effects; Screenwriting for Majors; Hybrid Animation; Stop Motion Animation; and Sound Design for Animation.

BA students may choose open electives from more than 20 Jarvis College minors. Minor examples include Experimental Filmmaking; Graphic Design; Comedy Filmmaking; User Experience Design; Television Production; Information Technology; Film Production; Visual Effects; and Designing for Physical Technology.

The Animation MA at DePaul University allows students to concentrate in 3D Animation, Traditional Animation, Storyboarding and Character Design, Motion Graphics, or Technical Artist. Course examples for the program include 3D Animation Production; Animation Figure Study; Advanced Topics in Visual Effects; Topics in 3D Animation; and Game Art Pipeline.

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 has a concentration in Game Art TD. Course examples for the program Concepts of Programming Languages; 3D Animation; Optimized C++; Motion Graphics Foundations; Advanced 3D Rigging; 3D Design and Modeling; Animation Production; and Game Art Pipeline.

CS+ANI students also benefit from interdisciplinary collaborative group project experiences with teams of students majoring in areas such as 3D animation, game art, storyboarding and character design, game programming, and game design.

All DePaul Animation students have the unique opportunity to participate in the Los Angeles Quarter Program. This 10-week immersive experience allows students to intern at major Hollywood studios such Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Studios, Nickelodeon, The Jim Henson Company, Titmouse, and Warner Bros. Animation.

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. Project Bluelight provides hands-on experience in motion picture production to all interested students.

Graduates of the Animation programs at DePaul University are prepared to pursue careers in all industries that require animation and game design and development skills. Program alumni have been hired by major studios and gaming companies such as DreamWorks Animation, Electronic Arts (EA), Warner Bros. Animation, Google, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Animation Studios, Iron Galaxy Studios, BioWare, and LAIKA Studios.

Serving approximately 20,920 students, DePaul University is the largest Catholic university in the United States. Founded in 1898, the school is also the nation’s 12th-largest private, not-for-profit university, and the largest private, not-for-profit college in the Midwest. DePaul provides more than 300 undergraduate majors and graduate programs across two campuses, and 10 academic colleges and schools. DePaul University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

2. 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) is home to the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department (FVNMA), which has two paths to study animation. The BFA in Studio explores animation (experimental 2D and 3D), new media art, cinema, and video. The MFA in Studio supports creative work across 12 different departments. Students in this graduate program can specialize in one specific area or acquire skills across multiple areas of study.

Open to both graduate and undergraduate students, concentration areas may include Hand-Drawn and Digital 2D and 3D Animation; Moving-Image Installation; Nonfiction/Documentary and Narrative Film and Video; Media Art Histories; and Interactive Art, VR, AR, and Web-Based Projects. FVNMA students also have access to courses such as Puppet Animation; Motion Graphics and Visual Effects; 3D Character Animation; Intermediate Animation: Experimental Methods; Writing and Art Direction for Animation; Realtime; New Media: Crash Course; Visualization and Storyboarding; Media Practices: The Moving Image; Sonics and Optics; The Digital Dark Age; Video Everywhere; Internet Artware; Advanced Experimental 3D; Handmade Cinema I-II; Graduate Production Studio; and Large Scale Cinematic Production.   

Across programs, students benefit from interactions with visiting artists; access to state-of-the-art film, editing, and production equipment; graduate seminars, screenings, and performances; and unlimited admittance to the Art Institute of Chicago Art Museum (est. 1879) and on-campus galleries. Students also have access SIAC’s Gene Siskel Film Center, which regularly highlights films from around the world, along with student work.

In addition, FVNMA MFA students can 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.

The FVNMA Studio Art BFA culminates with the Senior Film/Video Projects Capstone. During this final course, students will complete a professional quality moving image project for public presentation. The MFA program culminates with a final project. Work will be presented in the SAIC Graduate Thesis Exhibition, the Gene Siskel Film Center, or other end-of-year events at SAIC. Each year more than 200 graduate students present time-based works, performances, and writings to 30,000 people.

Graduates of SAIC’s FVNMA Department are prepared to seek careers in animation, film, games, digital media, and more. As part of SAIC, FVNMA alumni enjoy a 92% employment or graduate school rate.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago dates back to 1866, when a group of 35 artists founded the Chicago Academy of Design. In the years following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the school formed as a new association—and both a museum and a school for fine arts known as Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (1879). The Academy became the Art Institute of Chicago in 1882. Today SAIC is one of the nation’s oldest accredited independent schools of art and design.

Serving approximately 3,530 students, SAIC provides more than 50 areas of study across 24 academic departments. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Since 1948, the school has also 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 (IAM) Department. Within the Department is an Animation program that provides access to the latest industry-standard technology, equipment, and tools. Examples include Cintiq Labs, Stop-Motion Labs, the Animation Equipment Center, and Traditional Animation Camera Labs. Animation Instructional Spaces for stop-motion and traditional animation projects include state-of-the-art classrooms and workshops.

The Animation program at Columbia College Chicago has several undergraduate degree options. These include the Animation BA, a BFA in Traditional Animation, and a Computer Animation BFA. The BA is ideal for students who would like to explore computer, experimental, hand-drawn, and stop-motion animation techniques. The BFA is ideal for students who would like to specialize in a specific area of animation and complete two films before graduating.

An Animation minor is also available for students seeking a shorter program that can be taken alone or with another major. The minor, which explores object, stop-motion, and hand-drawn animation, provides the opportunity to master industry-standard editing and storyboarding software. This software will be used to create a story reel for the final project.

All IAM Animation programs provide the opportunity to begin animating in the very first year. Course examples across programs include Cartooning; Character Design and Modeling, Environmental Design & Modeling; Alternative Strategies in Animation; Animation for Comics; CVFX: Compositing; Stop-Motion Animation; Computer Animation: Keyframing; Screenwriting: Writing the Short Film; Animation Maquettes; Advanced 3D Digital Sculpting; Character Design and Modeling; and Acting for Animators.

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 Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.

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 highlighting 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 professional demo reels.

Graduates of the Animation Programs at Columbia College Chicago have gone on to win Oscars and Emmy Awards. 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. Others have launched their own studios and freelance businesses.

Columbia College graduates have also been hired at major networks and studios such as Pixar, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Weta Digital, Disney, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros. Animation.

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 provides several 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) provides several paths to study animation across several colleges and schools. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts houses the minor in Moving Image Arts for undergraduate students. The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts houses the School of Art & Art History, which an Art BFA program with options in New Media Arts and Moving Image. At the graduate level, the School of Art & Art History has a flexible Art MFA program.

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

The Moving Image BFA program at University of Illinois at Chicago 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; Topics in Drawing; Introduction to Creative Coding in New Media Arts; Trends in International Contemporary Art Since 1960; Interactive 3D: Expanded Cinema and Virtual Performance; and Advanced Critique. The Moving Image BFA culminates with the BFA Thesis Project and Exhibition/Final Thesis Show.

The 18-20 credit hour Moving Image Arts minor at UIC is designed for students who wish to complement their current major with studies in film, television, video, and new media. Course examples for the program include Moving Image Arts; Film and Culture; and Communication Technologies.

The Art MFA at University of Illinois at Chicago is a highly interdisciplinary program that requires 64 credit hours. The curriculum combines collaborative projects, seminars, individual projects, research, advanced critique courses, and coursework from other Departments at UIC. Courses range from Drawing and Painting to New Media Arts and Moving Image.

All Art MFA students will work and learn in expansive private studio spaces. The program culminates with a thesis or final project leading to a formal presentation at a public exhibition.

Graduates of the BA, BFA, and MFA programs at University of Illinois at Chicago are prepared to pursue leadership roles and others across industries such as entertainment, game design and development, advertising, architecture, science and medicine, law, government, and education.

Serving approximately 35,520 students, University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest university in the Chicago area. The school formed in 1982 when two U of I campuses—the Medical Center campus, which dates back to the 19th century—and the Chicago Circle campus, which replaced the two-year undergraduate Navy Pier campus in 1965, merged. The Navy Pier campus dated back to 1946, when it opened as a school to educate returning veterans. Today, UIC provides 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) provides art and design programs led by accomplished professionals across many creative industries. All programs at the school begin with foundation studies, which prepares students for advanced-level studies in their chosen major. For one academic year, students will explore technique, design, and perspective through exercises and projects. Life drawing is also explored during the foundation year, as well as demonstrations, lectures, and field trips.

For students seeking a degree in animation, American Academy of Art has a 3-D Modeling and Animation BFA program that requires 122 credit hours of study. Students will begin their advanced studies in traditional areas such as drawing and sculpture. Next, the program will focus on developing 3D digital skills to create animations and 3D models. Students will work their way through the animation pipeline while working in a team environment to meet project deadlines.

Course examples for the program include Introduction to 3-D Modeling and Animation; Materials and Lighting for the 3-D Artist; Storyboarding; 2-D Computer Animation and Digital Video; Digital Video; Studio Lighting and Techniques; Web Design; Advanced Character and Hard Surface Modeling; Concept Art; Film and Society; Advanced Character Animation; and Survey of American Illustration. 

In the final year of the program, students will complete the Portfolio: Visual Communications course, and Advanced Projects in 3-D Modeling and Animation. This leads to a professional demo reel focused on an industry specialization.

Graduates of the Animation program at American Academy of Art College are prepared to pursue roles at local and national studios. Potential job titles include 2D or 3D Animator, VFX Artist, Motion Graphics Designer, Background Artist, Game Artist, Film/Video Editor, Game Designer, Art Director, 3D Printing Specialist, and Product Designer.

The American Academy of Art College has been training fine and commercial artists since 1923. The school serves approximately 170 students enrolled in six programs across several departments. Degree programs lead toa BFA. The American Academy of Art College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).