California is home to some of the best animation schools in the country and some of the most beautiful national parks and beaches in the United States. There is a dizzying array of animation schools from which to choose in the Golden State.
To become a successful animator, however, you need to invest in a solid education and training foundation. You need to enroll in one of California’s top animation schools and earn a degree in the field.
If you’re from California and you love cartoons, you know that you’re in the right place. If you’re not from California and want to make it big in the animation industry, you might have to move there quickly.
To help you get started in the animation industry, we’ve compiled a list of the top animation schools in California. We’ll also highlight the best and most affordable California animation programs for you to consider. But first, I’d like to tell you why you should go to California to study animation.
Please refer to the list of topics that follows for an outline.
Best animation schools in California
California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
The Character Animation Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree, as well as Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees in Experimental Animation, are all available at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Chris Buck (Frozen), John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), and Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Ed Wood) are just a few of the famous names who have graduated from the School of Film/Video.
The School of Film/Video is the largest department at CalArts, and its curriculum is known for its rigorous emphasis on both technical and all-encompassing artistic training. Professionals in computer-generated, traditional, and indie animation teach the courses.
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Character Animation program at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is a four-year program that trains students for careers in both traditional and computer-generated (CG) animation. Character Animation students can choose from electives like Digital Methods, Life Drawing, and Storyboarding in addition to the required Acting for Animators and Perspective courses. The program culminates in the production of a professional portfolio and a number of short films, and includes Character Animation I through IV, Film Workshop I through IV, and Professional Preparation.
CalArts’ BFA and MFA in Experimental Animation students work closely with faculty advisors to learn and practice a wide variety of animation methods. Some examples are multipane animation, performance animation, programming, stop motion, and even 2D animation. Independent study, internships, seminars, workshops, and guest artist lectures will all be available to students.
Some examples of BFA-level coursework are Hybrid Imaging, Motion and Meaning, and Animation Production. First Year Shorts, Sound for Experimental Animation, and The Digital Path for Animation are all examples of courses offered at the master’s degree level. Both BFA and MFA candidates are required to complete a professional portfolio and thesis in order to earn their degrees.
In addition to starting their own studios, many alums of the California Institute of the Arts have gone on to establish themselves as professionals in the fields of advertising, animation, film/video, and marketing.
The Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute merged to form what is now the California Institute of the Arts in 1961, marking the school’s beginnings. Nearly 1,200 students are enrolled in one of CalArts’ six schools, which offer a combined 70 degree programs: the School of Critical Studies, the School of Art, the School of Film/Video, the Herb Alpert School of Music, and the School of Theater.
The WSCUC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) Senior College and University Commission has granted CalArts accreditation. This is a National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD)-approved dance academy.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Graduates of Gnomon School of Visual Effects can choose between a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Certificate in Digital Production. Foundation in Art & Design is an introductory course for those who need it. The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Production can be earned in as little as three years if studied full-time. The full-time Certificate in Digital Production program lasts two years, while the prerequisite program can be finished in one.
After Effects, Nuke, V-Ray, Photoshop, ZBrush, and Maya are just some of the programs that Gnomon BFA students will learn to use. After completing the BFA program, students will have the opportunity to showcase their talents in a professional demo reel.
There are five main focus areas for students pursuing the Certificate in Digital Production. Choices range from 3D Generalist to Games to Modeling & Texturing to Character & Creature Animation to Visual Effects Animation. Film, video game, and visual effects production are all options for the program’s students.
Foundation in Art & Design, Gnomon’s preparatory program, is a full-year commitment, with four courses per quarter. The program’s objective is to help students develop their talents further, go on to higher education in a related field, or improve their portfolios.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects has a near-perfect employment record, with graduates working at companies like Marvel, Nickelodeon, Blizzard, Reel FX, Digital Domain, DreamWorks, Electronic Arts, Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
In 1997, the Gnomon School of Visual Effects opened its doors. The school’s 35,000-square-foot lot is part of the Television Center Studio lot in Hollywood, California. Gnomon provides more than a hundred different 10-week courses in addition to its degree and certificate programs. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) has granted accreditation to Gnomon School of Visual Effects.
Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
The School of Animation & Visual Effects (VFX) at Academy of Art University (Academy of Art) features four degree programs and one certificate program in animation. It’s possible to earn an Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, or Doctorate Degree in Animation and Visual Effects. This four-year program allows artists to skip the liberal arts coursework and jump right into animation, while the two-year certificate program leads to no degree at all.
The StudioX studio production environment is used to teach all of the different courses. As far as we know, the School of Animation & VFX is the only institution of higher education that offers courses in this setting. Because StudioX is modeled after most real studios, students are able to practice using professional equipment, working in groups, and overseeing a project from beginning to end.
Students will work on a number of group projects, as well as an internship and portfolio.
A large number of major studios and companies employ graduates of the Academy of Art University’s Animation program, including Google, Laika, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Marvel, Sony Pictures Animation, CASA VFX, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Riot Games, Weta Digital, Industrial Light & Magic, and many more.
The Academy of Art University in San Francisco, one of the best cities in the world for animation careers, is a private institution that is owned by a single family. Academy of Art University is one of the largest private universities in the United States in the fields of art and design, with over 7,000 students enrolled. Academy of Art University is a multidisciplinary institution that offers over 129 degree programs across 40 disciplines through its 22 distinct schools. Degrees offered include Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral, Professional, and Master of Architecture.
Accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) has been granted to the art and design programs at Academy of Art University. The WSCUC of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has granted the Academy its accreditation.
Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
The Digital Media BFA program at Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) includes an Animation Emphasis. Foundational material will be covered first as students enter the program. Courses like 3D Animation I & II, Creative Action Studio, Advanced Concept Development, and Practicum in Animation I & II are typically offered to students in their third year of the program. It is expected that OTIS BFA students will also complete a capstone and a senior project.
Virtual reality, sketching and world building, storyboarding and pitching, and producing and production management are just a few of the electives available to students at Otis College of Art and Design. Internships are available on a case-by-case basis.
Students who have completed the BFA in Digital Media at OTIS have gone on to work for companies like Disney, Pixar, ILM, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, and Industrial Light & Magic.
Otis College of Art and Design is the oldest art college in Los Angeles, having opened its doors back in 1918. Over 1,200 students are enrolled in one of OTIS’ 11 Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs or one of four Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs in Fine Art, Graphic Design, Public Practice, or Writing. Minor and certificate options are also plentiful. More than 430 professors, all working professionals in their fields, teach at OTIS.
Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) has granted Otis College of Art and Design accreditation. The institution is affiliated with the AICAD (Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design).
Florida State University
At Florida State University, you can earn a BFA in Motion Picture Arts with a concentration in Animation and Digital Arts. The course content looks at the many applications of animation in the movie industry.
Students at this top Florida animation school are introduced to 2D animation software in their very first class and are taught to use the latest technology in the field.
Students learn to use Adobe’s animation software, such as Photoshop and After Effects.
They also learn about the history of cinema to give them context for the industry’s development. Animation students can expect to learn about 3D modeling, texture painting, and visual effects, among other things, from the various classes offered.
University of Pennsylvania
Digital media design is offered as a course of study through Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Penn’s program, motion graphics, computer information and sciences, and familiarity with 3D animation software. This is an all-encompassing look at the state of digital media in the present day.
Animation majors take a wide variety of classes, including those focused on physical animation, computer animation, automata, and 3D. Penn has received accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Columbia College of Chicago
Columbia College Chicago is home to a highly regarded animation program. Those who complete the program receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in either traditional or computer animation.
Students can tailor their studies in the program to focus on either computer animation or visual effects. They are then free to tailor their academic pursuits to the needs of their chosen profession. Stop-motion and hand-drawn animation are both options in the traditional animation curriculum. They utilize state-of-the-art sketching equipment and teach students how to create cut-out animation. Both of these tracks provide instruction in both 2D and 3D animation.
The liberal arts component of the program is bolstered by the addition of a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation concentration. The college has received approval from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Art Center College of Design
The Art Center School, the forerunner to today’s ArtCenter College of Design, was founded in Los Angeles in 1930. At present, ArtCenter College has two campuses in Pasadena, California: Hillside Campus and South Campus. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, students at ArtCenter can choose from a variety of art-focused and interdisciplinary concentrations. ArtCentre has consistently performed well in international and domestic rankings from the time it first opened until the present. This California university’s Industrial Design and Media Design Practices Program is regarded as one of the best in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
Animation students at ArtCenter are currently enrolled in the Entertainment Design track. Concept, animation, and game design are all available specializations in this program. Character animation, storyboarding, modeling, art direction, and lighting for both 3D and 2D animation are all skills you can hone in this program.
This is an all-encompassing course designed to set you up for success in the exciting world of show business.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects
If you’re looking for a top-notch animation bachelor’s program in California, look no further than Gnomon School of Visual Effects. This institution first opened its doors in 1997 in Hollywood, California, and has since expanded both in size and scope.
This private school in California started out catering to the training requirements of artists in the industry, but it has since grown to provide two- and four-year programs in the fields of Entertainment Design and Digital Productions. Gnomon College is now the MIT of visual effects, having placed in the top 10 of the world’s best VFX schools in the 2019 Hollywood Reporter award and topping several other industry-specific rankings.
So, the BFA in Digital Productions that Gnomon offers is more than just an VFX program. It’s a full-time program with the goal of turning out creative professionals who are well-rounded in terms of education, artistic training, and technical know-how. You will gain an understanding of the entire process of creating 3D content for movies, video games, and VFX.
You’ll work with professional programs like Maya and ZBrush, and gain knowledge from experienced teachers, to reach your goals. In addition, as you move forward in your BFA program at this California animation school, you’ll have the opportunity to take electives that will allow you to focus on developing a specific area of expertise.
You can earn a certificate after attending Gnomon’s Digital Program program full-time for two years. One of the best things about Gnomon is that they offer courses in both traditional classroom settings and virtual ones (online).
San Jose State University
SJSU is a large public university in the heart of San Jose, California. In 1857, it opened as the first campus in what would become the California State University. There are more than 32,000 students at this California public university, and many of the tech industry’s top executives and entrepreneurs attended this same institution.
Meanwhile, San Jose State University is home to nine different colleges and seven specialized schools where students can earn master’s and bachelor’s degrees that have been granted official accreditation.
The animation degree program at San Jose State University is supported by the College of Humanities and the Department of Design. Students can earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation/Illustration through the program and be well-equipped to enter the competitive entertainment industry. Color theory, design, perspective, traditional and digital painting methods, and more will all be covered in this comprehensive course.
The fundamentals of 2D and 3D animation, as well as the physics of motion, modeling, storyboarding, character design, and visual development, will be covered to better prepare you for a career in the field.
This animation degree program is among the best in California because it includes an internship with a real studio. Once you graduate, you’ll be able to take on exciting roles in the industry, but this is where you can get your feet wet in that world.
What Courses should I do to get into Animation?
Special effects animators and designers usually need a bachelor’s degree in fine art, computer graphics, animation, or a related field. Courses in both art and computing are typically combined in computer graphics programs.
What Drawbacks does Animation have?
The process of making an animated film requires great attention to detail and a lot of time. Creating motion for just one minute can take several days or weeks. Spend a lot of time focusing intently on a screen and deciphering fleeting motions.
Why Study Animation in California?
If you want to learn about animation, there is no better place in the United States than California. Among the states in the United States, California is home to the largest population of successful animators and multimedia artists.
As a result, there is a constant stream of imaginative college students making the journey west to the Golden State. This is why California has as many as 70 universities with animation programs.
Furthermore, the animation industry appears to be permanently affixed to California, thanks in large part to the state’s abundance of animation schools.
After graduating from one of the top animation schools we’ll be listing, there is almost no “what next?” question. You’ll be immersed in the animation industry even as you pursue a degree in the field.
Hollywood heavyweights such as 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, MGM, Pixar, Walt Disney, and the Walt Disney Company all have headquarters in the Golden State. Everywhere you look in this busy metropolis, from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Burbank to Oakland to Long Beach, there are animation schools waiting to welcome you.
If you want to work in the visual effects industry, whether it’s to edit episodes of your favorite animated series or to create the next big video game, getting a degree from a reputable animation school is a great first step.
Before beginning your search for the best animation software, give some thought to the specific subfield of animation you wish to master in addition to the features and functions you require most from your chosen software. This narrowed attention will help you pick the right animation school for your goals.