Study Visual Effects: Bachelors, Associates & Online Course Info

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What jobs are available if you have a bachelor's or associate's degree in visual effects? Learn about job opportunities, admission requirements, online options, courses and training programs.
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Bachelor's and Associate Degree in Visual Effects at a Glance

With the ever-increasing consumer demand for realistic animation in movies, television and video, the creation of quality special effects, animation and 3D imaging plays an important part in producing popular entertainment. Visual effects artists add realistic imagery to films and videos, creating effects and environments that cannot be captured or do not exist in the real world, using nothing more than digital technology and sheer artistry. While the artistic aspects of this medium means that schools offering this program feature a variety of arts courses, students also spend a lot of their classroom time learning the technology that is used in this industry.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job growth for visual effects artists - as part of the multimedia artists and animators occupation - will be slightly less than average at 8% from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). As a subset of the graphic arts industry, visual effects artists are usually employed by the motion picture and video industry, whose growth is projected to decrease by 5% in the same time frame. This is due in part to the fact that more companies are reducing their expenses by outsourcing their animation and visual effects work to lower paid workers overseas.

Associate Bachelor
Who is this degree for? Individuals wanting an entry-level job in visual effects or to transfer their associate's degree credits to a bachelor's degree program Individuals wanting a career as a visual effects artist for a variety of industries
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary) - Multimedia artist or animator ($61,000)*
- Graphic designer ($44,000)*
- Art director ($81,000) (usually starts out as a graphic artist)*
- Producer or director (film or video) ($71,000 -usually requires experience in related field)*
Time to Completion 2 years full time 4 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Required general education courses
- Roughly 11-16 courses in animation and visual effects
- Portfolio
- Minimum grade point average (GPA)
- Required core courses
- Roughly 21-25 classes in art, animation and visual effects
- Final project
- Portfolio
- Minimum required GPA
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- Assessment testing (often administered by the school)
- High school diploma or GED
- Minimum required ACT or SAT score
- Some schools require academic excellence and/or a portfolio as a condition of admittance
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate's Degree in Visual Effects

A 2-year degree in visual effects can provide you with a solid foundation in the artistic and design principles of this medium as well as offer you the opportunity to develop basic proficiency in the cutting edge technology used in this field. This is often a high-demand program, and some schools require a demonstration of aptitude and academic excellence as a condition of admittance.

While many students use this degree program to transfer their credits to a bachelor's degree program, some find entry-level positions as animation assistants or graphic artists, gaining valuable on-the-job experience with the skills they learned in the associate's degree program. An associate's degree can also prepare the graduate to be a freelance graphic artist or animation artist.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Since employers usually do not require a degree, your proficiency with the technology and your artistic ability can make you competitive in this job market*
  • Acceptance is easier into a 2-year college
  • The associate's degree program can provide enough skills to get you an entry-level job as an animation or visual effects assistant

Cons

  • Job competition is intense because there are fewer job openings than interested applicants*
  • This is a high-demand program, and some schools have waiting lists or selective-acceptance requirements
  • The program may not provide training in the more advanced and complex aspects of visual effects demanded by certain employers

Source: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Visual effects artists are recognized as a distinct specialty within the field of digital animation and multimedia arts. While there are certain degree programs that have a primary focus on visual effects technology and skills, other degrees are offered as part of the graphic animation program.

You may be required to take general education courses, including math, history and science, but the majority of your classes will focus on the art and the technology used to create the visual effects art. Coursework may also include writing and storytelling principles as well as exposing the student to the entire work flow required to produce a finished movie or video. Some programs require you to complete an internship or practicum. You will likely be required to demonstrate your proficiency and artistry with a major project. You may also complete works that are intended to be included in your portfolio. Courses generally include:

  • Digital imaging and compositing
  • Modeling and rendering
  • Storyboarding
  • 2D and 3D animation
  • Visual effects
  • Film editing and production

Online Course Info

Associate's programs in visual effects are available online on a limited basis. They can be found as fully or partially online courses. The curriculum is essentially the same as for students who attend classes on campus. There are also hybrid classes, conducted online and on-campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Some schools offer internships as part of their curriculum. Taking advantage of an internship could not only give you valuable job experience, but also get your foot in the door as an animation assistant within a company. This is your opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade that cannot be taught in the classroom and to demonstrate your artistry and technical proficiency for a prospective employer.

Bachelor's Degree in Visual Effects

As a prospective visual effects artist, you will learn how to create realistic images of fantastic characters, out-of-this-world environments or extreme situations that exist only in the imagination. In many instances, the images required to visually portray a location, person or event in a story simply do not exist in the real world, or cannot be captured on film. Visual effects artists make illusion appear to be real, creating amazing imagery using 2D and 3D imaging and digital animation techniques.

Visual effects bachelor's degree programs are designed to teach the student how to make the visionary aspirations of a filmmaker become realistic images on the screen. Your courses will feature instruction in the most up-to-date technology used by the film industry, as well as the artistry involved in bringing the imagination to life. Fundamental concepts of art, film, storytelling and animation are featured in these programs, as are the technical and practical aspects of filmmaking and special effects.

Pros and Cons of a Bachelor Degree in Visual Effects

Pros

  • Visual effects bachelor's degree programs provide a good foundation for making films in general, opening up a variety of career paths to the successful graduate
  • Internships offered as part of this degree program could provide important job experience that employers prefer
  • Your bachelor's degree, coupled with job experience from an internship and a distinctively creative portfolio, could give you a competitive edge in this job market

Cons

  • Companies are outsourcing video effects and animation jobs to cheaper workers overseas resulting in fewer jobs in the United States*
  • A degree is usually not required by employers, and you will be competing for jobs against applicants who do not have a college education*
  • Job growth for the motion picture industry is expected to decline by 5% from 2010-2020*

Source: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education classes, you will take courses that cover the theory and practice of creating digital animation and graphics as an artistic medium. Other courses include important aspects of filmmaking, communication and the technology used to create the visual representations. Courses generally feature the latest technology that is used in the industry to provide you with the technical skills in demand by employers. Some schools also provide opportunities for internships with broadcast companies or with companies that produce videos or films. Curriculum requirements generally include:

  • Drawing
  • Film editing
  • 2D and 3D modeling and animation
  • Effects, light, shade, texture
  • Writing
  • Production
  • Create portfolio
  • Major project

Online Course Info

Bachelor's degrees in visual effects are available as partially or fully online programs, or a mixture of online and classroom attendance. The availability of online programs is somewhat limited, and it is important to verify that the online program you are considering is accredited.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

A bachelor's degree in visual effects can be a launching pad into a freelance animation artist or graphic artist career. Many graphic and animation artists are self-employed, according to the BLS. If you are considering this option, you may want to take some business courses that could provide you with the business-related background that you may need to improve your chances and make your freelance business venture successful.

Popular Schools

  • Sioux City, IA

    Western Iowa Tech Community College

  • Parkersburg, WV

    West Virginia University at Parkersburg

  • Saratoga, CA

    West Valley College

  • Paducah, KY

    West Kentucky Community and Technical College

  • Cranford, NJ

    Union County College

  • Chicago, IL

    Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

  • Seattle, WA

    The Art Institute of Seattle

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL

    The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale

  • Morganton, NC

    Western Piedmont Community College

Featured Schools

Western Iowa Tech Community College

West Virginia University at Parkersburg

West Valley College

West Kentucky Community and Technical College

Union County College

Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

The Art Institute of Seattle

The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale