What non-traditional animation and game design programs exist in the Midwest?
The Midwest is made up of two large divisions—East North Central and West North Central. Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin comprise the East North Central Division and the West includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Each area has its fair share of colleges and universities 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.
We’ve already covered the West North Central Division, so it’s time to head East where you’ll find top-ranked Herron School of Art + Design at Indiana University, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) in Wisconsin, and the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). MIAD has been producing successful artists since 1974 and SAIC is listed among the top 10 schools for art and design in the world.
Though prominent art and design schools such as these provide a variety of programs for aspiring animators and game designers, some offer unique components that set them apart 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 Midwest—East North Central, beginning with Illinois and Indiana.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois - The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has a Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA) program that “endorses and encourages experimentation with radical form and content.” This unique interdisciplinary program is “open to many approaches to and understandings of experimental media art,” and covers cinema, digital video, time-based installation, and new media. Students in the program use high definition video, new media art, experimental 3D animation, hand-drawn animation, and filmmaking to develop their art practice and create animated productions. Degree options for the program include a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Studio and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Studio.
Part of the renowned Art Institute of Chicago, SAIC offers access to the Video Data Bank—the leading resource in the United States for videos by and about contemporary artists; the Gene Siskel Film Center—one of the country's premiere screening venues dedicated to promoting alumni, student, and faculty work, as well as bringing internationally acclaimed filmmakers to Chicago and SAIC, and the Donna and Howard Stone Gallery for film, video, and new media in the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing. Students also have access to Our Conversations at the Edge series—a Thursday night series at the Film Center dedicated to the FVNMA department.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago has been accredited since 1936 by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and it has been a charter member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) since 1948.
Bradley University – Peoria, Illinois
Bradley University’s Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts is home to the Department of Interactive Media Art, which offers one of the nation’s largest collections of programs for aspiring animators and game designers. Students may choose a BFA in Animation or Game Design, or combine the two to earn a BFA in Animation & Game Design. A BFA in Interactive Media is available as well as Minors in Game Design, Game Production, Interactive Media, and User Experience Design.
The Department highlights a unique mix of course offerings such as Concepting and Storytelling for Interactive Media, Quality Assurance in Games, Three-Dimensional Animation, Animation for Games, Virtual World Building and Research, Critical Game Studies, Interaction Design, Game Production, Digital Animation, Sound Design, Computer Game Modification, Game Engine Programming, Interactive Media Authoring, User Experience Design, Field Research in Virtual Environments, Video for Interactive Media, and Web Design.
Students the Department of Interactive Media Art begin working on their disciplines during their very first semester. The school’s philosophy is students “should be designing games, creating animations, and designing user experiences throughout their four years at Bradley University, not just during their Junior and Senior years.” This allows students to “dive deeper, learn more, and create better work.”
Other program highlights include access to “exceptional” facilities, labs, studios, stages, and technology, and opportunities to intern or obtain employment at major studios such as DreamWorks Animation, Blizzard, Sony Pictures, Microsoft Game Studios, Google, Fuse FX, and more.
Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts is NASAD accredited.
Columbia College Chicago – Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago offers a BFA Traditional Animation and a BA in Computer Animation. The BFA in Traditional Animation “is a rigorous, highly structured curriculum that arms you with technical skills and team-based collaboration.” During the first year of study, students will take courses such as Alternative Strategies for Animation, where they will paint on glass and animate charcoal drawings, Stop-Motion Animation, where students pose puppets and make films, and Animation, where students hand-draw and move cutouts on a camera stand. Other course titles include Cinema Notebooks, Cinema Image & Process, World Cinema, Figure Illustration, Screenwriting: Writing for the Short Film, Animation Layout, Writing & Rhetoric, Animation Preproduction, and Animation Production Studio.
During the last year of the program, students will work with a team to create a three- to six-minute animated film. Student will also create a solo three-minute animated film that allows them to serve as producer, director, editor and “every other role in between.”
Though most graduates go on to work as professional animators, because of the variety of skills students gain, they may pursue other career paths such as video game production, television production, cinema visual effects, toy design, product design, illustration and digital advertising.
The BA in Computer Animation is a flexible program with a unique component: students may pursue a complementary minor such as Game Art or Programming, or take a variety of electives. The degree prepares students for a career in animation or the entertainment industry, and it’s also a “launchpad” into graduate studies. Sample courses include Animation, Environmental Design & Modeling, Character Design & Modeling, Storyboarding for Animation, Computer Animation, Stop Motion Animation, Screenwriting: Writing the Short Film, Character Design & Modeling, and Animation Preproduction and Animation Production Studio.
Graduates of the BA in Computer Animation program pursue careers in animation, visual effects, game art and production, illustration, product design, and many others.
Columbia College Chicago is accredited at the graduate and undergraduate levels by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA-HLC).
Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy – Chicago, Illinois
Tribeca Flashpoint Media Academy is a unique collaboration between industry professionals who have “developed a distinctive model of education,” rooted in “deep industry connections,” project-based curriculums, and “intensive career support.” Through industry ties, students “will gain deep, meaningful connections to people, projects, and employment opportunities.” In addition, because the programs are cross-disciplinary, Tribeca “joins students from different programs in a capstone course each year to work on a project alongside those who are fulfilling the various roles in the marketing and creative process. This reflects the on-the-job reality that may become your career, and starts here in your first year.”
Degree options for aspiring animators include a Bachelor of Science in Digital Media with Digital Art Major (BS) and an Associate of Applied Science in Animation + Visual Effects (AAS).
The 120-week BS in Digital Media introduces students “to the basics of design, entrepreneurship, production, media and motion.” Specializes visual effects coursework will provide training in 2D and 3D digital art, animation, and traditional art skills. Students will master digital art and design software such as Adobe Creative Suite, Maya, Zbrush, Houdini, Cinema4D, Arnold, RenderMan, and more. Unique course offerings include Flashpoint Studios, Entrepreneurship, Digital Sculpting, Computer Technology, 2D Image Manipulation, Perspective and Still Life Drawing, Simulations/Production-in-Action, The Biology of Humans and Media and Motion.
Students in the 60-week AAS in Animation + Visual Effects build strengths in a variety of areas, including compositing both practical and computer-generated assets, character and environmental modeling, shooting and editing live action footage, and rigging and animation. Students will also master high-end industry software including Maya, Zbrush, Cinema4D and Houdini. Computer Technology, 3D Modeling, 3D Animation, Design, Media and Motion, Motion Graphics, and Entrepreneurship.
Tribeca Flashpoint College is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
School of Creative Arts (SOCA) – University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, Indiana
The School of Creative Arts (SOCA) at the University of Saint Francis (USF) offers not one, but seven, study focus areas, making it one of the few schools in the world to offer so many options. Options for the BA in Animation Program include 3D Computer Animation, 2D Traditional and Computer Animation, Motion Graphics, Multimedia Design, Pre-visualization and Product Development, Video Game Modeling and Design, and Visual Effects for Film and Television. Other unique aspects of SOCA’s animation program include real client-based projects for hands-on professional work, local and national exposure through the USF Film Festival plus other competitions and festivals around the world, and relationships with national and area companies for required internships.
Students may also take advantage of USF’s official college chapter of SIGGRAPH—an international organization dealing with technology, animation, video games, multimedia and other related fields, guest speakers from professional companies across the country, as well as 24-hour access to the USF Television Studio and the Animation LAB. The LAB is a secured state-of-the-art facility “featuring an ever-expanding library of industry standard software” including Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, Final Cut Pro, Pixologic ZBrush, and Toon Boom Studio.
USF also offers a BS Computer Science: Game and Application Development. This unique program prepares students for careers in developing software for games, phone apps, training modules and certification modules. The program “incorporates project-based learning in computer science coursework.” Students will learn “sophisticated software applications and advanced hardware in a unique environment. By experiencing and sharing knowledge and ideas in realistic scenarios,” students “develop solutions together in the classroom.”
The program also provides internship and other mentoring opportunities with local businesses and organizations, so all students will graduate with hands-on experience in a range of industries—not just games.
The School of Creative Arts is NASAD accredited.
Purdue University – Purdue Polytechnic Institute, West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University – Purdue Polytechnic Institute has a lot to brag about. The Department of Computer Graphics Technology, which houses the BS in Animation and BS in Game Development Design programs, has produced eight alumni who were part of were part of the creative teams behind 2014 Oscar winner "Big Hero 6" and 2014 Golden Globe winner "How to Train Your Dragon 2." Other graduates have gone on to work in unique fields such as forensics animation, educational software, and healthcare. This is not surprising, considering the curriculum.
In addition to focusing on six areas of animation including 3D modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering and character rigging (creating a digital skeleton) and motion, students will take courses such as Imaging Technology, Computer Graphics Technology, Geometric Modeling For Visualization And Communication, Design Thinking in Technology, Internet Foundations Technologies Development, Physics, Calculus, Computer Graphics Programming, Legal Background for Business, Economics, Psychology, and Speech Communication.
The BS in Game Design and Development prepares students for a variety of careers in gaming and technology. Students will take classes in video game design and development, animation, visualization, rendering and programming. Because the degree also “provides the STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) that’s in demand today,” students will study trigonometry, calculus, and physics. Graduates of the BS program have been hired at EA Games, Riot Games, and more.
Both the BS and BA programs provide access to Purdue Polytechnics celebrated study abroad program and the opportunity to earn two degrees in five years—bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer Graphics Technology—with a special plan of study.
Purdue University has been accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) since 1913.
Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana
The Media School at Indiana University Bloomington offers a BS in Game Design that allows students to choose 15 elective credits to create an area of expertise. Student will choose nine elective credits five groupings including Art, Sound, Programming, Design, or Management, Advertising and Public Relations. For the remaining six credits, students will choose from a unique mix of general electives including study abroad courses, other courses at The Media School or other IU schools and departments.
Study abroad courses in the DIS Study Abroad Program in Copenhagen, Denmark include Game Development: Programming and Practice, Rhetoric of Gaming, and Game Development Lab. Media school courses range from Film Production and Visual Storytelling to Reporting, Communication Research and Web Design. Other popular options are Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Design and Multimedia Arts and Technology, offered through the School of Informatics and Computing.
Required courses for the program include Game Technology, Game Production, Information Infrastructure, Game Art and Sound, Game Workshop: Prototype (I), Demo (II), and Publish (III), Game Design Systems, and Game Design Concepts, to name a few. Note that the BS in Game Design “shares its structure with the other undergraduate degrees offered in The Media School, including The Media Core (Managing, Making, Thinking Media) and all college degree requirements.” However, all students will complete 45 credit hours of courses focused on the skills and knowledge required of game designers.
Indiana University is HLC accredited and is a member of the NCA.
Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
The BFA in Animation at Ball State University is not your average animation program. Offered through the School of Art, this unique option “leads students through a classic arts foundation and then into a strong technical foundation guided by industry demands.” Students will explore 3-D animation, stop-motion, and traditional 2-D animation and they will learn professional skills, such as “using fine art and design principles in creative problem-solving, learning and applying professional terminology, and creating a demo reel or portfolio.” Students will also learn how to market themselves “in relation to today’s jobs.”
Students in the program can expect to take core courses such as Art Orientation, Narrative Painting, Experimental Figure Drawing, Oral Communication, Physical Wellness, Personal Finance, Fine Arts, Design and Humanities, Computer Art, and Art History.
Major courses include 3D Animation, 3D Modeling and Rendering, Character Design, Traditional Animation, Drawing for Animation, Animation Production, Animation Specialty, and Storyboarding, to name a few. Graduates of the 120 credit-hour program, offered through the School of Art, will be prepared for careers in animation for entertainment as well as film, television, video games, medical animation, architectural rendering, advertising, and product visualization.
The School of Art at Ball State University is NASAD accredited.
Other Schools to Consider:
"Accredited Institutions Search." NASAD. National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), 2017. Web. 30 Oct. 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. 05 Nov. 2017.
Note: Program information has been obtained from each school’s official website. All information was accurate at the time of publication.