Visual Effects & Motion Graphics Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Info

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What will you learn in a visual effects motion graphics degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Visual Effects & Motion Graphics: Degrees at a Glance

The visual effects and motion graphics industry offers several occupations in the advertising, web development, gaming, entertainment and broadcasting sectors. Visual effects graduates are responsible for creating the graphics that add interest to blockbuster movies and films, websites, broadcast news or television shows.

The associate's degree offers the basic knowledge required to enter the industry. The bachelor's degree expands your knowledge through advanced design topics. Both programs will prepare you for entry-level opportunities at small broadcasting stations, gaming studios or graphic arts firms.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that occupations in the industry offer a relatively competitive salary. In addition, you can expect between slower-than-average and average job growth for several occupations in the industry. Furthermore, obtaining some positions, such as multimedia artist or animator, may require a bachelor's degree. Despite this, employers rely on a strong portfolio when making hiring decisions.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level visual effects or digital design opportunities People who want to pursue a career as video editors, multimedia designers or art directors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Roto artist (unavailable)*
- Multimedia artist or animator ($68,000)*
- Character designer (unavailable)
- Film and video editor or camera operator ($67,000)*
- Art director ($95,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time without a transferrable associate's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60 credits
- Capstone project
- Portfolio
Roughly 120 credits in general education, creative design and advanced courses
- Portfolio
- Internship or practicum
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Limited Limited

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

Associate's in Visual Communication

The associate's degree in visual communication provides a foundation in motion and web design, video production and traditional graphic design. The college you select may offer courses under a motion graphics concentration. Upon graduation, you will understand the tools and techniques used in the industry, the post-production process and the fundamentals of design exploration. Programs also provide training in non-linear editing, compositing, titling and cinematic points of view. Developing a portfolio during your studies is significantly important to achieving post-graduation employment.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Internships and portfolio development opportunities are common
  • Employers may require completion of a probationary period prior to an offer of full-time employment
  • Many programs transfer to a bachelor's degree

Cons

  • The BLS projects slower than average (8%) job growth for multimedia artists and animators over the 2010-2020 decade*
  • You may need a bachelor's degree to apply for some opportunities and competition with bachelor's degree holders will be keen
  • Some programs may not offer a strong technical background, which can play a role in landing job opportunities

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree offers general education courses combined with artistic and technical classes to provide a solid foundation. You can expect to build an understanding of modern design software, animation, special effects and video game design, depending on your selected focus. You may complete an internship, project or capstone course that helps develop your portfolio. Following are some common courses:

  • Illustration
  • Graphic design
  • Digital imaging
  • Storyboarding
  • Digital video editing
  • Computer-aided design
  • Electronic publishing

Online Course Info

Locating online visual communication associate's degrees may prove difficult. Some colleges offer programs in animation through a distance-education option. Checking the accreditation of online visual effects and motion graphics programs is important to ensure you receive a sound education. Online programs offer students hands-on training through courses similar to campus-based programs and provide one-on-one instruction through video and live chat classrooms. You may need access to industry-standard software and the appropriate hardware.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Taking advantage of internship opportunities will provide the real-world experience employers prefer. Participating in capstone projects or collaborative efforts will provide the skills necessary to manage projects from initiation to completion. Honing your technical skills using the latest technologies will ensure you have an edge on your competitors. In addition, taking a course or two in 3D computer graphics may make additional employment opportunities available. The most important aspect of applying to opportunities with an associate's degree is the possession of a strong portfolio that demonstrates a range of creative and technical skills.

Bachelor's Degree in Visual Communication

The bachelor's degree program takes your experience further through the study of advanced design and technology courses. You may experience course settings that allow you to work closely with faculty and fellow students. Universities structure programs to provide a mix of general education, design, technology and elective coursework each year. Many programs encourage or require participation in an internship and facilitate the process through industry connections. You may also find opportunities to submit your work to campus-based competitions or facilities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employers seek candidates with a bachelor's degree
  • Advanced courses provide the technical and creative skills required to stand out
  • Small class sizes provide the opportunity for constructive feedback

Cons

  • Some positions that require a bachelor's degree pay salaries comparable to that of those only requiring an associate's degree (multimedia artist vs. film and video editor or camera operator)*
  • Some employers contract animation and design work overseas, which will have a strong impact on job growth through 2020**
  • Limited options for online or hybrid education programs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

The bachelor's degree offers a number of advanced courses in the arts, illustration and visual effects technology. Programs usually require roughly 120 credits in general education, core and elective courses. You will participate in a number of typography courses that help you develop the skills required to produce engaging on-screen text. In addition, design studio courses provide training in the design and creativity process and require substantial craftsmanship. You will also take courses in color theory, visual concepts, light, communication design and foundation courses in drawing. Some programs require or offer the opportunity to complete a senior thesis project.

Online Course Info

Similar to the associate's degree, locating an online visual effects and motion graphics program may prove difficult. Online bachelor's degrees may provide courses in visual effects, but you may find programs that award animation and visual effects or graphic design degrees. These programs can prepare you for work as a character designer, storyboard artist or 3D animator.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Experience plays a significant role in hiring decisions. Taking internships during your studies will boost your knowledge, skills and experience and provide a valuable background in the industry upon graduation. Taking courses that focus on technical and illustration skills will help improve your portfolio. In some situations, employers hire candidates who possess a strong technical background if their illustration or artistic skills are slightly below expectation. The willingness and ability to learn new software programs is a valuable 'soft' skill, as many studios create media using in-house technology.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Fine Arts
      • A.S. General Studies - Fine Arts
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AA in Digital Photography
      • AA in Digital Photography
  • Morganton, NC

    Western Piedmont Community College

  • Saratoga, CA

    West Valley College

  • Ann Arbor, MI

    Washtenaw Community College

  • Orlando, FL

    Valencia College

  • Knoxville, TN

    Pellissippi State Technical Community College

  • Seattle, WA

    The Art Institute of Seattle

  • Philadelphia, PA

    The Art Institute of Philadelphia

Featured Schools

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. General Studies - Fine Arts

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • AA in Digital Photography

What is your highest level of education?

Western Piedmont Community College

West Valley College

Washtenaw Community College

Valencia College

The Art Institute of Seattle