What are the top west coast visual effects schools for 2022?

Top 5 Visual Effects (VFX) Schools on the West Coast - 2022 College Rankings
1Gnomon School of Visual EffectsCalifornia
2University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
3Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia
4DigiPen Institute of TechnologyWashington
5Otis College of Art and DesignCalifornia

Our 2022 rankings of the Top 5 visual effect schools on the west coast, our first annual rankings for VFX. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects

The VFX Program at Gnomon School of Visual Effects consists of 12 terms leading to a BFA in Digital Production with a Concentratin in Visual Effects. Students seeking a shorter path to a VFX career can enroll in the Certificate in Digital Production Program, which consists of eight terms. This option has a Visual Effects Emphasis Area. The BFA can be completed in three to four years, full-time, and the Certificate Program can be completed in two years, full-time.

Gnomon students receive training in industry software such as After Effects, Houdini, Nuke, V-Ray, Photoshop, ZBrush, and Maya. Students will graduate from a professional demo reel that showcases their best work.

With a nearly 100% employment rate, Gnomon School of Visual Effects has alumni working at some of the world’s top studios. Examples include Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Framestore, Nickelodeon, Netflix, Fox, DreamWorks, Paramount, Sony Pictures Animation, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Graduates are VFX Artists, Cinematics Animators, Character Artists, Environment Artists, and Gameplay Animators, among other roles.

Gnomon School of Visual Effects is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Established in 1997 and located in Hollywood, California, Gnomon sits on a 35,000 square foot lot within the Television Center Studio lot. Gnomon offers degree programs, vocational certificate programs, and more than 100 individual 10-week courses.

2. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California

The School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) at University of California (USC) houses the John C. Hench Division of Animation + Digital Arts (Hench DADA), which offers programs that allow students to explore all areas of art in motion. Examples include visual effects (VFX), real-time animation, experimental filmmaking, performance capture, visual production, character animation, motion graphics, visual storytelling, projection mapping, and installations and multimedia.

Another unique component of the programs at Hench DADA is the opportunity to explore collaborative projects with the Interactive Games Division, Thornton School of Music, the Production (live action) Division, and Kaufman School of Dance.

Specific program options for students interested in visual effects include the Hench DADA BFA in Animation + Digital Arts with a Concentration in Visual Effects, the SCA Game Art BFA with a Concentration in Visual Effects, and the SCA BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film and Television Production with VFX coursework.

Course examples across programs include Visual Effects, The World of Visual Effects, Digital Effects Animation, Live Action Integration with Visual Effects, 3D Modeling, Animation, and Visual Effects, Programming in Python, Digital Lighting and Rendering, Organic Modeling for Animation, and Production.

Students in any SCA program may add a 3D Animation Minor, which offers the opportunity to focus in a specific area such as Visual Effects, Virtual Reality, or Motion Capture. Students in all programs will complete a final project.

Graduates of the VFX Programs at the University of Southern California work for studios such as Digital Domain, Digital Idea, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination Entertainment, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Pixar, and Sony Pictures. Many USC alumni have founded their own independent studios. 

University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Established in 1880, this private research university is the largest private sector employer in the City of Los Angeles. USC houses 23 schools and divisions, and serves a population of 49,500 students. More than 600 graduate and professional programs are offered.

3. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University

The School of Animation & Visual Effects at Academy of Art University (Academy of Art) has four programs leading to an animation degree. Options include the AA, BFA, MA, and MFA in Animation & Visual Effects (VFX). The school also has an Animation and VFX Certificate Program that allows students to skips the liberal arts coursework and dive right into animation and VFX.

The Certificate takes four years to complete and it includes the same opportunities as the degree programs offer such as collaborative projects, internships, study abroad experiences, and completion of a professional portfolio.

Students in all programs will learn how to produce animations and visual effects for games, animated productions, and more. All programs are taught in a studio production environment known as StudioX. The School of Animation and VFX is the only school of its kind to teach in this type of environment. Because StudioX mimics most real-world studios, students gain hands-on experience with industry standard equipment, collaborating with other artists and on teams, and managing a production from start to finish.

Academy of Art Animation alumni work at major studios and companies such as Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Sony Pictures Imageworks, Weta Digital, Google, Laika, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Marvel, Sony Pictures Animation, CASA VFX, and Riot Games, among.

The Art and Design programs at Academy of Art University are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). The Academy is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Academy of Art University is a family-owned private university located in one of the world’s top cities for animation careers—San Francisco. Serving more than 7,000 students, Academy of Art is of the nation’s largest private art and design schools. Divided into 22 schools, Academy of Art University offers more than 129 degree programs in 40+ areas of study. Programs lead to the AA, BA, BFA, BS, B. Arch, MAT, MA, MFA and MArch degrees.

4. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology

The BFA in Digital Art and Animation at DigiPen Institute of Technology (DigiPen) provides the opportunity for students to study sound and visual effects (VFX) through major courses, required electives, and open electives. Course examples include Cinematography for Visual Effects, Procedural Effects and Pipelines, Digital Post-Production, Interactive Sound with Synth, Advanced Sound Synth, 3D Computer Animation Production, Game Engine, Technology for Designers, and 3D Production Pipeline. Each of these courses have VFX components.

The DigiPen Digital Art and Animation BFA is available at the main campus in Redmond and at the school’s international branch campuses—DigiPen Europe-Bilbao and DigiPen Singapore. Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue positions such as VFX artist, Simulation and Effects Animator, Environmental/Asset Artist, UI Designer, Concept Artist, Animator, Character Artist, 3D Modeler, Producer, Art Director, and many others.

To date, more than 600 companies worldwide have hired DigiPen Institute of Technology graduates. DigiPen alumni work at major studios and companies such as DreamWorks Interactive, Zynga, Electronic Arts, Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, Amazon Game Studios, Walt Disney Imagineering, Google, Blizzard Entertainment, Activision, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Riot Games, ArenaNet, Disney Online, Microsoft, Nintendo, and many others.

DigiPen Institute of Technology is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Established in 1988 as a Vancouver, British Columbia-based computer simulation and animation company, DigiPen serves 1,200 students enrolled in 10 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Computer Science, Digital Art and Animation, Engineering, Game Design and Development, and Music and Audio. DigiPen has international campuses in Singapore and Spain, and educational partnerships with Princess Nourah bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Keimyung University in South Korea, The One Academy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Thammasat University in Thailand. 

5. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design’s (OTIS) has several options for students interested in pursuing a career in visual effects (VFX). OTIS Extension has a Motion Graphics Certificate Program that explores visual effects, editing, and animation. Coursework covers industry-standard tools such as Adobe Premiere, After Effects, and Cinema 4D, as well as Music and Sound Editing, Digital Storytelling, and Background and Character Development. The program, which takes 18-24 months to compete, culminates with a professional-quality portfolio of the students best VFX or other work.

The Digital Media Department at OTIS has Digital Media BFA Program with three Emphasis areas: Motion Design, Animation, and Game and Entertainment Design. All offer the opportunity to study VFX through required coursework and studio electives.  OTIS BFA students will complete a Capstone, Senior Project, and Portfolio. An optional internship is also part of the program.

Potential careers for graduates who chose to focus on VFX include Effects Animator, Compositor, Rotoscope Artist, Match Mover, Modeler, Background Artist, Animatic Design & Production, Storyboard Artist, and Animator. Program alumni have been hired for VFX positions at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Look Effects, Sony Imageworks, Mattel, New Deal Studios, and Hydraulx. Other Digital Media BFA graduates have been recruited by Disney, Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon, Digital Domain, Weta Digital, Blizzard Entertainment, LucasArts, Electronic Arts (EA), and Cartoon Network.

Otis College of Art and Design is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The school is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). Founded in 1918, OTIS is the oldest professional school of the arts in Los Angeles. Serving more than 1,200 students, OTIS offers 11 BFA degree programs and MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing. A variety of minors and certificate programs are also available. Programs and courses at OTIS are led by more than 430 professors—all active professionals in their respective fields.