What Does it Mean to Study Animation?
Ever since Walt Disney spearheaded the first animated feature film, "Snow White," in 1938, the fine art of animation has been a staple of visual media, storytelling and entertainment. As the medium continues to blossom and evolve, animation majors focus their studies on the skills, techniques and passion it takes to create moving, sequential images, whether it is hand-drawn or computer-generated, whether it is used to tell stories or sell products.
While animation degree programs vary almost as much as animation itself does, most students in this field take courses in multimedia design, character design, 3D modeling and career-specific software programs. Graduates with an animation degree can go on to create entire worlds using their artistic talents, and may work in fields such as marketing, advertising, gaming or film. Inherent creativity is a plus for students considering this field, but there is plenty of room for animators who can apply their technical and artistic skills to other people's creative visions as well.
Types of Online Animation Degrees
While you can certainly earn an animation degree from a brick-and-mortar school campus, it might be worth considering the fact that many animation degree programs can be taken and completed online as well. An online animation program gives students much more freedom and flexibility in where and when you can complete your studies -- even out of state, if you so desire!
Before you sign up for an animation degree program, however, it's important to consider what kind of program can help you to achieve your goals. People can have all kinds of different goals, and degree programs are not "one size fits all," so it's important to know how each different type of animation degree program might be useful for you.
Online Certificates in Animation
Certificate programs in animation are structured as an introductory education to 3D animation, character design and digital storytelling. Students in these programs typically spend about a year learning techniques for applying their artistic talents to the creation of digital images used in movies and video games. Courses you might take during a certificate in animation program include:
- Fundamentals of Animation
- 3D Animation
- Production Design
- Game Animation
- Animation Motion Studies
Online Associate Degrees in Animation
An associate degree in animation combines career-specific courses with a broader range of core education courses. During these two-year programs, students typically take courses in common subjects like writing, entrepreneurship and computer technology, along with animation-focused courses such as image manipulation, 3D animation, media and motion. The broader focus of this range of courses can help students to make connections and bring outside ideas and information to their animation skills, giving budding animators a chance to develop their own unique style.
While the specific curriculum for an associate degree program can vary, students often encounter the following topics:
- Motion Graphics
- 3D Modeling
- Lighting and Rendering in Animation
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Animation
Animation majors pursuing a bachelor's degree are usually required by their program to take a wide range of general education courses in addition to animation and 3D modeling courses. This may sound similar to an associate degree program, and indeed, at first it is. However, as bachelor's students learn the basics, they begin to take upper-division courses that blend theory and practice in order to advance both.
In the course of a bachelor's degree program, students typically begin focusing on honing their skills in 3D character animation and mastering computer software programs like Adobe Creative Suite and Mudbox. Courses you might see in service of this goal include:
- Digital Sculpting
- Design and Color Theory
- Interactive Animation
- Digital Imaging
- Introduction to Media Arts
Online Master's Degrees in Animation
A master's in animation degree program draws on lessons learned during a bachelor's program and takes them to the next level. While an undergraduate degree program helps students to learn the use of concepts, techniques and software, a graduate-level master's program is meant to push students to "master" (thus the name) their subject beyond just the basics. Aspects of character design, 3D modeling, stylism and aesthetics can all be prominent themes of these programs.
A student who enrolls in a master's degree program probably has an idea of what kind of animation they want to focus on, be it cartoons, realism, anime, video games, abstract or something completely different. This can color the structure of their master's degree program substantially. Here are some examples of courses a student might see available:
- Animation Character Set-Up
- Character Development
- Computer-Generated Modeling & Design
- 3D Cartoon Character Animation
- Digital 3D Effects
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Animation?
For a field with as many options as animation, it's important to think about where you might want to take your animation degree once you have finished earning it. Here are some of the more common career paths available for animators. Keep in mind that the education requirements we list are a rough guideline only; education requirements can vary between different employers, so if you have a specific company in mind you want to work at, be sure to check their requirements personally.
Multimedia Artists and Animators
Perhaps the most commonly pursued job among animation graduates is that of a multimedia artist and animator. These professionals use their artistic skill and computer software programs to create two- and three-dimensional models, animations, and visual effects for a wide range of industries: movies, video games, TV shows, internet media and more.
While some animators work alone in a freelance manner, many work in a team of artists and creative directors. Different forms of media approach their animation and their animators in different ways, lending extra variety to the positions.
- Most animators and multimedia artists need a bachelor's degree and a portfolio of creative samples in order to find entry-level work in this field.
- Multimedia artists and animators do not need certification to work in this field.
Art directors are responsible for the artistic vision of a project from beginning to end, from the initial concept through the development and production right up to the final product's release. They may also work with clients to change and adjust designs and animations as needed, with the ultimate goal of delivering a specific vision, be it theirs or their client's. These professionals direct the process of projects across many industries, but an art director specializing in animation is likely to focus on projects for movies, video games and other products that involve 3D animation and digital storytelling.
- Art directors need a minimum of a bachelor's degree along with years of on-the-job experience.
- Art directors do not need to become licensed or certified.
Graphic designers create visual concepts that are meant to convey a specific message to the viewer. These workers typically find employment in marketing, advertising or public relations, where they use art and design to help brands accurately portray their products or services. They may create logos, brochures, advertisements, presentations and more, using hand-drawn art and/or computer software to create the look their clients desire.
- Graphic designers usually need a bachelor's degree in graphic design, although degrees in related fields like animation are also common.
- Certification for graphic designers is typically offered via career-specific software programs.
Web developers use their artistic skill and creativity to build websites, integrating video, graphics and/or audio into their designs. They are responsible for the look of the websites they create, but they must also consider the functionality of their projects. For example, it is important for a website to be able to handle large amounts of traffic without freezing up or slowing down. Web developers must consider and account for this as they build their projects.
While web developers often create websites for individuals, they may also build sites or individual pages for businesses that need additional functionality such as sales pages or e-commerce.
- Web developers may not need a college degree to get started, but experience in computer programming, animation and web development is necessary.
- Web developers do not need to become licensed to work in this field.
Associations and Organizations
Regardless of your major, it's a good idea to stay on top of changes and innovations within your field. The following associations and organizations can help connect animation majors with opportunities for news, continuing education and conferences.
- Society for Animation Studies -- The Society for Animation Studies is an international organization devoted to furthering the study of animation and preserving its history. This society offers membership opportunities, conferences, and resources for animation students and professionals.
- The International Animated Film Society -- The ASIFA is a nonprofit organization created to boost animation as an art form. This organization makes it possible to connect with a community of like-minded professionals learning about new developments within the industry.
- Women in Animation -- WIA is an organization devoted to promoting women in creative professions such as animation and multimedia. This association offers networking events, mentorship opportunities, scholarships for female animators and more.
- Animation World Network -- The AWN helps animation students by supplying a variety of resources, including job boards, events and forums. Check out their website for news and information on both the AWN and the animation industry as a whole.
- CG Society -- The CG Society is an institution aimed at furthering the goals of creative digital artists. This organization offers workshops, forums and job boards, as well as interviews with digital artists working in the field.
- Art Directors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/art-directors.htm
- Associate of Applied Science in Animation and Visual Effects, Tribeca Flashpoint College, https://www.tribecaflashpoint.edu/aas-animation-vfx/
- BA in Graphic Design, 3D Modeling, & Animation, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-graphic-design-and-media-arts/3d-modeling-and-animation
- Certificate in Animation, Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, https://www.rmcad.edu/program/online/3d-animation-character-certification/
- Graphic Designers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm
- M.A. in Animation, SCAD, https://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/animation/degrees/ma
- Multimedia Artists & Animators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm
- Web Developer, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm#tab-1