What is an Animation Degree?

Animators are artists. Their art is producing images or ‘frames’ that when combined in sequence create an illusion of movement called ‘animation.’

Degree programs in the field teach students how to use animation software and hardware to create characters and stories for the motion picture, television, and video game industries. Typical components of the curriculum include two-dimensional and three-dimensional art and animation, storyboarding, life/human and background drawing, layout, and digital painting.

Some programs may provide instruction in the application of animation technology outside of the entertainment sector, in areas such as architecture, engineering, education, healthcare, law, and criminal justice.

Program Options

Certificate in Animation – Up to One Year Duration
Associate Degree in Animation – Two Year Duration
Many certificate and associate programs in animation are pathways to further education in the discipline. They therefore provide basic, introductory-level instruction. To get a sense of the kinds of topics introduced in these programs, please refer to the list of courses which appears in the bachelor’s section below.

Bachelor’s Degree in Animation – Four Year Duration
The Bachelor’s Degree in Animation is the most common degree held by professional animators. The typical bachelor’s program is comprehensive in nature, covering:

  • 2D Animation – ‘flat’ animation, the art of creating movement in a two-dimensional space by sequencing multiple drawings
  • Stop-Motion – a cinematographic technique whereby the camera is repeatedly stopped and started to give animated figures the impression of movement
  • 3D Animation – the process of generating three-dimensional moving images in a digital environment
  • 3D Modeling – transforming 2D concept art into 3D models of characters, sets, and props using computer graphics
  • Visual Effects (VFX) – the integration of live shot footage with created or manipulated imagery that cannot take place during live action shooting

Here are some courses within these areas that commonly make up the animation bachelor’s curriculum:

  • History of Animation and Visual Effects (VFX)
  • Life/Character Drawing
  • Character, Prop, and Location Design
  • Storyboarding – breaking down the script into scenes and drawn panels
  • Sculpture – moving ideas from 2D sketches and blueprints to 3D ‘sculptures’
  • Digital Sculpting – anatomy sculpting, character proportions, anatomical forms
  • Previsualization – using digital tools to create preliminary versions of shots and sequences
  • Prop Modeling
  • Surfacing – recreating the interaction of light on real-world surfaces
  • Character Rigging – bringing characters to life by creating 3D skeletons and designing controls that move the face and body
  • Lighting Techniques / 3D Rendering Software
  • Compositing – the process of tweaking lighting, color, and other elements to finalize frames
  • Music and Sound Design
  • Color Theory and Color Grading
  • Acting for Animators – body mechanics, action analysis, and performance
  • Studio Dailies Simulation – story and technical development projects by students and groups of students

Master’s Degree in Animation – One to Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Animation qualify for senior roles in the industry and for careers as college and university animation instructors. Generally, master’s candidates are required to complete one or more animation projects as well as a master’s thesis within their selected area of concentration. While concentration options vary from program to program, 3D animation, 3D modeling, visual effects (VFX), and animation production are common ones.

Here are some sample courses from the master’s curriculum in animation:

  • Art Criticism
  • Animation Aesthetics and Practice – contemporary animation trends and techniques
  • Computer-generated Modeling and Design – modeling organic, naturally occurring forms
  • Drawing in Motion – expressive gesture drawing
  • Media Theory and Application – the study of early and current thought in media theory, critical thinking in film and digital media
  • Storyboarding and Previsualization

Degrees Similar to Animation

Commercial Art
Professionals in this field combine art and business by using their creative skills to market and sell products and services. The degree gives students a background in branding, account planning and management, as well as the aesthetic concepts of color theory and composition.

Computer Graphics
This degree field teaches students how to develop graphics software. Coursework includes drawing, graphic design, digital modeling, multimedia applications, and software engineering.

Film Production
Degree programs in this field teach every stage of film production, from conception to distribution. Coursework includes securing screenplay rights, identifying financing sources, finding locations, negotiating with film distributors, hiring casts and crews, and managing production budgets.

Game Design
Degree programs in game design teach students how to create, develop, and produce video and computer games. Foundations of a game design curriculum typically include game theory and history, pre-production and production techniques, storytelling, graphics, animation, digital music and sound, and programming.

Graphic Design
The goal of graphic design is to produce visual concepts to communicate messages. The discipline uses layout, color, and other creative concepts to design logos and branding packages that inspire and captivate consumers.

Illustration degree programs teach students how to tell stories and communicate ideas visually. They cover traditional manual drawing, digital art technologies, and art and illustration history. Some programs may include painting classes or offer concentrations in a specific kind of illustration, such as book illustration, fashion illustration, exhibit drawing, animation and cartoon drawing, and medical illustration.

Industrial Design
Industrial designers design the way that we live our lives, by creating, innovating, and styling the common mass-produced items that we buy, use, and consume. They research, build, and test prototypes to maximize the functionality and desirability of products, from cars to food packaging to consumer electronics.

Students of industrial design study the history of the field, design conceptualization, drawing, dimensional and computer-aided design, materials and processes, and model making.

Web Design
Degree programs in this field teach the principles and practices of web design and the communication, collaboration, and project planning and execution skills demanded by employers and clients.

Skills You’ll Learn

While earning their degree, students of animation gain skills that are valued in the world at large:

Creativity / Design Concepts and Storytelling
In the work of animation, concepts start out as storyboards. Students, therefore, learn how to be imaginative and creative, how to look at the world through many different lenses, how to tell a story, how to convey information.

While animation is definitely a creative process, it is also a process that involves a lot of technology. Animation graduates typically come away from their studies with knowledge of animation software, such as Unity, Powtoon, Maya, and Adobe Animate.

Problem Solving


What Can You Do with an Animation Degree?

Animation and Special Effects Studios / Motion Picture and Television
These studios are the largest employers of animators. They bring together the creative minds that imagine and produce the visual effects for film and television.

Common titles include 2D animator, 3D animator, story and concept artist, character technical director, animation producer, texture/lighting technical director, digital modeler, stop-motion animator, and creature technical director. Disney, Lucasfilm Animation, Pixar, Electronic Arts, and DreamWorks are among the high-profile employers in this sector.

Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations
In these sectors, the tools of animation are used to express the image, spirit, and desirability of a brand as well as to generate publicity, and earn positive media attention.

Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design, Industrial Design
In each of these fields, animators use computer generated models to provide three-dimensional views of design concepts. Animation technology has become the norm in presenting plans and proposals for new homes and commercial buildings, parks and gardens, civic infrastructure, functional and attractive interior spaces, and innovative products.

Criminal Justice and Legal and Forensic Services
Animators work with criminal investigators to create animations of crime scenes that prosecutors and defense attorneys use to present their legal cases in court. Animation technology is also used to create aged-processed images of missing persons.

Animators have important roles to play in the field of online learning and virtual classrooms. Their expertise is needed to design 3D models used to illustrate ideas and concepts in various subject areas.

Game Design
Without animators, the video game industry could not and would not exist. They are the architects of these games. They create the characters, the environments, and the stories that are the stars of every game.

Scientific and Medical Services
In these sectors, the art of animation enters the realm of science. Science and medical animators make 3D models of human anatomy that help scientists and medical researchers better understand the human body and the diseases that afflict it.

Software Development
Creators of all kinds of software need animators and 3D modellers as part of their teams.

Web Design
Animation has taken web design from a static online document or brochure to an engaging, moving, and interactive experience. Web animation captures our attention and conveys messages and information in ever-evolving ways.


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