3D Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a 3D design degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying 3D Design: Degrees at a Glance

The 3D design industry employs talented people in a range of creative occupations who supply visual effects that support the making of motion pictures, corporate video and multimedia messages. Professionals in the field combine their artistic talents with technical and communication skills to develop images that convey messages in cartoons, games, advertisements and general entertainment products. You might find career opportunities as animators, designers, directors or artists.

The associate degree program delivers a foundation in 3D modeling and visual communication for entry-level artist and animation careers. The bachelor's degree program can take your education further by exploring modern technologies and visual communication theories for designer and director careers. The BLS projected job growth may grow by 8% from 2010-2020 for multimedia artists and animators.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? People seeking entry-level 3D design jobs in several industries Individuals seeking advanced skills in character animation, special effects and motion graphics
Common Career Paths (with approximate average annual salary) - Multimedia artist or animator ($68,000)*
- Game designer ($48,000)**
- Lead designer ($71,000 - with 3-6 years of experience)**
- Associate producer ($58,000)**
- Art director ($119,000 - with 6+ years of experience)**
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits
- Possible externship
- Roughly 120 credits
- Internship
- Professional portfolio
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Some courses available online Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** Game Developer Salary Survey (August 2012 edition)

Associate in 3D Design

The associate degree program delivers a strong foundation in visual problem-solving concepts, creative technologies and design principles. Programs emphasize the use of computers and digital technology for the development of visual messages. You will learn a range of skills in video editing, image manipulation and typography. Additionally, creating a strong portfolio of 3D designs will enhance your learning experience and provide examples of your work for potential employers. Programs typically require students to work in computer labs experimenting and using 3D design and animation software, such as Maya and Photoshop.

Pros and Cons


  • Students gain hands-on training working with the latest software
  • Multimedia artists have job flexibility options (59% were self-employed in 2010)*
  • Internship or externship opportunities provide you with hands-on opportunities, which can enhance your portfolio


  • A degree is not necessary for careers in animation and multimedia arts
  • Multimedia artists and animators could see a decrease of 5 % in the motion picture and video industries from 2010-2020*
  • Programs may require you to spend long hours in computer labs working on software specific projects

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

You take a range of courses in design, drawing and digital illustration. Schools design programs to provide a strong background in industry-standard computer programs and the development of digital animation skills. Field experiences or internships are also available. Common courses you may encounter include:

  • 3D modeling
  • Digital video effects
  • 2D design
  • Drawing
  • Storyboarding and editing

Online Course Information

Online associate programs in 3D design may be difficult to find, due to the hands-on training required in the degree program; however, you can find online courses available. Online courses can be taken for credit as part of certificate programs, or stand-alone courses may be available. While online courses can be completed at home, tests may be proctored.

Stand Out With This Degree

Employers prefer working with employees who possess strong technical skills and creativity. In addition, the BLS revealed that multimedia or animation job prospects might be best for those with strong computer graphics skills. Demonstrating your creativity, ability to communicate visually and knowledge of computer programs might improve your marketability. The following are a few steps you can take to stand out:

  • Participate in multiple classroom projects and develop multiple design concepts during your studies. Each project will generate material for your portfolio. Consider seeking consistent feedback from instructors to identify areas of strength, and those that require improvement.
  • Gain an intermediate or advanced level of expertise in multiple computer programs.
  • Develop artistic skills in lighting, color and texture through exploring courses in color principles, drawing and digital photography.

Bachelor's in 3D Design

Bachelor's degree programs deliver artistic design training and a foundation in project management, portfolio development and animation. Some universities design their programs to provide concentration electives, which can develop the skills required to meet your career goals. For example, if you plan to work in game design, elective courses will provide a foundation in multiple game platforms and digital imaging techniques. You can expect to participate in a senior project, in which you design and manage a project from beginning to end.

Pros and Cons


  • Bachelor's programs train you to market your creative ability through projects and portfolio development
  • Programs allow you to work hands-on with industry-based software and technology
  • The need for multimedia artists is projected to grow by 49% in software publishing companies from 2010-2020*


  • A bachelor's degree may not increase your employability
  • Director positions may require several years of experience
  • Multimedia artists typically work long hours and have tight deadlines

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Students study the effects of lighting, surfacing and character development on the overall product. You learn to conceptualize, plan and design a range of objects and characters using multiple techniques. In addition, programs usually offer a computer-generated portfolio course, and some programs offer an internship. The fundamentals of animation, level design, digital painting, drawing, cinematography and scripting are common courses offered by the programs.

Online Degree Info

Online programs and courses in 3D design are available; however, schools generally provide them under a range of degree names. For example, some colleges offer computer art and design or digital media programs. The online degree program delivers coursework similar to campus-based options, and schools design the programs to provide training on the latest technologies. Online courses are taught by the same faculty and can be accessed with course management systems. Any practicum or internship experiences will still be completed on location; however, you can find options in locations near you.

Stand Out With This Degree

The move toward the Internet and mobile technologies plays a significant role in the employment landscape. Graduates of 3D design programs with Web design, mobile technologies and interactive media skills will enjoy the best job prospects. You might consider taking courses in Web programming or design to boost your marketability. Consider participating in Internet-related projects or other collaborative experiences. You may also want to consider taking internships with companies in the computer systems design and related services, since this field is projected to see the most growth.

Degree Alternatives

Though 3D design is a highly creative field that allows you career freedom, the overall job growth in the field is limited. If you would like to complete a highly creative degree that opens the door to more career opportunities, you might want to consider completing a degree in graphic design. Bachelor's degree programs focus on skills in digital imaging, typography, composition, design and communication. Like 3D design programs, you may still complete a portfolio workshop and internship. While graphic design overall is expected to see only an average employment increase of 13% from 2010-2020, graphic designers working in computer systems design are projected to see a 61% increase in jobs, according to the BLS. However, the wage prospects are slightly less for graphic designers with a mean annual wage of $49,000 in May 2011.

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