Computer Animation Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a computer animation degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Studying Computer Animation: Degrees at a Glance

Computer animators use design software or computer programming codes to create projects such as video games, visual effects or animated movies for clients. Animators may also sketch an idea before translating it digitally. In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that most multimedia artists worked in the motion picture and video industries. The BLS determined that a degree isn't always needed if you have an impressive portfolio and excellent technical skills, but many prospective animators obtain a bachelor's degree in art, computer graphics or animation to gain formal training.

A master's degree in computer animation isn't necessary for entry-level work and a doctoral degree in computer animation is rarely required. Only an 8% employment growth was projected from 2010-2020 for multimedia artists and animators, which was partially due to many jobs being sent overseas; however, the need for multimedia on smart phones may generate jobs.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? - Professional animators who'd like to expand their design skills or teach
- Individuals interested in producing animated films
Prospective independent researchers and university professors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Art director in motion pictures and video ($130,000)*
multimedia artists and animator ($68,000)*
- Storyboard artist (salary unavailable)
- Postsecondary art teacher ($73,000)*
- Postsecondary animation or digital professor (salary unavailable)
- Computer and information research scientist ($103,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Master's thesis
- Portfolio
- Qualifying exam
Dissertation
- Comprehensive exam
- Student teaching
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Fundamental animation courses
Master's degree in a related field
Online Availability Some courses may be available online None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Computer Animation

A master's degree program in computer animation is designed for students who not only want to build their design skills to work independently or for major animation studios, but also for individuals who want to produce original animated films. You'll complete fundamental and advanced digital media classes as well as use your imagination to create an array of projects. You'll get a chance to apply your design and animation experience and learn new technologies. An important admissions requirement is a portfolio demonstrating your skill level.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You'll receive a comprehensive design and computer animation education to meet the needs of the industry
  • With a master's degree in computer animation, you could pursue work in several industries, such as film, television and academia
  • You may be able to expand your scope of animation with specialty classes dealing with puppetry, writing for animation programs and sound-mixing

Cons

  • These programs are highly competitive and require an impressive portfolio to meet admissions standards
  • Few jobs require a master's degree in this field
  • Programs tied to cinematic arts may require you to produce a series of short films, which may cause pressure while completing other coursework

Courses and Requirements

A variety of workshops or studio classes are likely included in these programs so that you can gain hands-on learning. You'll also encounter graduate seminars, which may present career options or involve group discussions about the field. A variety of electives are usually available, such as 3D character animation, animation timing and lighting. A thesis is often required in these programs or some kind of design project. The following courses are commonly found in a master's in animation degree program:

  • Storytelling
  • Animation fundamentals
  • Animation history
  • Modeling

Online Degree Options

Very few accredited universities have graduate courses or programs dedicated to computer animation online. Those that are available operate in the same manner as on-campus degree programs. The same fundamental animation education is taught as well as how to create a portfolio. You'd typically interact with faculty members through a live chat.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The majority of computer animation programs at this degree level require a portfolio for admission. While this compilation of work is required for entry into the program, maintaining and improving it with your best work can help you stand out. The portfolio or demo reel may include storyboards, designs, photographs or drawings to showcase your design and animation skills. You'll want to highlight your expertise in both Mac and PC systems as well as create a website for your online portfolio.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Animation

While doctoral degree programs specifically in computer animation aren't available in the U.S., you could gain the same training in an arts and technology program or find classes in a specialization of a computer science program. As a doctoral student, you'll spend a large portion of your studies selecting and researching a topic of interest. The multidisciplinary content of these programs can range from computer engineering to digital art. This program targets experienced professionals who are seeking work in academia, digital development or technical research.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Given the limit of computer animation majors at this level, you'll likely learn more about other technologies to add to your scope of knowledge, like computer science and information technology
  • The research experience conducted in school can help shape your area of expertise
  • Some programs offer part-time attendance to cater to full-time employment schedules

Cons

  • You'll need to expand your search to find a doctoral degree program that addresses computer animation because they're rare
  • Doctoral programs are expensive and may last up to 5 years
  • Outside of teaching at the university level, few job opportunities are available with a PhD in Computer Animation
  • Admission into these programs is selective, relying heavily on recommendation letters and undergraduate records

Courses and Requirements

The common courses required vary greatly depending on your program's focus. Overall, doctoral programs include several research courses, but electives like programming, software engineering and game design can contribute to your knowledge of animation. An area of concentration, such as graphics, may address facial expressions, human modeling and real-time simulation. Common courses include:

  • Research seminar
  • Independent study
  • Thesis research

The dissertation process entails a formal proposal to a supervising committee to approve the topic before an oral defense and presentation of your research occurs. Additionally, a comprehensive exam is typically required. Many doctoral programs also require you to complete a teaching assistantship.

Online Degree Options

Doctoral degree programs related to computer animation aren't found at this time. If on-campus attendance is challenging, you could research a program's part-time attendance availability. While this option can take you up to 5 years to complete the program, at least you could complete your graduate studies while continuing to work.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Computer animation is an industry that requires constant upkeep of technical skills. One way to stand out among the competition is to stay current on the latest software and equipment and take advantage of any special facilities or field experiences your school offers. School facilities may include special workspaces for PhD students, motion capture studios, 2D and 3D workstations, flat-screen monitors, reference libraries and visual effects labs.

Popular Schools

  • Campus and Online Programs
    1. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
      • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology
      • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology
  • Dallas, TX

    Southern Methodist University

  • Redmond, WA

    DigiPen Institute of Technology

  • San Francisco, CA

    Academy of Art University

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

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Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern Methodist University

DigiPen Institute of Technology

Academy of Art University