What non-traditional animation and game design programs exist in the Midwest?

The Midwest includes two Divisions—East North Central and West North Central. The East North Central Division includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The West comprises Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Both Divisions are home to hundreds of colleges, and many of them offer top-tier art and design programs, with the East leading the way. Nearly 700 Title IV degree-granting institutions are housed in the East North Central Division, compared to more than 500 in the West North.

We’ve already covered the West North Central Division, and Illinois and Indiana in the East, so it’s time to head to explore Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin where you’ll find top art and design schools such as the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio, and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) in Wisconsin. Though the region’s top schools (and others) offer dozens of programs for aspiring artists, some stand out from the rest.

Read on to discover some of the most unique bachelor’s and master’s programs for animation and game design in the East North Central Division—Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan

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Grand Valley State University (GVSU) offers a Film & Video program with heavy animation coursework. Offered through the Department of Visual & Media Arts, the BA or BS in Film & Video “integrates production experience with insights offered by media history, theory, and criticism,” says the school. “A strong hands-on emphasis characterizes the film and video production major,” with courses in animation, documentary, fiction, film studies, new media, nonfiction, scriptwriting, and sound design. Sample animation courses include 3D Computer Animation, Animation I & II, History of Animation, Film and Video Art, Scriptwriting, Post-Production, and Audio Production.

Also part of the program is an internship and the opportunity to participate in the Summer Film Project. Founded in 1995, the Project “brings students, faculty and industry professionals together on the production of a film.” Preproduction and filming takes place in the summer session, while the fall semester is devoted to postproduction “where students complete the film and prepare for its premiere at a local movie theatre and enter it into film festivals across the country.” 

The BA and BS in Film & Video are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

College for Creative Studies, Detroit Michigan

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) has an Entertainment Arts program that covers Animation, Game, and Digital Film. The school says the Animation curriculum for the BFA program “introduces students to the art of sequential storytelling and uses stop-motion, material-based and computer-generated (CG) imagery techniques.” The Game portion of the program teaches students how to produce “2-D and 3-D images and concepts for video games” and Digital Film helps students “learn to use film as an exploratory and expressive medium through narrative, experimental and documentary forms.” Sample courses for the program include Animation, Modeling & Texturing, Environments & Characters, Experimental Animation, Advanced Story Concepts, Creative Visualization, Digital Filmmaking, Game: Concept and Technology Game Art, Stop Motion, Computer Character Animation, Puppet Construction, Sound Design, Advanced Story Concepts and Digital Character Sculpting. Graduates of the CCS Entertainment Arts program go on to become Directors, Editors, 3-D Modelers, Stop Motion Animators, Game Designers, Concept Artists, and more.

CCS is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Ferris State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Ferris State University’s College of Education and Human Services is home to the School of Digital Media. It is here that aspiring animators and game designers can earn a BAS in Digital Animation and Game Design (DAGD) that can prepare them for a career in either field by teaching the latest tools and technology used to create digital and interactive environments. Students in the program may chose the Game or Animation Track, or a General Track that combines the strongest elements of digital media.

The school says the required general education classes are “targeted to future employees in digital technology, providing general knowledge and skills that will be useful in many aspects of life. The foundation classes provide depth of knowledge applicable to any digital technology field with classes in design, business, 3D animation, and programming.” All students will also complete an internship to “give them the real-world experience and the people connections necessary to succeed in their chosen profession.”

Internships are 12 - 14 weeks during the summer and 400 hours in time served. “Depending on credit hours involved, Interns work from four to five days a week within the company environment helping out as assistant designers, animators and programmers. This immersive approach helps you bridge the gap between student and professional.” Graduates of the program will have the skills needed to actively compete in both popular and growing industries such as Animation, Game Design and Development, Game Design and Asset Creation, Film Medical Visualization, Educational Software, Product Design, Legal Simulation, Architectural Flythroughs, and Web Development, to name a few.

Ferris State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan

The Simulation, Animation, and Gaming Program (SAG) at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is a multidisciplinary program offered through the School of Visual and Built Environments in the College of Technology. The program, which leads to a BS, combines “traditional art mediums, creative writing, and story development with coursework focusing on modeling, rigging, animation, lighting, and camera work in 3D,” says the school. The BS in SAG “gives students a wide variety of experiences in their course of study, which provides a competitive advantage over many other programs that are local, national and international.”

Sample course for the program include Applied Programming and Scripting, 2D and 3D Design, Story Development, Studio Simulation, Game Design, Texturing and Mapping, Simulation and Animation Dynamics, Programming and Data Structures, SAG Rigging, Game Development and Planning, Game Engines, and Environment Design. Note that EMU also offers a SAG Minor as well as a BS and a Minor in Entertainment Design and Technology.

EMU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission HLC).

Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, Michigan

Lawrence Technological University (LTU) has two unique programs for aspiring game designers—a BFA in Game Art and a BS in Computer Science with a Concentration in Game Software Development. Game Art is a project-focused, multidisciplinary program that the school says “not only provides student with the tools and skills needed in the field of Game Design, but has graduates hitting the ground running with full-fledged game releases before graduation.”

Students in the program will take an Integrated Game Studio sequence that “acts as a platform for professional practice, bringing together the University's disciplines in order to produce and release games within the curriculum itself.” The curriculum covers art asset creation, asset integration, defining narrative and storytelling techniques and collaborative development practices between artists and programmers within the Game Software Development program in LTU’s Arts & Sciences College.

The Game Software Development program is for students “interested in preparing for a career in the rapidly expanding game development industry. In hands-on interactive studios, students explore animation, interactive computer graphics, two- and three-dimensional representation and transformation, modeling, game genres, and graphics programming. They also create their own completely envisioned computer games.” The Game Software program prepares students for immediate entry into the games industry or graduate school.

In addition to the BFA and BS programs, LTU offers a MSCS in Computer Science with a Concentration in Intelligent Systems. “Intelligent systems exist in various forms, including video games, robotics, search engines, automatic personal agents, and even weaponry.” The concentration in Intelligent Systems provides students with the knowledge necessary to pursue a fruitful and very profitable career.” Per LTU, “salaries of artificial intelligent specialists working in the video game industry start at $75,000 annually, and reach $125,000 annually for lead programmers.”

Lawrence Technological University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The art and design programs at LTU are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Davenport University, Grand Rapids, Michigan

The College of Technology at Davenport University has a BS in Computer Science (BSCS) program with a Specialization in Gaming and Simulation that it says is “made specifically for aspiring game developers like you.” Students in the program learn “game theory, design, 2D and 3D development along with modeling and simulation.” Coursework for the program includes an interesting mix of options such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Structures and Algorithms, 2D and 3D Game Development, Professional Writing, Globalization and World Diversity, Modeling and Simulation, Project Management, Programming, Software Engineering, Collaborative Game Development and Presentation Techniques.

Comprehensive activities for the program include “application specifications, design, prototyping, implementation, testing and documentation of 2D and 3D game design.” Students will also complete a computer science internship or participate in a field experience in technology.

Davenport University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school’s BSCS program is seeking accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Baker College, Flint, Michigan

Baker College offers a BS in Game Software Development program that was designed by experts in the industry. The school says that these experts help keep the curriculum fresh by regularly updating the program to ensure that “what students learn is what the industry actually wants.” The program teaches the skills needed to design, develop, and test games “across a wide number of formats and platforms, from computers to major video game consoles and everything in between.” Students will learn the entire game development process from conception to design to final publication.

Sample courses for the program include Game Design and Analysis, Computer Science, Advanced Java Programming, Programming for Mobile Devices, Unreal Game Programming, Advanced Android Mobile Application Development, Game Development, Unity Game Programming, Database Management and Design, Artificial Intelligence, Creative Writing, and HTML.

Before graduation, designers will go “through a complete game development process” to obtain the hands-on experience needed “to see a game through to completion.” This 120-credit hour program may be completed on campus or online.

Baker College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Ohio University, Athens, Ohio

The School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University has an undergraduate design program that combines games and animation. The Games & Animation (G&A) Emphasis “encourages students to explore the production of computer animation and digital games,” says the school, “while also providing an understanding of the management and leadership roles in these industries.” The program, which leads to BS in Communication in Media Arts & Studies with an Emphasis in G&A, offers a unique collection of courses along with opportunities to enhance the degree.

Just a few course options include Evolution of Media, Digital Media Production, 3D Modeling & Animation, Visual Storytelling, Video Production, Global Media Systems, Digital Game Design, Short Form Media Scriptwriting, Game Development, Sound for Moving Images, Screenwriting, Compositing, Motion Graphics, Narrative Animation, Media and Web Delivery, Special Topics in Games & Animation, and Media Arts Management (FILM).

The School of Media Arts & Studies is part of Ohio University’s prestigious Scripps College of Communication. Here, students have access to excellent internship opportunities, the opportunity to gain professional experience with off-campus media organizations through the MDIA 3911 Practicum, and the opportunity to earn academic credit for their involvement with certain on campus extra-curricular activities. Students may also enhance their degree by choosing a Minor in Screenwriting or Digital Storytelling.

Scripps College also offers an MFA in Communication Media Arts. The school says this “revolutionary degree” was designed in response to the “rapidly evolving communication field.” Students in the three-year program will “hone new creative production skills, contextualized through hands-on, collaborative projects in order to graduate prepared for the leading edge of industry.” While in the program, each graduate student will “add to their current skill(s) by studying at least two of the following areas: Animation, Digital Games, Interactive Media/Web Design, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Audio Production/Sound Design, Documentary Video/Audio, Data Visualization/Information Graphics, Publication Design, Music Production, Photojournalism, and Studio Photography.

Two other major components of the MFA program are Experiential Learning and Teaching. Experiential learning requires students to engage in hands-on, collaborative projects such as “grant-funded faculty initiatives, projects through WOUB Public Media, the Game Research and Immersive Design Lab, or practicum projects through the Scripps College of Communication or the College of Fine Arts. International experiences and professional externships are also encouraged in this area.”

The Teaching component allows students to teach online, face-to-face, lecture, laboratory or seminar classes at the undergraduate level. “All qualified students will have the ability to serve as a teaching assistant and instructor of record during their time in the program, encouraging them to gain teaching experience and guidance so that they may pursue careers in academia.”

The MFA in Communication Media Arts requires a total of 90 graduate credit hours of study, taken over three years Ohio University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus, Ohio

Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) offers BFA and MFA degrees that can prepare graduates for a career in animation. The BFA in Animation is a 120 credit-hour program that covers 2D, 3D, and experimental animation, as well as game art, motion graphics, digital modeling, lighting and more. Sample courses include Character Animation Simulation, Animation Light and Compositing, Game Art, Storyboard Drawing for Animation, Digital Puppets, Layout and Timing, Interactive Design, Animation Modeling and Surfacing, Video, Digital Photography and Advanced Writing.

Students in the program will complete an experimental animation project, game art projects, and an animation internship. According to the school, graduates have been hired by Sony Pictures Animation, Bento Box Entertainment, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Laika Electronic Arts, BET, Cartoon Network, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and many others.

The CCAD MFA is a “practice-based, multidisciplinary program” that also focuses on marketing artists work in “today’s creative professional fields,” says the school. In CCAD’s “two-year, 60-hour curriculum of project-based thinking,” students will “design, create and explain” their work. “In other words,” says CCAD, “you’re the artist, it’s your vision, and it’s up to you to communicate it.”

MFA project proposals can be based in animation, video, interactive design, illustration, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, sculpture, installation, glass, ceramics or design.

Students in the program will work with “select faculty who provide one-on-one feedback,” and in small classes of just nine to 15 students. Students will also work with an off-campus mentor or participate in a practicum “to gain exposure and insight from industry professionals.”

The Off-Campus Mentorship Experience “could mean a residency in Ireland, a three-week endeavor at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle or working with a nonprofit just down the street. Meant to be complementary to your CCAD education, this exposure to an outside business, community and/or cultural leader will be influential as you dive into a greater depth of understanding yourself as an artist.”

CCAD is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). CCAD is also affiliated with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio.

Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

What makes the Digital Game Studies Minor at Miami University so different is no other Minor offers more track options for aspiring game designers. Offered through a collaboration between the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS), the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Creative Arts, the College of Education, Health, and Society, and the University Libraries, the program is a series of courses on digital game design, analysis, and application.

Tracks include Game Art and Design, Game Studies, Game Development for non-Computer Science majors, and Game Development for Computer Science majors.

All students will take Introduction to Game Studies, Game Design, and The Design of Game Play. Other required courses will depend on the track. Sample courses include Foundations in 3D Animation, Game Prototyping, Pipeline and Production, Introduction to Game Programming, Game Design and Implementation, Data Abstraction and Data Structures, Introduction to Computer Graphics, Art & Digital Tools, and Aesthetics and Computation.

Note that acceptance into this minor program is competitive, so there are a limited number of slots. Designers interested in a certificate, four-year degree or graduate degree have several other options including the BA in Interactive Media Studies (IMS), the IMS Co-Major, the MFA in Experience Design (XD:MFA), and the Graduate Certificate in Interactive Media Studies. All offer heavy game design coursework.

Miami University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school’s Department of Art and Department of Architecture and Interior Design are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio

Shawnee State University offers a rare BS and a Minor in Digital Simulation & Gaming Engineering, and a BFA in Gaming and Simulation. The BS focuses on software development, computer science, and 2D/3D graphics programming. The school says that the curriculum for the BS is “designed to support a team-based, open-ended project environment for engineering technology students. The strong computer science, computer engineering, and programming components of the degree allow a graduate to obtain a career in many non-game related fields of computing.” In addition to game/simulation programmer, graduates will have the skills needed to land positions in numerous areas of design, architecture, and more.

The BFA in Gaming and Simulation (also offered as a Minor) focuses on 3D animation, character design, and interface design. It includes courses on “preproduction and game design development, with a focus on the study of art and its application to the disciplines of games and simulations.” Sample courses for the 122-credit hour program include Game Studio, Digital 3D Foundations, Animation Studio, Digital Imaging, Game Programming Foundations, Acting, Electronic Music, Digital Scene Layout & Design, Game Design & Documentation, and Graphical User Interface Design.

Other program highlights include small class sizes to encourage student-to-student and student-to-professor interaction, instruction by experienced faculty from the game and related industries, opportunities to develop technical and programming skills in addition to design, and the opportunity to network at Shawnee State’s annual interactive digital technology conference. The event attracts game developers, industry leaders and students from all over the country.

Shawnee State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and is a member of the North Central Association.

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Peck School of Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Peck School of the Arts at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) has two distinctive programs for aspiring animators. Options are an inter-related BFA Track in Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres and an interdisciplinary graduate film program that leads to an MFA in Performing Arts: Film. Students in the Film MFA will participate in media arts workshops and graduate studios, and they will take courses from the Department of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres, conceptual studies electives, and complementary studies. Advanced Internship/Professional Practice is also a required component of the program.

Recognized as one of Hollywood Reporter’s "Top Film Schools in the World" and Variety's "Best Entertainment Education Programs," the BFA Track in Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres highlights instruction by internationally-recognized faculty, access to resources at “one of the nation’s top 115 research universities,” and “artistic and intellectual connections within the university and the community, including partnerships with the Milwaukee Film Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival, Milwaukee Art Museum, UWM Union Cinema, and beyond.”

Sample courses for the BFA program include Animation, Digital Arts, Image & Sound, Digital Filmmaking, Listening & Recording, Concept Development & Film Practice, Experimental Media Arts, and Film & Experience: The Filmmaker & the Viewer. A Minor in Film Production is also available through the Department.

Peck School of Arts is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

University of Wisconsin Stout, Menomonie, Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin Stout (UW-Stout) has a unique collection of programs for aspiring animators and game designers. Options include BFA degrees in Game Design and Development, Entertainment Design, and Graphic Design and Interactive Media with a Concentration in Interaction Design. A BS in Computer Science with a Concentration in Game Design and Development is offered as well as an MFA in Design.

Students in the Design MFA program enjoy a cross-disciplinary setting that allows them to study Game Design, Interactive Media, Entertainment Design, Studio Art and more. The BFA in Game Design and Development allows students to gain “core skills in art and design such as drawing, 3D modeling and animation.” Courses cover two- and three-dimensional models, animation and visual effects for video games, television, and movies.

The BFA in Entertainment Design offers three Concentrations: Animation, Comics and Sequential Art, and Digital Cinema. With a focus on storytelling and technique, the program “provides students with the skills and flexibility to succeed in at cinematography, animation, and comic art.” UW-Stout is one of the few film schools in the country offering a degree in Comics and Sequential Art.

The BFA in Graphic Design and Interactive Media with a Concentration in Interaction Design focuses on “digital, web-based, emerging and interactive design and communications solutions for web sites, digital interfaces and applications.” Sample courses include Programming, User Experience Design, Video Production, 2D Design, Advanced Interactive Design, 3D Design, Web and Internet Programming, and Digital Imaging.

The BS in Computer Science “consists of a full computer science major and a mathematics minor,” with a Concentration in Game Design and Development or Mobile Applications. Students in the program will gain “strong analytical skills, technical abilities and hands-on experiences creating user-friendly, graphically based software for a variety of industries and applications.” Students will obtain “industry experience” applying “computing skills through a co-op or internship during the summer” prior to their junior or senior year. This is in addition to hands-on capstone courses in which students will work in interdisciplinary teams to design, implement, test and deliver a fully functional software application to a client.

The art and design programs at UW-Stout are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Carroll University, Waukesha, Wisconsin

Carroll University offers a rare BS in Information Technology with an Emphasis in Computer Game Development. The program was made possible through an articulation agreement with Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), which requires students to take seven courses at the school’s campus. Sample courses for the program include Computer Graphics, Computer Simulation and Gaming, Artificial Intelligence, Interactive Media, Computer Graphics CSG Production, Software Engineering, Mobile Application Development and Software Design and Development, Visual Communication Practices, and Multimedia Collaborative Lab.

The school says that graduates of the program are able to “think creatively and analytically in technological problem-solving, problem-solve using productivity software and through computer programming, and demonstrate an understanding of information system and technology evaluation and management.” Graduates will also be able to “demonstrate an understanding of the application of new and developing technologies with sensitivity for security and ethical issues at global, societal, organizational, and personal levels, and work effectively as part of a team.”

All students will have the opportunity to complete an internship to “build real world experience, explore careers, and network with professionals.”

Carroll University is accredited by the Higher Learning
Commission (HLC).

University of Wisconsin Whitewater, Whitewater, Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin Whitewater (UW-Whitewater) has a Media Arts and Game Development (MAGD) program that offers Emphasis Areas such as Gaming Technology, Communication/Gaming and Visual Media Design. The schools says students in all programs will follow a “common core” that consists of seven classes to ensure that they “have a solid theoretical and technical foundation.” Other classes will depend on the Emphasis area.

For example, Gaming Technology students will take courses such as C++ sequence, Artificial Intelligence, Game Engine/Modding, Internship, and Independent Study, while sample courses for Communication Gaming students include Video Production, Sound and Image, Game Development, Social Media Optimization and Advanced Audio Techniques.

Visual Media Design students will take courses such as Graphic Media Imaging, Web/Interactive Media, Raster/Vector & 3-D Modeling, Graphics and Animation, and Digital Video/Motion Graphics. This program “develops aesthetic sensibility and artistic design skills important in the production of original, creative, digital media content for interactive and time-based computer games, animation, websites, video, special effects, 3D and motion graphic industry and artistic productions.”

Gaming Technology students “develop the programming skills and software development expertise required for cross-platform real-time interactive graphics and game development.” Students will focus on “building a solid base of programming skills necessary to take on real-world challenges related to developing games, mobile apps, websites and more.”

Communication/Gaming teaches students how to “analyze the quality and meaning of a variety of digital messages, including games, websites, web video, and interactive video and audio, employing these skills to create and deliver their own content while ensuring that the audience or user is able to understand, absorb, and utilize this content as intended.”

Students in all programs will have the opportunity to participate in the MAGD Expo. This juried show of interactive entertainment, 3D, 2D, aural, virtual and animated creative work is held annually at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater and is open to students, individuals, and groups. All MAGD programs lead to a BA or BS.

The art and design programs at UW-Whitewater are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Other Schools to Consider:


"Accredited Institutions Search." NASAD. National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), 2017. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.

Census Regions and Divisions of the United States. Suitland: U.S. Census Bureau, 2016. PDF.

"State Education Data Profiles." Institute of Education Sciences (IES), National Center for Education Statistic (NCES). U.S. Department of Education, 2014-2015. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.

Note: Program information has been obtained from each school’s official website. At the time of publication, all information was up-to-date.