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

Top 5 West Coast Visual Effects (VFX) Schools - 2023 College Rankings
1Gnomon School of Visual EffectsCalifornia
2University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
3Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia
4ArtCenter College of DesignCalifornia
5University of California, Los AngelesCalifornia

Our 2023 rankings of the Top 5 visual effect schools on the west coast, our second 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 prepares students for immediate employment in the entertainment industry. For students seeking careers in Visual Effects (VFX), Gnomon has a Digital Production BFA Program with a VFX Concentration. Program benefits include small class sizes of approximately 14 students; a studio-environment consisting of a 35,000 square foot lot within the historic Television Center Studio lot; and instructors who are working professionals in the VFX, Games, and Animation industries.

The Digital Production BFA with a VFX Concentration consists of 180 total units, with 135 within the field of career-focused study and 45 in general education. Within the program’s 135 career-focused units are 30 units of concentration-specific courses. Examples include Principles of VFX, Liquid Simulations, Virtual Production, VFX Design, Motion Capture, Dynamic Effects 1-4, and VFX for Games.

The Digital Production BFA at Gnomon can be completed in 12 terms over three to four years. The program culminates with the creation of a professional demo reel that showcases the students best work.

For students seeking a shorter path, Gnomon has a Digital Production Certificate consisting of eight terms completed over two years. This option has a Visual Effects Animation Emphasis Area. Course examples include Animation and Visual Effects 1-2, Dynamic Effects 1-4, and HD Digital Filmmaking for Visual Effects. Certificate students will graduate with a demo reel of their best work.

All Gnomon students receive training in industry software such as After Effects, Houdini, Nuke, V-Ray, Photoshop, ZBrush, and Maya.

With a 98% placement rate, Gnomon has 900+ industry-employed graduates to date. Alumni are VFX Artists, Gameplay Animators, Character Artists, Cinematics Animators, and Environment Artists, at some of the world’s top studios. Examples include Walt Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Nickelodeon, Netflix, Fox, Paramount, Framestore, and Sony Pictures Animation. 

Located in Hollywood, California, Gnomon has been dubbed the “MIT of Visual Effects” by Fast Company Magazine. Established in 1997 and serving more than 550 students, the school provides degree and vocational certificate programs, as well as 100+ individual 10-week course options. Gnomon is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).

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

University of California (USC) houses the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), home to the John C. Hench Division of Animation + Digital Arts (Hench DADA). This competitive Division is multidisciplinary, allowing students to focus their studies in areas from Visual Effects (VFX) and Character Animation to Motion Graphics and Visual Storytelling. Hench DADA students also have the unique opportunity to collaborate on projects with students in the Interactive Games Division, Thorton School of Music, the Production (Live Action) Division, and Kaufman School of Dance.

Specific program options for students interested in VFX include the Hench DADA Animation + Digital Arts BFA with a Concentration in Visual Effects and the SCA Game Art BFA with a Concentration in Visual Effects. 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 (from Producing to Film & Television Production) may add the 3D Animation Minor, which provides the opportunity to focus in Visual Effects, Virtual Reality, or Motion Capture. The Minor consists of 16 units, with course options such as Visual Effects, Live Action Integration with Visual Effects, and The World of Visual Effects. 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 Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Pixar, Digital Domain, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination, Nickelodeon Animation, and Sony Pictures. Many USC alumni have gone on to launch their own studios and freelance businesses.

Established in 1880, University of Southern California is the oldest private research university in California. The school employs approximately 28,120 faculty and staff that serve 49,000 students, making USC the largest private sector employer in the City of Los Angeles. University of Southern California provides 600 graduate and professional programs across 23 schools, academic divisions, and research institutes. Programs are offered in the areas of business, law, engineering, film, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and medicine. University of Southern California is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

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) is a STEM Certified School that is the only Animation & VFX school that teaches in a studio production environment known as Studio X. This collaborative, in-house, student-run production studio has real-world clients, allowing students to obtain credits before they graduate. Studio X students have been credited on films such as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, and many others.

Academy of Art University has four programs for students seeking a career in VFX. Options include the AA, BFA, MA, and MFA in Animation & Visual Effects (VFX). Academy of Art also has an Animation and VFX Certificate Program that allows students to skip the Liberal Arts coursework and dive right into Animation and VFX.

Course examples across programs include Producing for Animation & Visual Effects 1, Cinematics for Animation & VFX, Physics for Artists: Light, Sound, and Motion, History & Technology of VFX and Computer Animation, Storyboarding, Principles, Visual Effects for Animation, 3D Character Animation 3, Lip Sync & Facial Performances, Fundamentals of Lookdev & Lighting, 3D Animation Physics and Mechanics, 3D Modeling & Animation 1 (Maya), and Careers in Animation & VFX.

Across programs, students have opportunities to complete an internship, study abroad experiences, and a professional demo reel and/or portfolio. Graduates of the School of Animation & Visual Effects at Academy of Art University are prepared for careers in the Entertainment industry.

Program alumni have been hired at major companies and studios such as Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Google, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Weta FX, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Sony Pictures Animation, Riot Games, LAIKA, Marvel, and CASA VFX.  

Academy of Art University is a family-owned private university located in San Francisco—one of the world’s top cities for animation careers. Established in 1929 and 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 M. Arch degrees.

The Academy is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

4. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
ArtCenter College of Design

The Entertainment Design Program at ArtCenter College of Design (ArtCenter) allows students to customize their coursework in an area of their choosing. This includes Visual Effects (VFX), Feature Animation, Video Games, and more. Leading to a BS, the Program, also has a number of established Tracks that are suitable for students who would like to launch a career in VFX. Examples include Concept Design, Animation, and Game Design.

Students in all Tracks and self-designed Specializations have access to VFX courses such as Character Design, Concept Design 1 & 2, Worldbuilding, Entertainment Design 1 &2, How Things Work, Light and Color, Visual Structure, Rendering and Lighting, Production Design, Film, and Light and Color. Students will also complete Portfolio/Senior Project 1 & 2, and the 8th Term Portfolio Review.

ArtCenter College of Design graduates are prepared to pursue positions in all areas of Film and Entertainment. ArtCenter alumni have been hired at top companies and studios such as Apple, DreamWorks, Blizzard Entertainment, Microsoft, Marvel, Paramount, Walt Disney Imagineering, Google, Riot Games, Amazon, The WB, Netflix, and Mattel.

ArtCenter College of Design serves approximately 2,320 students from more than 50 countries. Founded in 1930, ArtCenter has campuses in Pasadena and Los Angeles, California, and satellite studios in Petersen Automotive Museum (Miracle Mile, Los Angeles) and Berlin, Germany. ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate programs, seven graduate degree programs leading to an MFA or MS, a joint MS/MBA program, and undergraduate minors for Business, Creative Writing, and Social Innovation students.

ArtCenter College of Design is fully accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

5. University of California, Los Angeles, California

The School of Theater, Flim and Television at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) houses the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media (FTVDM), which has an undergraduate Film Program that features Visual Effects (VFX) and Special Effects coursework. Leading to a BA, the Program covers three distinct areas: Production (film, television, digital, experimental, and animation); Film and Television craft (writing, directing, photography, sound recording, and editing); and Cinema and Media Studies (history, theory, and aesthetics). Students interested in VFX may Concentrate in Editing and Postproduction during their senior year.

Courses options include Digital Cinematography (explores special effects), Art and Technique of Filmmaking, Motion Picture Lighting, Film Editing, Computer Animation for Film and Video, Art and Practice of Motion Picture Producing, Advanced Film Editing, Digital Audio Postproduction, Experimental Film, and Film and Television Laboratory.

The School of Theater, Film & Television at UCLA has more than a dozen initiatives that students may participate in including Special Effects for Film and Television, Interactive Television, Computer Animation and Video Gaming, Computer Assisted Theater Design, and the Development of Web-Based Media Arts. FTVDM students also have access to the state-of-the-art Walter Lantz Digital Animation Studio and other production facilities.

Graduates of the FTVDM Department at UCLA are prepared for careers in all areas of Film, Television, and Entertainment. UCLA alumni have been hired at major studios such as Walt Disney Imagineering, Nickelodeon, Pixar, and DreamWorks. 

University of California Los Angeles has played a pivotal role in the formation of nearly 200 startup companies to date. Established in 1919, the school serves 45,900 students enrolled in more than 250 programs across 12 professional schools and UCLA College. UCLA students hail from more than 118  countries around the world. University of California Los Angeles is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).