Animators are storytellers who use hand-drawn techniques, electronic tools, and 3D modeling programs to bring their designs to life. With an undergraduate animation degree, you are prepared for a career as a graphic designer, movie maker, website developer, or video game illustrator. Through additional training and professional certification, you can also pursue unconventional careers in business marketing and forensic science.
Skilled animators work in diverse industries, from small design firms and studios to large production companies. They can also work as freelancers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, graduates are poised for expanding career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), multimedia artist and animator positions are projected to grow 8% through 2026. This guide provides you with the information you need to find the bachelor's in animation program that best fits your interests and goals. Read on for more about career options, certification programs, and professional development opportunities.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Animation?
An animation bachelor's degree begins with fundamental topics like digital art, motion graphics, and 2D computer-based animation. Students who enroll in a bachelor of fine arts program (as opposed to the standard bachelor of arts track) may find that general coursework consists of drawing, painting, sculpting, and other studio arts. Degree candidates then advance into storytelling techniques, such as character design and script writing. The final stages of the curriculum provide students an outlet to apply their skills through an internship or practicum. Here, they work on production crews and collaborate with other professionals to gain practical experiences. All of this preparation culminates in a final project and portfolio presentation.
In addition to helping students develop theoretical knowledge and practical skills, animation degree programs provide numerous networking opportunities. Students get the chance to attend conferences -- such as the MIA Animation Festival -- which allows burgeoning animators to meet peers, learn from experts, and discover professional opportunities. Most colleges and universities even offer financial support to help students offset attendance, lodging, and travel costs.
Schools also operate internal career services, which help students craft effective resumes and prepare for interviews. Ultimately, a bachelor's degree reflects the training and experience employers seek, and enables graduates to access more job opportunities and better pay. BLS Employment Projections reveal that professionals with a bachelor's degree enjoy a low unemployment rate of 2.5%.
Prospective students enjoy ample options to complete their degree. Working professionals usually gravitate toward distance education, which provides flexible course scheduling and generous transfer policies. Recent high school graduates may benefit most from on-campus programs that allow them to cultivate relationships with peers and professors. Traditional on-campus programs also afford students direct access to school resources, including technology labs and art studios.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Animation?
Animators are creative professionals who possess an incredible attention to detail that allows them to bring ideas and designs to life. While some work independently as freelancers, all animators must communicate effectively in order to collaborate with clients and colleagues. With a bachelor's degree in animation, students can apply for entry-level positions in fields like graphic design, computer-based illustration, and video game development.
Many graduates go on to earn master's and doctoral degrees, enabling them to work as project managers and program directors. With specialized training and certification, animators may even become medical illustrators or digital marketing specialists. The list below comprises five growing careers in this field.
- Web Developer
These professionals design, create, and maintain websites. In addition to overseeing how a website looks, developers must ensure its user-friendliness, performance capacities, and technical aspects. Some even create content for their sites. Web developers can work for tech companies or independently as freelancers and consultants. In either case, developers must communicate clearly in order to explain complex ideas and designs. In addition to a bachelor's degree, developers usually gain professional certifications.
Median Annual Salary: $67,990*
- Multimedia Artist and Animator
Animators create illustrations, computerized effects, and two- and three-dimensional models. They work in diverse mediums, including television, films, video games, and websites. Skilled animators contribute to every part of the project cycle, from initial conception and storyboarding, to production and client evaluation. To qualify for this career, professionals need a strong portfolio, technical skills, and at least a bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $70,530*
These artistic leaders work with their teams to create films, commercials, television shows, web series, computer games, and even live theater productions. Directors actualize script ideas, while producers ensure technical aspects run smoothly, including lighting and stage design. Both manage post-production tasks, such as editing, sound mixing, and marketing. These professionals possess bachelor's degrees (though most eventually pursue graduate education) and extensive work experience.
Median Annual Salary: $71,620*
- Art Director
Working with other artists and designers, these directors oversee the visual style and overall content of a television show, movie, magazine, newspaper, or product packaging. They also manage budgets, train employees, and field client/consumer responses. In addition to an art-based education, directors often pursue training in project management and marketing.
Median Annual Salary: $92,500*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Bachelor's Program in Animation
Undergraduate animation degree plans follow a similar structure to many other bachelor's degrees. Students complete 120 credits in approximately four years, however program type and enrollment status can affect this timeline. Degree candidates should expect introductory coursework to focus on lecture and classroom discussion, with topics that include animation history, character theory, and pre-visualization. Students also apply ideas through laboratory practice and project-based assignments. As they progress through the program, students build a portfolio that is displayed for review as part of the capstone requirement. Practicums and internships are also common program components.
Beyond course offerings, students need to research a program's cost. In general, online bachelor's in animation programs offer lower tuition, incentivizing distance learners with flat rates, discounts, and scholarships. Traditional programs also provide financial assistance like work-study positions, however, which online students cannot access due to the on-campus requirement of these awards. Traditional students also benefit from more course and specialization options. Online degree plans are flexible in scheduling, but linear in content. Regardless of program type, students should ensure they attend accredited schools, or the degrees they earn will mean little to employers and government bodies.
Finally, animation degree candidates should consider location. While some colleges and universities disregard residency when calculating tuition, most schools charge out-of-state learners more. Location also dictates career prospects and advancement opportunities. Furthermore, animators usually pursue certification programs, some of which operate state-specific training and examination. Last but not least, location can affect housing expenses and one's overall quality of life.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs in Animation
To confer valid degrees, postsecondary schools need to earn and maintain national, regional, and/or programmatic accreditation. Colleges and universities obtain national accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. They apply for regional accreditation from one of six organizations depending on their location. For example, Florida colleges become regionally accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Beyond national and regional support, schools may earn programmatic accreditation for their bachelor's in animation programs from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Also known as specialized accreditation, this stamp of approval means that these programs abide by research-proven course planning, best practices, and student services. Attending a NASAD-accredited school allows students to tap into member-specific publications, institutional research, and conferences.
In addition to earning the respect of employers, an accredited degree allows students to engage with professional organizations and their training programs. Students who want to earn their degree online should prioritize schools with specialized accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Bachelor's in Animation Program Admissions
Most bachelor's in animation programs require similar admission materials, including an application, school transcripts, recommendation letters, and standardized test scores. Applicants must also furnish a personal statement that details their personal achievements, academic interests, and career goals. Animation students, particularly those who enroll in bachelor of fine arts programs, may also need to submit a portfolio.
Degree completion tracks and other programs that target adult learners usually require at least two years of work experience. Relatedly, distance learners often encounter a more extensive admission process than on-campus students. Through additional interviews and entrance exams, online programs evaluate a student's capacity for self-motivated learning.
The college admission process can quickly overwhelm students. To make applications more manageable and cost-effective, students should narrow their search to around five prospective schools. The main criteria to consider includes cost and financial aid, though students should also consider specific outcomes like the skills learned and how a program assists students in achieving their post-graduate plans.
- Minimum GPA: Undergraduate programs generally require candidates to hold a 2.0-3.0 minimum GPA. Students may be able to offset unsatisfactory GPA with stellar test scores. Certain schools, particularly those that facilitate distance education, may not require a minimum GPA.
- Application: All candidates need to submit a general application, with information such as their name, address, and academic interests. Over 700 undergraduate institutions use the Common Application, which allows candidates to apply to multiple schools at once.
- Transcripts: Prospective students must submit transcripts for all prior academic work. Some colleges and universities ask for pre-graduation and post-graduation transcripts. Candidates can request these documents from their school's student services office.
- Letters of Recommendation: Applicants must prepare 2-3 recommendation letters. These documents should come from professors, employers, and mentors who can attest to a student's academic achievements and personal qualities. Some schools specify who can write recommendation letters.
- Test Scores: Like GPA standards, standardized test requirements vary by school. Some require all students to submit SAT or ACT scores; others only require them from recent high school graduates; still others eschew them altogether.
- Application Fee: Students pay around $50 for each college application. To pay for this compounded expense, students should contact their prospective schools about fee reductions and waivers. The Common Application also provides financial assistance.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's Program in Animation?
Colleges and universities commonly offer animation as a concentration under a general visual arts or graphic design program. However, standalone animation degrees do exist and come with their own specializations, including motion media, print media, film directing, typography/calligraphy, and video game design. Students can also apply their skills in areas like forensic investigation, medical illustration, and project management.
|Character Animation||Through computer-generated and traditional illustration techniques, students create full-fledged character performances. Course topics include life drawing, color theory, storytelling, and advanced visual design. Students also learn to incorporate music, sound effects, and dialogue. This specialization prepares graduates for careers in web design, video game development, cartoon animation, and integrated media.||Web developer, game programmer, multimedia artist and animator|
|Typography||Driven by functionality, typography teaches students to create and manipulate lettering, fonts, and alphabets for designated purposes. Professional typographists generally apply their artistic skills to business and marketing. Here, they create advertisements and typefaces that promote a company's brand. This specialization also allows students to work in graphic design and publishing.||Web developer, advertising agent, multimedia artist and animator|
|Game Design||Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry and a big job creator in the U.S. The game design specialization prepare students to work as writers, animators, programmers, and software developers. Here, students take classes in immersion theory, level design, and engine development. They apply learned skills in projects to create their own computer and mobile applications.||Software developer, game designer, multimedia artist and animator|
|Interface Animation||Also referred to as user interface or user experience design, this specialization centers on methods to make human-computer interactions more seamless and productive. Course topics comprise layout, brand, sound design, visual animation, and prototyping. Students also delve into design psychology, examining how to best attract and engage users. Interface animators work for software companies, game developers, and design firms.||Web developer, mobile application designer, multimedia artist and animator|
|Advertising||In this specialization, students examine the best practices that go into creating an effective advertising campaign, from digital banners and landing pages, to billboards and posters. Topics include iconography, multimedia storytelling, social media strategies, and digital branding. Advertisers apply their creative skills in settings such as corporate marketing and brand consultation.||Social media marketer, advertising director, multimedia artist and animator|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Animation Program
Computer animation degree plans start with introductory coursework in design history, visual theory, and the fundamentals of 2D and 3D animation. Beyond these core topics, class options vary by program and specialization track. Some schools emphasize technical and production-related aspects of animation, while others focus on the fine arts. The list below consists of five common courses in this field.
- Print Media Graphics and Layout
A fundamental topic for all animators and graphic designers, this print media course covers elements of visual communication using primarily Adobe Illustrator. Students apply their knowledge in hands-on computer work, where they master techniques like shape grouping, figure/ground manipulation, and grid and system creation. The course culminates with a project in logo design and pictogram development.
- 3D Modeling and Animation
This course provides an introduction to graphics programs like 3ds Max. Students learn to create low-poly and high-poly models, and to combine them with texture elements in still life and motion. Additional topics include lights, cameras, and position objects. 3D modeling is integral training for animators who want to work in television, film, and game design.
- Digital Interactivity
Students learn to apply aesthetic and usability criteria in the creation of interactive media, such as websites, mobile applications, and gaming software. The course also trains students in assessment techniques, enabling them to identify and work with technological constraints. Digital interactivity benefits all animators, particularly software and game developers.
- Media Storytelling
In this course, students develop creative writing skills specifically for digital media production and broadcast. They learn fundamental terminologies and theories related to contemporary narrative forms, including multi-screen storytelling. They apply knowledge by crafting and critiquing scripts. Media storytelling is an perfunctory course for digital advertisers, documentary film makers, and television writers.
- Digital Project Management
This advanced class trains students to handle all major components of a digital project cycle. Students learn about the production pipeline and how to determine project timeline. They create detailed proposals that include creative concepts, budgets, and scheduling components. This course benefits all animators, especially those who want to advance into leadership roles.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Animation?
Bachelor's in animation programs span four years and take at least 120 credits. Students can expedite degree completion by taking full course loads and classes during optional summer and winter sessions. Some colleges and universities provide accelerated degree plans that allow candidates to earn their bachelor's in two years, or combination programs that enable them to obtain an undergraduate and graduate degree in five years.
These programs necessitate the completion of prerequisite classes prior to enrollment. They may also require students to possess relevant work experience. Accelerated bachelor's programs usually operate eight-week class sessions through fully online or hybrid delivery methods. Regardless of individual program characteristics, all students can hasten graduation by earning transfer credits. Through prior learning assessments, schools let students apply external academic work, professional training, and career experiences toward their bachelor's degree requirements.
Working professionals generally prefer flexible coursework since they must juggle careers and family life. To this end, adult learners can take part-time courses each term, however part-time enrollment can lead to higher tuition prices. It also limits financial aid options, especially fellowship and work-study opportunities.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Animation?
According to College Board statistics for the 2017-2018 academic year, the average undergraduate student pays $9,970 in annual tuition when attending an in-state public institution, versus $25,620 if enrolling out-of-state. Unsurprisingly, private colleges and universities are the most costly, charging an annual tuition of $34,740. Prices ultimately vary by individual school, but in general, online animation degrees offer the most affordable tuition.
A college education reflects substantial investment of both time and money. To offset these costs, students should take advantage of government support through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They should also look into institutional aid. All of the aforementioned schools provide need-based grants and merit-based scholarships. Local businesses and professional associations are great sources of additional award opportunities. Furthermore, ample organizations exist to help low-income students pay for their college education, including National College Access Network and College Possible.
Finally, students must budget for living expenses. Those who want to move for school can use websites like PayScale to calculate cost of living by location. Animation students also need to factor in expenses associated with technology purchases, conference attendance, and professional development/certification.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Animation Prepares For
- Adobe Certified Associate Program
These certifications reflect an animator's proficiency in seven Adobe programs, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. To earn individual credentials, candidates must pass a 50-minute exam. Adobe provides free study guides on their website. Certification costs $95 and lasts three years. Experienced professionals may earn Specialist and Expert certificates, leveraging their skills toward career advancement.
- Microsoft Visual Studio Certifications
- IEEE Associate Software Developer Certification
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers provides three levels of software development certification. The associate program suits new animators who want to concretize skills in software requirements, design, testing, and construction. IEEE offers an exam and learning materials bundle, which costs $435 for non-members, $345 for members, and $245 for student members.
- PMI Project Management Professional Certification
Facilitated by the Project Management Institute, this professional certificate tests skills in project planning, methodology, implementation, and assessment. Professionals also need to demonstrate that they can effectively lead cross-functional teams. The exam comprise 200 multiple-choice questions. Members pay $405, while non-members pay $555. To maintain their certificate, professionals need to complete 60 professional development hours every three years.
- AMA Professional Certified Marketer Programs
The American Marketing Associate offers certifications in digital marketing, content marketing, and marketing management. The management exam includes topics in marketing strategy, information management, product/service communication, and ethical and sustainable marketing. Exams cost $249 for members and $349 for non-members. AMA provides free practice tests. The organization partners with LinkedIn to offer paid online study courses.
Resources for Animation Students
Founded in 1963, ico-D stands as a major advocate for graphic artists, animators, and illustrators worldwide. The organization facilitates conferences, design showcases, and award celebrations. Designers also benefit from skill workshops, mentorship programs, and career resources.
Founded in 1901, the society supports artists through educational programs, including award competition and summer art academies. Animators and illustrators can take advantage of scholarships. They can also apply for the opportunity to exhibit at the Museum of Illustration in New York City.
This organization connects graphic artists, game designers, and animators through a vast network of online forums and in-person events. Contributors can upload their work in galleries and create their own portfolio. The CGSociety also provides awards, workshops, and career opportunities.
Covering over 151 countries, AWN publishes animation-related content, including current research, animator profiles, independent film distributions, and licensing opportunities. The network also operates topic-specific forums and an in-depth career connections service.
Founded in 1995, WIA operates chapters worldwide, connecting female animators through workshops, film screenings, and an international summit. The organization provides career support through job listings, scholarships, and mentorship programs. Animation students benefit from their own groups and resources.
Professional Organizations in Animation
An undergraduate animation degree provides the skills and training students need for job entry. However, in order to grow and sustain a lucrative career, students need to engage with professional organizations. While membership requires annual fees, the associated perks include networking opportunities through local gatherings, national conferences, and international summits. Professional organizations also provide academic scholarships and research grants. But perhaps the greatest benefit members gain is career guidance through job listings and skill development programs, such as the webinars provided by the Graphic Artists Guild.