What are the top east coast visual effects schools for 2023?

Top 5 East Coast Visual Effects (VFX) Schools - 2023 College Rankings
1School of Visual ArtsNew York
2Rochester Institute of TechnologyNew York
3Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania
4Rhode Island School of DesignRhode Island
5Drexel UniversityPennsylvania

Our 2023 list of the Top 5 Visual Effects Programs on the East Coast, our second annual rankings for VFX. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

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

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) has a 3D Animation and Visual Effects BFA Program, which features classes taught by award-winning instructors in computer labs, production studios, and dedicated suites. The computer labs house the same hardware and software used by professionals in the Animation and Visual Effects (VFX) industry. Students can access the lab 24/7 remotely, off-campus.

The BFA Program emphasizes learning by doing. Students in the Program have the opportunity to develop Animation and VFX skills by working with alumni-owned studios such as Titmouse, Augenblick, and Plymptoons.

Consisting of four years of study, the SVA 3D Animation and Visual Effects BFA Program requires 120 credit hours including 72 credits in studio art courses; 30 credits in humanities & sciences courses; 15 credits in art history courses; and three elective credits from any area. Course examples include VFX and Compositing I and II, VFX and Motion Graphics III and IV, VFX Animation with Houdini, Advanced Python for Technical Directors, Color Grading, Character FX I, Production Skills I and II, Advanced Compositing Techniques, and Virtual Reality Design.

The 3D Animation and Visual Effects BFA Program at School of Visual Arts culminates with a Thesis Film to be screened by industry professionals.

Graduates have gone on to win awards from the Academy of Motion Pictures and at major festivals. SVA BFA alumni can be found at major studios such as Lucasfilm Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Disney Animation Studios, Warner Bros. Animation, Nickelodeon, and DreamWorks. Some SVA graduates go on to work for independent animation studios worldwide or to launch their own studios or freelance businesses.

School of Visual Arts opened in 1947 as the Cartoonists and Illustrators school. Classes began with just three teachers and 35 students. Today, School of Visual Arts serves approximately 4,110 students enrolled in dozens of BFA, MA, MFA, and MPS programs. SVA is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), with individual program accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).

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

The School of Film and Animation at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is a Designated Center of Excellence (COE) by Toon Boom Animation. Housed in the College of Art and Design, the School has a  program that explores Animating for Digital and Visual Effects; Games; Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR), and Films. Leading to a Film and Animation BFA, this multidisciplinary Program consists of courses such as Digital Effects & Compositing, Particles & Dynamics, After Effects for Animators, World Building Workshop, Virtual Production I-II (explores real-time visual effects), Film Sound Theory: Effects, Production, Computers and Imaging Technology, Production Process, and Building the 3D Characters.

Other Program features include a variety of internship opportunities at local and regional studios and companies; cooperative education (co-op) in the College of Art and Design, which provides hands-on experience in a professional environment; and Study Away: LA, which allows students to spend a semester in Los Angeles, where they can intern at top studios and entertainment companies, and take two courses to complement the experience.

Film and Animation students at Rochester Institute of Technology also have access to the 52,000 square foot MAGIC Spell Studios, along with labs and classrooms outfitted with industry standard technology and software. At all levels, students may participate in the RIT’s Creative Industry Day, where they have the opportunity to interact with representatives of studios, design firms, and other creative companies.

Graduates of the Film and Animation Program at Rochester Institute of Technology are prepared to pursue positions such as VFX Artist, Effects Animator, Director, Visual Effects Supervisor, 3D Modeling and Character Designer, and Production Manager. RIT alumni have been hired at major studios such as Disney, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Sony, DreamWorks, Lucasfilm, Electronic Arts (EA), Dolby, and Nickelodeon.

Rochester Institute of Technology is a top research university that dates back to 1829. With global campuses in China, Croatia, Dubai, and Kosovo and serving more than 19,000 students from 50 states and over 100 nations, RIT is also one of the largest private universities in the U.S. Students at RIT have access to more than 200 academic programs across 11 colleges and institutes. Rochester Institute of Technology is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

3. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is home to the Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network (IDeATe). In collaboration with the Robotics Institute in the School of Computer Science, IDeATe manages eight undergraduate areas that can be taken as minors. This includes Animation & Special Effects.

Led by faculty with expertise in Art and Robotics, course examples for the Animation & Special Effects Minor include Special Topics in Animation: Storytelling Through Effects; Character Rigging for Production; Experimental Capture; Digital Realities: Introducing Immersive Technologies for Arts and Culture; Animation, Art and Technology; Physical Computing; IDeATe Portal: Creative Kinetic Systems; and Little Games/Big Stories: Indie Roleplaying Game Studio.

The Animation & Special Effects Minor is open to students in any program. Examples include Film and Visual Media; Art; Video and Media Design; and Electronic and Time Based Media.

Graduates of the IDeATe Programs at Carnegie Mellon University have been hired at major studios and networks such as Electronic Arts (EA), Comedy Central, DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros. Games, Activision Blizzard, Paramount, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Walt Disney Studios, Zynga Games, and MTV.

Founded in 1900 by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Mellon University began as Carnegie Technical Schools. Today, the school serves around 15,800 students enrolled in more than 200 programs across seven colleges and schools. CMU also has more than a dozen degree-granting locations, and over 20 research partnerships in Silicon Valley, Australia, Africa, and Qatar. A private, global research university, Carnegie Mellon University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

4. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island School of Design

The Film/Animation/Video (FAV) Program at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has two paths to study Visual Effects (VFX). Leading to a BFA, the Program allows students to focus in Live Action Open Media or Animation. In both options, students will work in a studio environment to create films, visual effects, animations, and more using techniques such as stop-motion, computer-generated imagery (CGI), and hand-drawn.

Course examples across areas include Digital Effects and Compositing for the Screen, Advanced Stop Motion, Computer Generated Imagery 3D, Advanced Sound Design and Production, Computer Animation: Integrated Techniques, Experimental Film Techniques, Lighting For The Moving Image, Film Practices, and Senior Studio: Live Action.

Other program features include collaborative study; 24/7 access to animation and live action studios; workshops; Apple workstations equipped with Avid, Final Cut, Pro Tools, Autodesk Maya, the Adobe Production Suite; and access to studios for green screen and blackout shooting. In addition, all RISD students have the opportunity to complete a professional internship in a studio environment.

The FAV BFA Program at Rhode Island School of Design culminates with a Senior Project to be presented Annual RISD FAV Senior Show. This event takes place across four evenings—live on campus, and via online stream. 

Rhode Island School of Design graduates have gone on to create, direct and/or produce a number of films and series. RISD alumni have also been recruited by major networks and studios such as DreamWorks, HBO, Pixar, Fox, and PBS. Some alumni have also launched their own studios, production companies, or freelance businesses.

Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design is one of the first art and design schools in the U.S. This private, nonprofit college serves approximately 2,620 students enrolled in dozens of majors and programs. RISD is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) and the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA). The Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and MA in Teaching programs have special accreditation by the National Architecture Accrediting Board, Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board, and the RI Department of Education, respectively.

5. Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Drexel University

Antoinette Westphal College of Arts & Design (Westphal or Westphal College of Art & Design) provides studio-based programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees. All Westphal students participate in the Drexel Cooperative Education (Co-op) Program, where they have the opportunity to gain professional experience at a variety of companies, organizations, and studios. Examples include Cartoon Network, Sony Studios, FuseFX, Mediakraft TV, and 3FX Medical Animations.

Drexel University has been a cooperative educational institution since 1919. Serving more than 2,000 students, Drexel’s Westphal College of Arts & Design is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Within the Westphal College is an Animation & Visual Effects (VFX) BS Program that consists of 187 units of study. An accelerated Animation & VFX BS/Digital Media MS is available as well as an Animation & VFX Minor. The accelerated program can be completed in just five years.

Consisting of eight courses, the Minor is open to both undergraduate and graduate students in any discipline. Course examples include Digital Imaging for Animation & VFX, Scripting for Animation and Visual Effects, and Realtime Visualization.

The Animation & VFX BS Program is housed in Westphal’s URBN Center. Designed for collaboration across programs, the Center consist of shared making spaces and state-of-the-art studios and labs. This includes the Animation Capture & Effects Lab (ACE-Lab), which consists of a 1200-sq-ft digital media studio equipped with the latest digital media technology.

Course examples for the Drexel Animation & VFX Program include Digital Imaging for Programming, Animation & VFX, Digital Compositing, Spatial Data Capture, Scripting for Animation & Visual Effects, Character Animation, Light & Sound, Experimental Animation Lab, Audio Production & Post, Digital Character Creation, and Organic Modeling.

Other Program features include courses taught by professionals in the Entertainment, Technology, and Media industries; the Drexel University Study Abroad Program; and optional participation in Westphal’s Drexel in LA Program. This experiential learning option allows student to spend an entire summer term living and working in Los Angeles, with students in the Film & Television and Screenwriting & Playwriting Programs. Drexel in LA students have held internships at companies such as Riot Games, BBC Worldwide Productions, and ImageMovers.

The Animation & Visual Effects Program at Drexel University culminates with a Capstone Project, which will be presented in a Thesis Exhibition attended by professionals in the industry. Graduates are prepared for careers such as VFX Artist, Visual Effects Supervisor, Technical Director, 3D Modeler, Character Animator, Art Director, and Texture Artist.

Drexel University was established in 1891 as Drexel Institute of Art, Science, & Industry. The school serves approximately 23,215 students enrolled in more than 200 degree programs across 15 colleges and schools. Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The Digital Media and Animation & Visual Effects (VFX) Programs at Drexel are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Arts & Design (NASAD).