Special Effects Animation Degrees: Master, Training & Online Info

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What will you learn in a special effects animation program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and continuing education training and potential careers.
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Studying Special Effects Animation: Degrees at a Glance

Special effects animation professionals use their technical prowess to tell stories and create digital simulations of people and objects for video games, animated films, television shows and the internet. However, a master's degree in special effects animation isn't typically necessary to obtain positions the field. In fact, for relevant positions, such as 3D artist, multimedia artist and animator, a degree may not even be necessary. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employers usually look for multimedia artists and animators with strong portfolios and technical skills more so than those with degrees.

Still, many professionals hold bachelor's degrees, and a master's degree may be attractive if you want to deepen your animation knowledge and move into production or direction of animated projects. Additionally, the BLS stated that art directors may earn master's degrees in order to enhance their creative and/or executive acumen. The BLS forecasted a slow 8% increase in employment for multimedia artists and animators from 2010 to 2020; growth may be limited due to outsourcing. The 2010-2020 BLS projections also anticipated a 9% employment increase for art directors.

Training Master's
Who is this degree for? - Individuals looking to learn basic skills or learn new software programs
- Professionals looking to build on their design and special effects skills
- Experienced multimedia artists looking to advance their skills and knowledge of animation programs
- Individuals seeking to supervise or produce animated films
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Multimedia artist and animator ($68,000)*
- 3D artist ($35,000-$81,000)**
- Art director ($96,000)*
- Producer and director ($92,000)
Time to Completion Varies for each course 2-3 years full
Common Graduation Requirements None beyond the required coursework Master's thesis/research project
Prerequisites High school diploma Bachelor's degree
Online Availability Yes Some courses may be available online

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **PayScale.com (10th-90th percentile range; October 2012 figures).

Training in Special Effects Animation

Individuals new to the field or those who already have experience can find a variety of courses that can teach or enhance special effects animation skills. Accredited universities and design schools provide these training opportunities on a credit and non-credit basis. You could pursue a refresher course in a basic design technique or complete a course in a software program that's new to you. Some programs require or prefer that you have some computer or software experience.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can study special effects and design topics without committing to a degree program
  • Many courses can be completed in a short time span
  • Continuing education courses may accommodate professionals by offering flexible scheduling options

Cons

  • Classes may only be available online
  • Some classes may require prior knowledge of a particular software program or design tool
  • Unlike classes in a master's degree program, some continuing education classes may only be offered on a basic level without in-depth study

Courses and Requirements

Course requirements vary depending on the school and how the class is offered. For example, professional development courses attached to a degree program may require a prerequisite course. You could learn basic or intermediate methods of animation and visual effects in your independent course studies. Onsite continuing education classes may provide you use of the latest technology used in the field. You may find courses covering:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Autodesk Maya
  • Adobe Flash

Online Options

Many of the schools offering continuing education special effects animation classes have online or hybrid options. You could take courses in mixed media animation, Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. Online training typically enables you to complete coursework at home and at your own pace. Technology requirements vary, but you usually need access to the software program used in the class.

How to Stand Out

Special effects animation is a fast-paced industry that moves with technology, so it's important to remain current on the latest software and technology. You can enroll in classes that focus on 3D special effects, video games and computer graphics for mobile devices since the BLS anticipated a higher demand for multimedia artists and animators who have knowledge of these areas. Additionally, you can keep up with industry trends through trade associations, such as the Entertain Software Association, or trade publications like Game Developer.

Master's in Special Effects Animation

You can find special effects animation master's programs under disciplines such as visual effects, animation and digital arts. These programs allow you to add to your technical knowledge and learn new animation techniques. You'll receive a broad education in the many facets of special effects animation that range from sketching ideas to post-production. If you're lacking expertise in 3D designs, these programs usually cover some foundational concepts. Master's degree programs may combine cinematic arts courses given the use of computer animation in the motion picture industry. Programs typically award degrees as a Master of Fine Arts or a Master of Arts.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can learn advanced techniques and acquire a thorough understanding of production processes
  • Through classes and hands-on projects you'll acquire and refine many technical skills
  • Studio and independent study classes allow you to conceptualize and produce a project with special effects

Cons

  • Master's degree programs in special effects animation aren't widely available
  • May compete with candidates who have less education, but more experience
  • Master's degrees aren't typically required to obtain industry positions

Courses and Requirements

While technical courses are the cornerstone of a special effects animation program, the master's curriculum may also cover animation history, technical direction and contemporary art. You may partake in group projects culminating in an animation film, and through studio classes, you may work on an independent animated model for presentation. As part of production training, you may gain experience in texture and lighting, visual and audio editing, scheduling and scripts. Internships or undergraduate teaching may also be included. Depending on the program, you may conclude your studies with a thesis or project. Classes for the master's in special effects animation degree vary depending on the program, but can include:

  • Animation and cinema
  • Animation production
  • Contemporary art and design
  • 3D modeling

Online Options

Special effects animation training through distance learning varies by school. Hybrid programs and full degree programs are available, but not abundantly. These options contain the same coursework as you would find on a campus-based master's degree program in the field. Online courses may be accelerated and use digital textbooks found on the school's website.

How to Stand Out

In order to stand out in the special effects animation field, it's important to stay abreast of the latest technology, exert expertise in an area and learn professionalism. Through thesis assignments, you may improve your presentation skills, and collaborative projects can help you work well within a team. You can also take advantage of a school's modern facilities, including motion capture studios and green screens.

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. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Government - Political Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication - General
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided
  • Dallas, TX

    Southern Methodist University

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Arts in Communication - General
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern Methodist University