What are the top visual effects schools in the southwest for 2023?

Top 5 Southwest Visual Effects (VFX) Schools - 2023 College Rankings
1University of Texas at AustinTexas
2Texas A&M UniversityTexas
3University of UtahUtah
4University of Colorado, DenverColorado
5Arizona State UniversityArizona

Our 2023 rankings of the Top 5 visual effect schools in the Southwest, our first annual rankings for VFX. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) houses the Moody College of Communication, home of the Department of Radio-Television-Film (RTF), which has several path to study Visual Effects (VFX). For each, students have access to a variety of courses that focus on Visual and Special Effects. Examples include VFX & Motion Graphics, VFX for Storytelling, Digital Media Production, and CGI for Film and Games.

In the Digital Media Production course, students can choose an area of interest such as Compositing and VFX, CGI and Interactive Game Design, and Animation and Simulation. In the CGI for Film and Games course, students study Simulating Effects, Lighting, and Virtual Cinematography.

All UT Austin RTF students have access to the Digital Media Production Lab (DML), which features Adobe Creative Cloud Suite 2022, Autodesk Maya and Mudbox, Blackmagic Davinci Resolve, and other VFX tools. The DML also provides dedicated work spaces; five surround sound dub stages; and a 70 x 20 green screen.

RTF students have the opportunity to participate in programs and events hosted by the Center for Entertainment and Media Industries (CEMI), as well as access to Wofford Denius UTLA Center for Entertainment & Media Studies, which provides internship opportunities at a number of LA studios.

Specific program options for students interested in VFX include the RTF BA, RTF Minor, and the Film & Media Production MFA. VFX courses are also accessible to students in the Arts and Entertainment Technologies BS Program (AET BS) and the UT Austin Game Development and Design Program.

The AET BS is housed in the School of Design and Creative Technologies. The Game Development and Design Program is a partnership between the AET Department, the Computer Science (CS) Department, and the RTF Department. This program leads to a BS.

Recent graduates of the Film and Entertainment Programs at UT Austin have been hired at some of the world’s top studios and production companies. Examples include Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures Classics, Searchlight Pictures, Amazon Studios, Shondaland, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, Lionsgate, and BioWare.

Founded in 1883, University of Texas at Austin serves approximately 52,385 students, making it one of the largest universities in Texas. UT Austin provides more than 155 undergraduate degree programs with 170+ fields of study, 139 graduate degree programs, and nearly 100 doctoral programs across 18 colleges and schools. University of Texas at Austin is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

2. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University (TAMU) is home to the new School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts. Within the School is a Visualization Program with BS, MS, and MFA options. The MFA is one of a few programs of its kind in the U.S. and possibly the only one in the State of Texas.

Established in 1989 the TAMU Visualization Program is cross-disciplinary, allowing students to explore Computer Graphics, Visualization, Art, Interaction, and Design. Through electives, students at all levels may focus in any area of Specialization. This includes Visual Effects (VFX). Examples of VFX-related courses include Visualization Techniques, Digital Rendering, Visual Studies Studios, Computing for Visualization, Digital Compositing, Principles of Design, Virtual Reality, Creating Digital Environments, Multimedia Design and Development, Digital Characters: Art, Technology, Uses and Meaning, Interaction Design, and Interactive Virtual Environments.

All TAMU Visualization students have opportunities to participate in the Annual Career Fair; the Semester Away Program in Italy, Germany, and other countries; and the Internship Program, which spans 15 weeks and 600 hours. Undergraduate internships are worth six credit hours. Graduate internships are worth eight credits. TAMU Visualization students have interned at a variety of Game, Graphic Design, and Animation studios.

Graduates of the TAMU Visualization Programs are prepared to pursue careers in the Entertainment Industry (Visual Effects, Game Design and Development, and Animation), Web Design, Interactive Design, and User Interface Design. Texas A&M University Visualization graduates have been hired at major studios such as Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), and Reel FX.

Texas A&M University, College Station opened its doors in 1876 as the state’s first public Institution of higher learning. Today, the school is the primary location for Texas A&M, with branch campuses in Galveston, Texas and Doha, Qatar. The school serves approximately 74,830 students enrolled in 140+ undergraduate programs and 270+ graduate degree programs across 17 colleges and schools. Texas A&M University, College Station is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

3. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
University of Utah

University of Utah (The U) has several paths to study Visual Effects (VFX) in the College of Fine Arts and Kahlert School of Computing. The College of Fine Arts houses the Department of Film & Media Arts (F&MAD), which allows students to tailor their BA degree across multiple areas of interest. This includes Special and Visual Effects (VFX). The School of Computing and the Department of Film & Media Arts  launched the Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) Program more than a decade ago. This Program has a Computer Science BS with an EAE Emphasis and a Master of EAE (MEAE). Both allow students to study VFX. 

In addition to the opportunity to customize the curriculum, students in the F&MAD BA Program may choose from four Emphasis Areas. Each area has a wide selection of VFX-related coursework. Emphasis options include Entertainment Arts and Engineering, Media Arts Production (MAP), Animation, and Film Production.

Course examples across Emphasis Areas include Digital Effects and Compositing for the Screen, 3D Computer Animation, Digital Visual Effects, Film Production, Interactive Machinima, Motion Capture, 3D Character Production, Digital Cinematography, 3D Character Animation, Programing, Media Arts Production, Directing, Programming, Film Editing, Sound for Film and Digital Media, Film Production, Digital Imaging for Visual Artists, Directing, and Storyboarding/Visual Storytelling.

The EAE BS at University of Utah includes extensive coursework in Computer-Generated Special Effects, 3D Animation, Game Development, Visual Perception, and Graphics. The MEAE has a Technical Arts Track, which allows students to Specialize in VFX. Across courses such as Technical Art I-IV, Advanced 3D Character Production, 3D Modeling, and Serious Games, students will use programmable GPU shaders to customize the graphics pipeline producing various visual effects; master shading language fundamentals and GPU primitive operations; and work in teams to pitch, prototype, and present VFX-rich games.

Across programs, students will create a variety of games, animations, films, and other projects that demonstrate their VFX skills. Upon completion of the programs, students will have a demo reel and/or portfolio of their best work.

Graduates of the Film Programs at University of Utah are prepared for careers such as VFX Artist, Visual Effects Animator, Film Editor, VFX Editor, Production Manager (VFX), Computer Animator, Digital Filmmaker, and Production Coordinator (VFX).

Graduates of the EAE Programs at University of Utah are prepared for careers such as VFX Artist, Animation VFX Artist, VFX Editor, Production Coordinator (VFX), Video Game FX Artist, and 3D Animator.

Founded in 1850, University of Utah is the state’s public flagship institution. A top-tier research university, The U serves more than 34,900 students enrolled in over 200 programs across 18 colleges and schools and nearly 100 departments. University of Utah is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

4. University of Colorado-Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Colorado Denver

The College of Arts & Media (CAM) at University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) houses the Department of Visual Arts (VA) and the Digital Animation Center (DAC). Together, the VA and DAC provide a Visual Arts BFA Program with an Emphasis in 3D Graphics and Animation. CAM also offers a Film & Television Emphasis leading to a BFA, and a Film & Television Production Minor. Both programs offer opportunities to develop film production and post-production skills.

The 120 credit hour Visual Arts BFA Program provides coursework and training that prepares students to work in Film, Visual Effects (VFX), and Animation. One of the major courses in the Program is the DAC: Visual Effects course. This lecture/lab course explores the theory/techniques of creating Visual Effects sequences. Students explore how to develop complete effects shots, including shooting live plates, compositing, camera tracking, and VFX, with an emphasis on artistic distinction through the application of current 3D technologies.

Other course examples for the Program include VFX Rigging & Animation, Character FX, Intro to Film, Surface Modeling, DAC: Dynamic Simulation, 3D Design, Animation and Rigging, DAC Modeling I-II, Surface and Lighting, Digital Cinematography, Production I-III, and Character Creation. The Visual Arts BFA also explores 3D Graphics and Animation for Science and Medicine.

Visual Arts BFA students can develop additional VFX through electives such as Editing and Post-Production Techniques, Lighting, Grip, and Sound, and Sound for Film and TV.

In the Junior year of the Visual Arts BFA Program at University of Colorado Denver, students will begin the Senior Film. This 18-month Capstone experience allows students to collaborate with Departments across CAM. Visual Arts students will work in all areas to create this final project. They will create sound, VFX and special effects, storylines, motion graphics, soundtracks, and more. Students may also participate in the internship program during the final years of the Visual Arts BFA program.

Graduates of the Visual Arts BFA Program at CU Denver have produced films that have been screened in more than 300 film festivals across 22 countries. Program alumni have also won more than 75 Best Animated Short awards in non-student categories. Visual Arts alumni are employed by major studios such as Pixar, Sony, and LucasArts.

University of Colorado Denver is accredited by Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school began in 1912 as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder and became CU Denver in 1973, making it an independent campus. Organized into eight colleges and schools, CU Denver serves 15,000 students enrolled in more than 110 academic degrees.

5. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (Top 2% of colleges considered)
Arizona State University

Arizona State University is home to Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, which houses ASU Art Museum and five schools including the School of Art; The Sidney Poitier New American Film School; the School of Arts, Media and Engineering; the Design School; and the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. Together, these schools provide 135 program options to more than 6,000 students. Programs are managed by more than 700 faculty members.

The Sidney Poitier New American Film School and the School of Art are home to a number of degree programs that ideal for students who would like to study Visual Effects (VFX). Options include the Film BA (Filmmaking Practices), Film and Media Production BFA, and a Film and Media Production Minor. These programs are housed in The Sidney Poitier New American Film School. The School of Art has an Art BFA (Animation), an Art MFA, and a Studio Art Minor.

All options allow students to take courses across programs and schools, which includes Specialized Tracks of Courses in VFX, Post-Production, Cinematography, Sound, Directing, Producing, and Writing. Courses for the VFX Track include Principles of Visual Effects Compositing, Intermediate Visual Effects Compositing, Previsualization and Virtual Filmmaking, Advanced VFX, Intro to 3D Visual FX, Introduction to Animation for Film, and Doodle to Screen: Developing Animation.

Other VFX-related courses include Introduction to Visual Effects, 3D Visual Effects, Guerilla VFX, Stop Motion Animation I-II, 3D Digital Modeling, Computer Animation and Video, Animating Virtual Worlds, Film and Media Post-Production I-III, Cinematography I-II, Post Production for Film & Television: Adobe Premier Pro, Avid Certification: Pro Tools, and Immersive Aspects of Sound.

Graduates of the Film and Animation Programs at Arizona State University will have several film projects to their credit, including a final Animated, Live-Action, or Experimental film. Program alumni are prepared to pursue careers such as FX Artist, Special Effects Artist, Film and Video Editor, Creative Director, Animator, Multimedia Designer, and Independent Filmmaker.

Across all campuses and the Digital Immersion Division, Arizona State University serves approximately 142,635 students, making it one of the largest universities in the U.S. Founded in 1885 as the Arizona Territorial Normal School, ASU provides 800 fully accredited degree programs across 16 colleges and schools. Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).