8. Portland, Oregon
Portland Oregon's stunning natural beauty was discovered decades ago by Hollywood, and ever since this west coast hot spot has been used for its great locations and acting and crew talent. Thanks to its film incentive program, Portland's entertainment industry has experienced steady growth for some time now, in all aspects of the entertainment industry—especially animation.
Oregon's animation community is small but tight-knit, and extremely successful. Their continued success in the animation arena is helped by the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television's on-going commitment to expanding the state's reach into the entertainment industry.
Much of Oregon's animation work is done in the production sector, creating stunning visual effects (VFX) for the throngs of movies and shows filmed in and around Portland. And when it comes to animating in Oregon, Portland is the cat's pyjamas, hosting over 2,000 of the state's 2,800 animation, VFX and gaming professionals.
All this and we haven't even mentioned the natural sights yet. Portland's stunning nature doesn't just attract filmmaking companies, it also pulls many entertainment industry professionals who have moved to the “Greenest City in America” for the lush surroundings and small-town vibe. Andy Collen, creator of Portland animation studio Happy Trails Animation calls Portland, “a small town with the talent of a big city wrapped up in an independent, rebellious package!”. Andy, who left LA for Portland two decades ago, is just one of the many industry professionals who found a great quality of life and thriving industry in the area.
Inhabitants of the city adore its fresh, local produce, its farmer's markets, endless miles of hiking trails, bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets, traffic-free commutes, sensational beer from local microbreweries, year-round snowboarding on Mt Hood and non-chain restaurants and shops. Oh and the weather is mild year-round and it rains just enough to wash off the hippies.
The Portland area is home to many successful boutique studios, including Happy Trails, Bent Image Lab, Wallyhood, Fashionbuddha, Hinge Digital, Deep Sky Studios, Newlands & Company, Animation Dynamics, ASIFA Portland, and LAIKA. Its animators make a decent penny in an area with a relatively low cost of living. In recent years the more ambitious animators have been successfully breaking off on their own as the Portland film industry thrives—making is a notable destination for the entrepreneurial types.
Oregon doesn't have many animation programs, making it a great destination for people looking to relocate.
9. Boston/Cambridge, MA
Massachusetts is one of the top five states for animation production in the country, and at the center of all that animation (and GDP) production is Boston and nearby Cambridge.
Unlike major animation hubs like LA and NYC, who's massive studios produce animation in large quantities, the Boston and Cambridge animation market focuses primarily on small-scale boutique studios who specialize in custom jobs for East coast companies and who subcontract on big projects with the majors.
Boston and Cambridge's successful studios include the likes of Calli Productions, FableVision, Gabriel Polonsky Studio, Halfadeer VFX, machinegraphics, Musearts Inc, Powderkeg, Skutnik Studios, Soup2Nuts, Zone 5 Pictures, Mass Animation, Global Mechanic, Anzovin, Pixeltoon, and many more.
It's no surprise that Boston and Cambridge have a happening animation scene—their schools top the list as some of the country's best animation programs. In fact ten of the state's animation/gaming programs made our Top 100 list, including the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (#100), Hampshire College in Amherst (#90), Northeastern University in Boston (#75), the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester (#66), Mount Ida in St. Newton (#61), Emerson in Boston (#37), Becker College in Worcester (#22), the famed MIT (#17), the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts in Boston (#15) and MassArt (#14). Graduates from MIT's program, the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts and MassArt are some of the nation's most sought-after grads, and the schools act as recruiting grounds for the country's major studios. The area's boutique agencies also scoop up a lot of the talent coming out of area schools, but the rest—that the local industry can't absorb—often head off to larger animation cities like NY and LA.
While many graduates are forced out of the area due to the high number of schools and lack of major studios to absorb them, many don't want to leave. And who can blame them, the pay is above the national average and the quality of life, superb. Average salary indications from Indeed and Simply Hired show that character animators make an average of $73,000, animators $80,000 and programmers $88,000. Beyond the economics, Boston and Cambridge are some of the oldest cities in the country and embody all the culture that history brings with it. The region is full of New England culture and cuisine, and its true commitment to the arts shows with its numerous ornate theaters and museums, including the Cutler Majestic Theatre, the Boston Opera House, the Citi Performing Arts Center, the Colonial Theater, the Orpheum Theatre, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Ballet, OperaBoston, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the John F. Kennedy Library, the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. The city also hosts annual artsy festivals, including the Boston Art Festival, week-long Harborfest Activities, First Night, and the Boston Pops concert.
A nice place to live and work indeed if you don't mind the teamsters-versus-polo shirt-wearer mentality.
10. Greenwich, Connecticut
Go where the money is. If you don't—then plan on marrying for money.
While no one should ever go into the animation for the money (when you break down the salary by the hours you will likely be working—it isn't pretty), Greenwich has some of the richest companies in the country—especially hedge funds and financial services. It also has Blue Sky Studios—one of the biggest employers in Greenwich. But Blue Sky isn't the sole provider of animation jobs in the area, EA also has a major location here, as does 20th Century Fox, there is also ESPN in Bristol and a number of smaller-scale CT studios like Infinity Graphics, Sonalysts Studios, Impact Studios, Mesh and Bones, the AXA Media Group, Anderson Productions, The Union Productions, The Machine Tree, LifeHouse Productions, WhosCreative, Rejectbarn, Juice Media, and more.
Greenwich is a popular destination for animators looking to raise a family as it has some of the country's lowest crime rates and best school systems. And while it might not be a cultural center like some entries on this list, it is only a 38-minute train ride into Manhattan—far enough to be relaxed (and safe!) but close enough to suck-up the lifeblood. In addition to low crime and good schools, the city also has a strong commitment to the arts. Just ask the Greenwich Arts council, a council run by powerful elite who leverage their contacts and wallets into regular events, parties and investments in the arts.
Greenwich might not top this list, but it is #1 in something—CNN and Money Magazine named Greenwich #1 in its “biggest earner” category. Money flows in Greenwich, which is necessary given the fairly high cost of living there. Luckily Blue Sky pays well, at an average of $80,000 annually, as do many of the other local studios.
Connecticut doesn't have any high-profile animation programs, and its studios—Blue Sky included—often have to look out-of-state for potential candidates—making it a prime target for animators looking to relocate to a cushy job with established (and rich) companies.
11. Orlando, FL
You know the home of Disney World must be a good spot to be an animator—after all, animation is in its blood. Despite Disney's animation studios having left the state some time ago to join their Mickey-Mouse alum in California—there are throngs of studios still holding strong in the Orlando area, including Universal Studios and EA, Terrabyte Graphics, VDO, Echo Brudge Pictures, Secret Legion Productions, Ninjaneer Studios, Mob Studios, AniMill, True Light Media, the EFX Creative Group, A&S Animation, Illum Productions, Silver Rain Studios, Spectrum Post and Production, Ceintage and oh so many more.
It's a good thing the area has so many studios—it needs them in order to absorb the graduates coming from the area's top schools, in order to keep their top talent from leaving the state. The best of this talent, is coming from Orlando's famed Digital Animation and Visual Effects School...better known as DAVE. The DAVE school took 5th place on our list (just after SCAD, CalArts, Sheridan and Goeblins) and for good reason: its heavy course load, industry-pro teachers and high placement rate. Down the road in Tampa is another Top-10 school from our list, the Ringling College of Art and Design, a school that is a heavy favorite for industry recruiters. Within the state there are several other viable animation programs, including those at the New World School of the Arts in Miami (#71), the University of South Florida in Tampa (#58) and the Digital Media Arts College in Boca Raton (#65). You can see why there are so many studios in the area—to soak up all the homegrown talent.
If Disney World, tourists and retirees aren't your thing—don't give up on Orlando just yet. It is also a great place to learn Spanish, to salsa dance and eat delicious Cuban food. If Latino culture isn't your thing perhaps the entertainment, film and performance arts are, which Orlando is so chocked full of it's been called “Hollywood East”. Between the television shows, direct-to-video productions, recording facilities, VFX studios and commercial productions houses the area has become a large production center—meaning there are always opportunities to meet with industry elite and attend fabulous parties. Orlando is also a big theater town, and is home to the Central Florida Ballet, the Orlando Ballet, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, the upcoming Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts and the Orlando International Fringe Festival. If theater isn't your thing the city also has plenty of attractions, including award-winning golf courses, restaurants, and attractions like Gatorland, Wonderworks, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and more. Oh and its only a short drive to stunning Florida beaches and beautiful wetlands. Miami isn't too far either.
The average salary for animators in Orlando is a little below the national average, at $62,000, but luckily Orlando has a lower cost of living than many of the high-priced cities on the list. The large and consistent volume of commercial work available means that ambitious animators who break out on their own have a good chance at success as entrepreneurs.
12. Salt Lake City, UT (one of EA's locations)
There's a lot more to Salt Lake City than just Mormons. Or perhaps they just make real good animators, because as of late Salt Lake has becomes its own little Utah’n center of production and animation activity.
It should come as no surprise that the city's 1500+ animators choose to make Salt Lake City their home base: it has one of the highest job growth rates in the country, the highest literacy rate thanks to its fine school system, the third longest life expectancy in the country and one of the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer in the nation. Oh, and phenomenal slopes.
While Salt Lake City isn't experiencing the cultural renaissance that NY continually revels in, the city does explode once a year when nearby Park City hosts their annual Sundance Film Festival. The festival gives the city's production and animation professionals every chance they need to rub elbows with Hollywood's, and the world's, film-making elite. Studios in the area are heavily supported by the film industry in Salt Lake, which regularly records films, music videos and TV shows—all of which are post-production and animation intensive of course. Salt Lake's population has remained modest over the last 25 years, growing from 160,000 to just 190,000 today—making it the perfect home for people looking for a small-town vibe with big-city action. The city's crime rate is extremely low, and the cost of living extremely reasonable.
For the artsy-at-heart animators, Salt Lake City houses a number of museums and regularly hosts Broadway and off-Broadway performances.
There isn't much animation education competition in Salt Lake City, so many of its animating residents come from out of state. Most of the state-educated animation candidates come from Salt Lake City's University of Utah, graduates who fill the city with BAs in Film and Media Arts or Animation, Fine Arts MAs in Film Production and MFAs in Entertainment Arts.
13. Austin, TX
The United States of Texas is its own little world—including their animation industry. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio AND Austin all have strong animation industries, but the Texas epicenter placed itself right in the middle of it all, in Austin—and for good reason--, Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, Texas Instruments, Whole Foods AND Advanced Micro Devices have all made Austin their home. Tons of professionals, not just animators are scoping out Austin, and for good reason: this year Austin was named by Forbes as their top city (out of 65 surveyed) for job growth—especially in the tech sector. It should come as no surprise then that animators, developers, flash artists, VFXers, modelers, designers, texture artists, compositers and concept artists find it easy to find high-tech jobs with decent salaries—after all, all those petro dollars need to go somewhere! The average animator in Houston earns $67,000—with Flash animators earning a little more, at $73,000. While this salary is a little lower than places like Silicon Valley and Hollywood, low housing and living costs means it is some of the highest buying power on this list.
The Austin area has throngs of successful studios including, Powerhouse Animation Studios, Austin 3D Visuals, Aphid Animation, 3D Magic Factory, Hack Studios, PELi Studio and Planet Texas. There are also a number of indie studios and freelancers.
Austin is somewhat of a cultural hub in the USofTexas, a title earned by hosting events like the annual Austin Film Festival and the South by Southwest festival. In addition to hosting festivals, Austin is also a hot spot for TV - and movie - filming, and has served as a prominent location in many blockbuster flicks. The strong film industry in Austin is partially due to the strong voice from the Austin Film Society—who have gone so far as to purchase and convert multiple airplane hangers into film studios for movies, TV and music videos. Thanks to the hard work of the people in the industry and the film society, Austin was voted by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the top ten cities to live and make movies in—and that includes production and post-production work!
Austin and other Texas-based studios are often filled in-state, undoubtedly from the high number of grads finishing the state's top programs at The VizLab at Texas A&M (#51) in Galveston, the University of Texas (#50) in Austin and Dallas and the Art Institute of San Antonio.
14. Dallas, TX (DNA, ReelFX, ElementX Creative,)
Those petro dollars are being spent all over the state, and the animation work is enough to keep multiple Texas cities busy with VFX, animation and production work. Beyond the oil money, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has one of the biggest concentrations of corporate HQs of publicly traded companies in the country—and large corporations means corporate work and large contributions to the arts. Unfortunately those petro dollars aren't lining the pockets of the state's animators, with the average Dallas salary bobbing in around the low to mid $60,000s. Fortunately however, like Austin, the cost of living is low and quality of living high thanks to the large amount of young professionals making Dallas their playground. If you like authentic Mexican food, Dallas could be the place for you! There are an insane number of colleges and universities churning out the grads that the large and small animation studios in Dallas need to stay competitive—although they are also known for tapping talent out of state. Studios in Dallas include Janimation, Green Grass Studios, Reel FX, Motus Digital, ElementX Creative, M2, WadeFX, Concept 1:2:1, and many others. To fill the ranks of these studios are great animation programs at Galeston's The VizLab at Texas A&M (#51), the University of Texas (#50) in Austin and Dallas and the Art Institute of San Antonio.